Jim Archives

Shouting Mosque in a Crowded City

What wrong with my argument in this fictitious scenario? (Well, the thriving small group is true.) The case law that has developed over the centuries protects religious expression, but it has created limitations that allow the religious and non-religious alike to live in peace and in attractive and functional communities. I can’t build a church in my neighborhood because of zoning laws (and other community codes). But I can buy some land about a half-mile from my house and build one, in an area that is zoned commercial.

A church group cannot sing its praises at high decibels late at night near residences. A large church couldn’t be built in an area that could not sustain high-density parking. We could list exceptions to religious expression, and specifically church building, all day. You can build the church of your choice in a community, but not necessarily exactly where you want it.

The Supreme Court famously limited First Amendment speech rights that would put others in unnecessary peril.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote for the majority in 1919:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

I don’t know if disapproval of the mosque would be legal. But I am convinced that while this Islamic congregation may have the right to build, it is not right for them to build so near the sad scar on our national consciousness that is Ground Zero.

This seems amazingly simple to me. There may be a great distinction between the tenets of the faith that guided the terrorists and the faith that guides the daily lives of these Manhattan adherents. I don’t know their hearts. But there is no doubt that the terrorist acts of 9/11 were committed in the name of Islam, and it is inappropriate, un-neighborly, and unnecessarily provocative—and probably dangerous—to build a Islamic house of worship so close to what will always be a memorial and shrine to the tragedy and those who were lost.

As Americans, we have a good history of living side by side with people of different races, ethnicities, faiths, and social class. But we’ve maintained that peace not by trying to test the raw edges of those relationships, but by avoiding unnecessary stress points.

How to shop when your personal economy sucks

I’ve gleaned the personal finance columns and come up with suggestions on a combined theme of  “things not to buy when your personal economy sucks” and “things not to buy to avoid being stupid.” Here are–10 things you shouldn’t pay for and 10 things you shouldn’t buy new:

10 Things You Shouldn’t Pay For

(h/t: Money magazine and CNN)

  1. Cell Phone — The service plan may be expensive, but the phone itself doesn’t have to cost a thing. Most major carriers will give you a free phone, even a free smart phone, with a two-year contract.
  2. Water — Besides the monthly utility bill, there’s no reason to shell out money for every bottle of water you drink. Bottled water is so last decade anyway. We’re over it, and into tap, filters, and reusable water bottles. It’s cheaper and healthier for you and better for the environment.
  3. Books — There’s a cool place in your town that’s renting out books for free: the library. Remember that place? Stop by and put your favorite book on reserve. And if you don’t feel like getting out, visit www.paperbackswap.com and find your books there (small shipping fees apply).
  4. Pets — There are likely many pets down at your local animal shelter that could use just as much love as the pure-bred types. There may be a small fee due to the shelter for shots and basic care, but you’ll have your pet home without paying a mini-fortune.
  5. Shipping — If you like to buy online, you probably use coupons to get a percentage off of your purchase. Take your skills to the next level and look for coupons or promotion codes that offer free shipping. If in doubt, visit a site like www.freeshipping.org.
  6. DVD Rentals — Did you know that you can rent DVDs from RedBox locations for $1 a night? And better yet, if you use one of the coupon codes from www.insideredbox.com you can avoid the $1 charge. Free DVD rentals! Most libraries now have free DVD rental as well.
  7. Basic Computer Software — Thinking of purchasing a new computer? Think twice before you fork over the funds for a bunch of extra software. There are some great alternatives to the name brand software programs. The most notable is OpenOffice, the open-source alternative to those other guys. It’s completely free and files can be exported in compatible formats.
  8. Your Credit Report — You don’t have to pay for your credit report. You could sign up for one of the free credit monitoring services online to get a quick look at your credit report. You just have to remember to cancel the service before the end of the free trial. Or you could do one better and visit www.annualcreditreport.com, the only truly free place to see all three of your credit reports for free once a year
  9. Many Household Items: The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit community group with an environmental mission, lets users “recycle” unwanted items by posting ads on local online bulletin boards. If you see a chair or a computer that you’d like, respond to the ad. The site is a great way to acquire a perfectly good coffeemaker or piano while doing your part to reduce waste. What’s the Catch? You’re responsible for getting the stuff home.
  10. Photos:  In addition to photo sharing and online albums, Dotphoto and Snapfish provide 15 to 50 free prints when you sign up. You have to pay for shipping, which usually isn’t more than a few dollars

