There’s a new group on the scene, and you’d better be aware of them, because they’re taking over the country. They might even be your neighbors. Who are they? Yep, you guessed it: evangelical Christians. To find out what makes them tick, on Friday night NBC aired “In God They Trust,” a special Dateline with Tom Brokaw that focused on the renewed prevalence of evangelical Christians on the American political scene.
The show oozed with anti-evangelical bias. Brokaw acts as if evangelicalism has simply appeared out of nowhere. There is no discussion whatsoever of the historical presence and influence of evangelicalism in America. All Brokaw would have had to do was look back to Jonathan Edwards, Roger Williams, or any number of the evangelical founding fathers. History is ignored.
Instead, Brokaw treats evangelicalism as a curiosity — something that needs to be investigated, lest these creeping evangelicals grow too powerful. He even notes that evangelicals are “increasingly well-educated and affluent,” as if to say, “they’re not all dumb and poor.”
That said, many of the evangelicals in the report give Brokaw good reason to treat with them with suspicion. The report was focused on Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Observes Brokaw:
Haggard is vigilant about the image of Evangelicals; prior to one of our visits he sent an e-mail to his congregation, urging them to be restrained and not to act too “weird” in front of our cameras.
Haggard comes off in the interview as brash and arrogant. He doesn’t shy away from name dropping either. Consider this exchange:
Ted Haggard: …I’m not a power broker. I don’t call presidents. I don’t harangue the White House.
Brokaw: You don’t have to call him. He calls you.
Haggard: I’ll be talking to the White House in another three and a half hours.
Brokaw: About what today?
Haggard: I don’t know the subject today. We have a regularly scheduled conference call.
Brokaw: They reach out to you?
Yet Haggard doesn’t really want to boast. Not really. He even says as much:
In the Christian community, people vote every Sunday morning by where they go to church. All right, so right now, during this particular era in my life—I don’t want to say this boastfully, but I am winning this election right now.
How coy. Perhaps most the most telling revelation in the report was what Brokaw himself saw missing from Haggard’s mega–church:
Brokaw: Most of the churches that I know of, and certainly the ones I attended, at some point, you out loud acknowledge that you were a sinner or that you came face-to-face to guilt that you may feel.
Brokaw: I didn’t see any of that here.
Haggard: Well, we do talk about sin. But, see, the issue is Jesus took care of our sin. And Jesus removes guilt from our life. So the emphasis in our church isn’t how to get your sins removed because that’s pretty easy to do. Jesus did that on the cross. He emphasis in our church is how to fulfill the destiny that God’s called you to.
Brokaw: You’re making it easier for them.
Haggard: Making it easier for them just like Jesus did, just like Moses did.
It’s not quite Joel Osteen, but Haggard is more than a bit off the mark. There’s nothing “easy” about the cross. Even for those of us who do not literally have to suffer death in a torturous manner, Christ demands, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
It does seem that Haggard — however well intentioned he might be — has sacrificed biblical exposition for political action he finds more applicable. His church had renown political conservative D’nesh Dsouza speak one Sunday during a worship service. Brokaw interviewed a new convert who took issue with Dsouza’s presence, wondering if it was the “right forum” for such a speaker.
I wonder as well. While I am in agreement with many of Dsouza’s views, a church service dedicated to the worship of God is no place for a political lecture. Was the teaching of the Scriptures insufficient for the church that Sunday? Are there not sufficient outlets to learn about political conservatism outside the worship service?
If New Life Church is truly representative of American evangelicalism, trouble looms. Not because Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics — I firmly believe that we should — but because we run the risk of usurping with our political clout the very theological foundations that are supposed to define evangelicalism.
May God help us from becoming just another block of voters.