T HERE IS NO POPE. NO CENTRAL RULING BODY.
American Evangelicalism----with its home-schooling Fundamentalists and PTA-attending mega-church moms, its neo-Calvinists and Pentecostal, its multiple denominations and thousands of unaffiliated churches—seems to defy unity, let alone hierarchy. Yet its members share basic commitments: to the divinity and saving power of Jesus, to personal religious conversion, to the Bible’s authority and to the spreading of the Gospel. Those same understandings unite the generation of influential leaders who channel conservative Christianity’s over-flowing energies. TIME’s LIST OF 25, composed with the help of preachers, politicians, scholars, and activists, deliberately leaves out some familiar figures----Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Don Wildmon-----whose stories are well known. Instead, we focus on those whose influence is on the rise or who have carved out a singular role for themselves. The following article serves as a primer to their growing force in American life.----By: David Van Biema
February 7, 2005, (Pg. 34)
America’s New People’s Pastor
These are heady times for Rick Warren.
His book The Purpose Driven Life, which says that the meaning in life comes through following God’s purposes, has sold more than 20 million copies over the past two years and is the best-selling hardback in U. S. History. When he took the podium to pray on the final day/night of Billy Graham’s Los Angeles crusade at the Rose Bowl in November, 2004, the 82,000 congregants cheered as if Warren had scored the winning touchdown. And, also, on the eve of the presidential Inauguration, Warren, who pastors the 22,00 member Saddleback mega-church in Lake Forest, California delivered the Invocation at the gala celebration. Later he met with 15 Senators, from both parties, who sought his advice and heard his plans to enlist Saddleback’s global network of more than 40,000 churches in tackling such issues as poverty, disease and ignorance. And when 600senior pastors were asked to name the people they thought had the greatest influence on church affairs in the country, Warren’s name came in second only to Billy Graham’s. Although Franklin Graham is heir to the throne of the Billy Graham organization, many believe that Warren, 51, is the successor to the elder Graham for the role of America’s minister.
THE CULTURE WARRIOR
JAMES DOBSON is tired of being misunderstood. The founder of Focus on the Family wants everyone to know that his sprawling campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is devoted to his radio program, publishing empire and maintaining his 2.5 million—strong e-mail list of supporters. While it maybe true that only a sliver of the activities there are political, Dobson stepped down as president of the organ-ization in May 2003 so that he could become involved in politics. Now he’s not only advocating policies calling for a ban on gay marriage and for restraint of the judiciary but also threatening to target Democratic Senators at the polls if they don’t vote the way he likes on President Bush’s judicial nominations.
It’s not certain, however, whether Dobson, 68, can translate his considerable influ-ence into political muscle. White House officials consider his demands too absolu-tist and impractical. “We respect him greatly,” says a Bush aide, “but his political influence is not everything people might think” Indeed, Dobson seems to exercise greater sway outside the political arena, where the trained child psychologist has offered families a Christian alternative to modern mores. Says Dobson: “We’re involved in what is known as a culture war that is aimed right straight at the institution of the family”
MONEY MAKES THE WORD GO ROUND, and this wealthy, conserva-tive Republican couple takes a dizzyingly ecclectic approach to funding evangelism. The projects that savings-and-loan multimillionaires Howard and Roberta Ahmanson have paid for over the years through Fieldstead & Co., a private philanthropy in Irvine, Calif., form a cornucopia of faith-based activism, including an institute linked to the anfievolution intelligent-design movement and a study of social endeavors by Third World Pentecostal churches. The couple have been accused over the years of having an extremist agenda, mostly because a onetime pet charity, the Chalcedon Foundation, advocates the Christian reconstructionist branch of theology that says gays and other biblical lawbreakers should be stoned.
Howard distanced himself from those views and resigned from the foundation board years ago. The couple, both 55, now are warning powerful conservative Christians about the pitfalls of hubris in the aftermath of their victories over liberals last November. Says Roberta: “Christlike humility and [improving] the lives of human beings should be the goals.”
A THINK TANK WITH FIRE POWER
W hen liberal Democratic Congressman Howard Berman of California called her last September seeking counsel, Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy (I.R.D), knew that her organization had become a major force. Berman was upset that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted to consider divesting from some companies doing business in Israel to protest the country’s treatment of Palestinians. He wanted to confer with her because I.R.D. had issued a report criticizing such decisions, which it saw as singling out Israel while largely ignoring alleged serious human-rights abuses by Saudi Arabia and North Korea. “It was gratifying that he read and appreciated our work,” says Knippers, 53. On another front, she was among the conservative leaders who helped persuade the Bush Administration to press for a cease-fire in the Sudan civil war and an end to the oppression of Christians there.
But I.R.D., which receives major funding from the Ahmansons, can be a divisive force as well. Its championing of conservative reforms within more liberal Christian denominations has helped create deep fissures in those bodies, especially concern-ing homosexuality. I.R.D., says Randall Balmer, head of the religion department at Barnard College, “is starting to have the kind of impact that think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institute enjoy.” Knippers should expect more calls from Capitol Hill.
Continue to Part 2
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