 10 Things You Shouldn’t Buy New


  1. DVDs and CDs: Used DVDs and CDs will play like new if they were well taken care of. Even if you wind up with a scratched disc and you don’t want to bother with a return, there are ways to remove the scratches and make the DVD or CD playable again.
  2. Books: You can buy used books at significant discounts from online sellers and brick-and-mortar used book stores. The condition of the books may vary, but they usually range from good to like-new.
  3. Video Games: Kids get tired of video games rather quickly. You can easily find used video games from online sellers at sites like Amazon and eBay a few months after the release date. Most video game store outlets will feature a used game shelf, as well.
  4. A lot of your clothes: While you can’t find everything (shoes are tough), you can buy an amazing number of clothing items (especially in this hyper-casual era) at a Salvation Army Thrift Store or at Goodwill. This is especially true of Special Occasion and Holiday Clothing and Maternity and Baby Clothes:.
  5. Games and Toys: How long do games and toys remain your child’s favorite before they’re left forgotten under the bed or in the closet? You can find used children’s toys in great condition at moving sales or on Craigslist, or you can ask your neighbors, friends, and family to trade used toys. Just make sure to give them a good wash before letting junior play.
  6. Musical Instruments: Purchasing new musical instruments for a beginner musician is rarely a good idea. (Are you ready to pay $60 an hour for piano lessons?) For your little dear who wants to learn to play an instrument, you should see how long his or her interest lasts by acquiring a rented or used instrument to practice with first. Unless you’re a professional musician or your junior prodigy is seriously committed to music, a brand new instrument may not be the best investment.
  7. Home Accent: Pieces Home decorating pieces and artwork are rarely handled on a day-to-day basis, so they’re generally still in good condition even after being resold multiple times. If you like the worn-out look of some decor pieces, you can be sure you didn’t pay extra for something that comes naturally with time. And don’t forget, for most of us, discovering a true gem at a garage sale is 90% of the fun!
  8. Office Furniture: Good office furniture is built to withstand heavy use and handling. Really solid pieces will last a lifetime, long after they’re resold the first or second time. A great used desk or file cabinet will work as well as (or better than) a new one, but for a fraction of the cost. With the recession shutting down so many businesses, you can easily find lots of great office furniture deals.
  9. Cars: You’ve probably heard this before: Cars depreciate the second you drive them off of the dealership’s lot. In buying a used car, you save money on both the initial cost and the insurance. It also helps to know a trusty mechanic who can check it over first. This way, you’ll be aware of any potential problems before you make the purchase.
  10. Sports Equipment: Most people buy sports equipment planning to use it until it drops, but this rarely happens. So when sports equipment ends up on the resale market, they tend to still be in excellent condition. Look into buying used sporting gear through Craigslist and at yard sales or sports equipment stores.

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

 #2.  Billy Graham. The Godfather  b. 1918 

Billy Graham has been the best known and most admired evangelical Christian in the world for decades. Through his early flamboyance, his clear and public Gospel preaching, his non-partisan access to the powerful, his move beyond fundamentalism, and his life of personal and ministry integrity, Billy Graham set the standard not only for evangelistic fidelity, but also as a figure admired all over the world, by believers and unbelievers alike.

