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Friday, May 02, 2008

Evangelical Centrists and Moderate Baptists

Like last week, this upcoming week will be a light blogging period for me. I've got a paper to write and my last thesis chapter to finish. So, in light of that - I'm going to post a paper that I recently wrote. It's divided up into 5 parts with today being the Introduction. After I've posted all of the 5 parts, I'll link to the entire PDF.

The paper is entitled:




Over the last two years, evangelical authors and activists have begun to argue that a coalition of irenic evangelicals has emerged as a bona fide constituency in American politics. These centrist evangelicals have embraced a broadened social agenda that according to a recent Beliefnet.com poll ranks poverty, the environment, health care, education, the economy, and ending torture and the Iraq war as more important issues than abortion and gay marriage, the two pet issues of the Religious Right's sex-and-abortion agenda.[1] Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals and one of the most prominent evangelical lobbyists in the United States, claims that "a historic shift is occurring." Cizik says this shift is the "equivalent to an earthquake in slow motion - people aren't sensing it."[2] Long time progressive Christian activist Jim Wallis describes this slow-motion earthquake as a new Great Awakening - "a revival of faith that is directly leading to new calls and commitments for social justice."[3]

Baptist ethicist and evangelical activist David Gushee sees hints of this new Great Awakening and can also feel the seismic waves. In his new book, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center, Gushee argues that an "evangelical center" is emerging onto the political scene which represents as many as one-third of America's evangelical community. According to Gushee, this "emerging evangelical center" may decide the 2008 Presidential Election in November.[4]

Meanwhile, another group of centrist Christians has re-emerged in recent months on the national scene. In January 2008, Atlanta played host to over 15,000 Baptists affiliated with organizations representing over a combined twenty million Baptists located in North America. This event, called the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, focused on many of the same social issues that the "evangelical center" is concerned with such as poverty, HIV/AIDs and immigration reform.[5]

Many of the organizers and participating organizations involved in the historic celebration are former Southern Baptists whom I describe in this paper as "moderate Baptists." In light of the emergence of an "evangelical center" in American politics, some have asked whether moderate Baptists will join up with this centrist coalition. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to analyze this important question and the possible ramifications for moderate Baptists if this important question is answered in the affirmative.

This paper is divided into four parts. Part I will examine David Gushee's argument for an "Emerging Evangelical Center." Part I will address the characteristics of this "Emerging Evangelical Center" with an emphasis on the church-state views of this coalition. Attention will also be given to the relationship between moderate Baptists and this new evangelical center. Part II will focus exclusively on the legal theory of "substantive neutrality” which Gushee emphasizes is the theory that evangelical centrists use to interpret the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Part III focuses on two moderate Baptist supported organizations, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Texas Christian Life Commission, which have consistently opposed all efforts to fund religious education and finance pervasively religious organizations. Part IV will offer a few concluding thoughts on any potential relationship between the evangelical center and moderate Baptists.

[1] Greg Warner, “Will ‘evangelical center’ emerge to rival waning Christian Right?,” Associated Baptist Press, February 21, 2008, http://www.abpnews.com/3044.article [accessed April 4, 2008].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008), 3-4.

[4] Warner, “Will ‘evangelical center’ emerge to rival waning Christian Right?”

[5] See the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant website at http://www.newbaptistcelebration.com.

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Blogger liturgy said...

Interesting to have fallen over this site.
Your moderate etc. blogs ring is not working.
I run a spirituality & worship site called "Liturgy"
It is used in emergent circles.
Hope you'll pop by in return.

7:12 PM


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