While most would recognize Graham as the most visible and influential evangelical of the modern era, his shaping of the movement came primarily in the mid-20th century. Together with Carl Henry and Harold J. Ockenga, Billy Graham was a 1950’s bridge from fundamentalist separatism to evangelical engagement. Henry rallied evangelicals to engage politics, academia, and other cultural spheres with The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism in 1947. He delivered a stinging rebuke to fundamentalists who had withdrawn from these public arenas. Billy Graham delivered the decisive break between evangelicals and fundamentalists in 1957. Graham turned down invitations to preach in New York City under the sponsorship of fundamentalist churches before accepting one from the liberal Protestant Council. [1]

Graham’s actions were strategic, not careless:

“For years, Billy Graham was lambasted for inviting theological liberals — as well as people unpopular in the Evangelical South, like Martin Luther King, Jr. — to his crusades. He invariably responded that the attendees were endorsing his cause, not the other way around. Graham knew that he would alienate some co-believers, but they were people he was happy to alienate. He was in the business of leading evangelicalism back into the American mainstream by distinguishing it from hard-core fundamentalism, one of whose most irritating characteristics was “second-degree separation,” a philosophy of ostracizing other Christians simply for dealing with people considered less spiritually pure. Graham’s national reputation flourished while that of his opponents suffered.” [2]

To guard his personal life, Graham famously had a policy that he would never be alone with a woman, other than his wife Ruth. This has come to be known as the Billy Graham Rule. Rev. Rick Warren and NFL quarterback Kurt Warner have claimed to follow the rule. Warner wrote in his book that he first applied the Billy Graham Rule in his marriage by not driving the babysitter home alone.

Graham has been a spiritual adviser to twelve United States presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama (some, such as Richard Nixon, more than others). He is number seven on Gallup’s list of admired people in the 20th century.[3] It is said that Graham has preached in person to more people around the world than any other preacher in history. As of 2008, Graham’s lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. More than 2.5 million people have come forward at his crusades to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

Although Graham has had little involvement in activities beyond his own for many years, his early accomplishments, his commitment to the singular cause of evangelism, and his long life (he has outlived most of his contemporaries and his wife, Ruth) have made him the face of evangelicals for more than a generation. Although now retired and nearly immobilized by Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, he remains the iconic figure of the movement.

[1] http://www.theresurgence.com/blog/692


 [2] TIME, Dec. 1, 2006

 [3] http://www.pollingreport.com/20th.htm

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #6 Charles W. Colson. Statesman

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#6.  Charles Colson. Statesman  b. 1931 

Chuck Colson (painting by Tim Chambers)


It is no exaggeration to say that that the Christian conversion of Charles Colson in 1973 stands in stature and impact among the modern era’s most visible and consequential. The startling front-page news that Colson had found Christ raised eyebrows throughout the country and struck fear in a White House besieged by Watergate and not anxious to see one of its defendants find the confession booth. But the enduring impact of Colson is not only the public conversion of a political scoundrel, but his lifelong ministry to the imprisoned, the evidence of intellectual support for the leap of faith, his pioneering analysis of daily news in light of ancient Scripture, his surprising emphasis on church unity, and as a senior leader his behind-the-scenes influence in the halls of power.

One could easily make the case that Colson is the central evangelical figure in the last generation. He was not the most visible, popular, best-selling, controversial, quoted, or cited—but he is among the leaders in all of those categories. At the same time, much of his influence is behind the scenes and through his profound influence on influencers.

I saw much of this unfold as an associate, aide, and consultant to Colson over nearly two decades, from the early 80s into the new millenium, serving for part of that time as his chief of staff, and—as he would occasionally say with a chuckle—his hatchet man. 

Chuck Colson’s life and work has had an enormous impact in at least these five areas:


Colson was known as the White House “hatchet man,” a man feared by even the most powerful politicos during his four years of service to President Nixon. When news of Colson’s conversion to Christianity leaked to the press in 1973, the Boston Globe reported, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” Colson would agree. He admits he was guilty of political “dirty tricks” and willing to do almost anything for the cause of his president and his party.

“My conversion kept the political cartoonists of America clothed and fed for months. The cartoons were all somewhat the same: a picture of me in a monk’s habit, standing outside the White House fence, with a sign that read: Repent!

“But before my conversion I wasn’t nearly as bad as I was made out to be,” Colson told me, “And I’m not nearly as good as a Christian as I’m made out to be. But it makes for a great testimony!”

 That testimony is usually confused in the re-telling, with the story including a Watergate conviction that resulted in a prison sentence for Colson, and while in prison sentence he turned to God. The facts are that Colson, in the midst of the Watergate hearings, dramatically came to faith in Christ in 1973, and as a result of his new faith and life, he decided, in 1974, to plead guilty to a charge that was related to Nixonian dirty tricks (but not directed related to the Watergate break-in or cover-up). Colson was sentenced to prison on the basis of the guilty plea and he entered prison as a Christian and began his conversion memoir, Born Again, during his seven months in prison. Born Again was one of the nation’s best-selling books of all genres in 1976 and was made into a feature-length film.

His heavily publicized commitment to Jesus Christ as a highly visible public figure has been instrumental in many conversions among, for the lack of a better word, the elite in this nation and around the world. 

 Prison Ministry

Because Chuck Colson began his Christian life in prison, the needs of prisoners and the failures of the criminal justice system were among the first problems that God brought to his attention, the commitment he made to help those prisoners is a promise he has never broken. The attention he brought to prison ministry has changed the church.

 Upon his release Colson founded Prison Fellowship (in 1976), which has become the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. Christians had been ministering to people in prison throughout the history of the church, but it had never had scale and visibility; neither was it well-funded. As a result of Chuck Colson’s intelligence, notoriety, communications skills, organizing ability, and fundraising prowess, Prison Fellowship has grown to unimaginable proportions (for a prison ministry), and prison outreach has become a prominent part of church programming. [Many of Prison Fellowship’s largest donors had only marginal interest in prison work. As one major contributor told me: “If Chuck asked me to support a basket-weaving ministry, I’d do it.” We called this part of the donor base “Colson groupies.”

 Applying a Christian Worldview to Secular Culture

It wasn’t long after he began Prison Fellowship, that Colson sensed God’s calling to comment on the culture and the church’s interaction with the culture through the written and spoken word. It was clear immediately his knowledge and life experiences were unique among Christian leaders. Colson called on Christians to begin each day “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” After his two autobiographic books that described his conversion (Born Again) and the beginning of the prison ministry (Life Sentence), he moved markedly toward a critique of church and culture, beginning with Loving God in 1983, often using illustrations from the rough world of prison ministry to make his larger points.

 In later years, perhaps sensing his own mortality, Colson began a center to train a new generation of leaders to renew the church and revitalize the culture. Colson describes this as a new effort “to be salt and light, rubbed into the culture in such a way that the people and institutions around us slowly begin to understand that they have embraced the Lie, and to replace it with the Truth of a biblical understanding of all of reality.”

 Colson has written 20 books, which have collectively sold more than five million copies, and his 4-minute daily radio commentary, BreakPoint, has been a popular daily word for Christians.

 Influence in the Political Arena

His 1987 his book Kingdoms in Conflict (updated in 2007 as God and Government) was a best-selling directive to the Christian community on the proper relationships of church and state, and it positioned Colson as a centrist evangelical voice for balanced Christian political activism. (Pat Robertson’s presidential run made the original release of Kingdoms) a big hit. That influence continued over the next 20 years, often behind the scenes. 

 In Faith in the Halls of Power, Michael Lindsay writes that Colson is the evangelical “movement leader who seemed to have the greatest influence” in Washington. More than a quarter of the senior political leaders he interviewed mentioned Colson by name when asked about the “most influential” evangelical leaders, more than the SBC’s Richard Land or Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins (no one mentioned James Dobson).[1]

 Seeking Christian Unity

Colson’s commitment to the unity of the Church led to his co-authorship (with Father Richard John Neuhaus) of a cutting-edge document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” that significantly helped to build an important bridge between Protestants and Catholics.  Seeking  commonality with the orthodox Christian faith and working to bring the church together is perhaps Colson’s most courageous and controversial act, with a number of conservative evangelicals at least privately critical of his actions, and many publicly dismissive of the ECT initiative. Colson’s book The Faith was a remarkable effort to identify the common tenets of the Christian faith. 

 In recognition of his work, Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1993, donating the $1 million prize to Prison Fellowship. Colson’s other awards have included the Humanitarian Award, Dominos Pizza Corporation (1991); The Others Award, The Salvation Army (1990); several honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities (1982-2000); and the Outstanding Young Man of Boston, Chamber of Commerce (1960).

[1] Lindsay, D. Michael. Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. Oxford University Press. 2007.

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #45 Os Guinness. Modern de Tocqueville

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

45.  Os Guinness. Modern de Tocqueville  b.1941

 As a European visitor to the United States and a great admirer but somewhat detached observer of American culture today, Os Guinness stands in the long tradition of outside voices who have contributed so much to America’s ongoing discussion about the state of the union.

Great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, Os was born in China in World War II where his parents were medical missionaries (and where his siblings died of illness). He was named Oswald after Oswald Chambers, a friend of his parents. A witness to the climax of the Chinese revolution in 1949, he was expelled with his family and many other foreigners in 1951 and returned to Europe–where he was educated in England. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of London and his D.Phil in the social sciences from Oriel College, Oxford.

Guinness is a Christian cultural critic with deep theological awareness and penetrating insights into character, social interaction, historic lessons, and unyielding devotion to God. He has written or edited more than twenty-five books, including The American Hour, Time for Truth, The Call, Invitation to the Classics, Long Journey Home, and Unspeakable: Facing up to the Challenge of Evil. His latest book, The Case for Civility was published by HarperOne in January 2008.

“Civility,” Guinness says, “ is how we must live with our deep differences. It’s the American way as described by James Madison, with no state church and no religious monopoly. The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] got religious liberty right with the First Amendment in 1791, long before they got race or women right. However, the way the founders set the country up has been breaking down since the 1960s, or really since the Everson case in 1947. We have incessant cultural warring with, as Richard Neuhaus put it, the sacred public square on one side and the naked public square on the other. Both of the sides are well funded, both employ batteries of lawyers, both are nationally led and it’s a disaster for America. What Neuhaus and others call the “civil public square” is a key to the American future; Christians should be champions of that civil public square.”[1]

Guinness is perhaps best known for his writings, as a co-laborer with Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, for his work on the Williamsburg Charter—which attempted to establish decorum in political discourse; and for his founding and leadership of the unique outreach of The Trinity Forum to leaders often untouched by traditional means.

 The Trinity Forum is:

 “a leadership academy that works to cultivate networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will help renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing. Our programs and publications offer contexts for leaders to consider together the big ideas that have shaped Western civilization and the faith that has animated its highest achievements.”

I had the good fortune of working with Os during the start-up years of The Trinity Forum. He is probably the most gracious and gentle intellectual I have worked with (and I have worked with many, in case I needed additional reasons for humility), while at the same time Guinness also maintained intellectual rigor and British propriety. It is a blend that allows you to establish a warm friendship with him, appreciate his everyday brilliance, and yet never become overly chummy. To have it any other way would negate his unique character.

 Years after I worked with Os, when I was going through a difficult personal time, he was one of the few friends and certainly the only Christian leader who called me to offer encouragement to my spirit and solace to my soul. He was self depreciating and assured me that I was not alone in any wrongdoing. It is the kind of kindness one never forgets.

 Guinness lives with his wife Jenny in McLean, Virginia.

[1] http://www.faithandleadership.com/multimedia/os-guinness-civility-the-public-square

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #35 Michael Gerson. The Scribe

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

 #35. Michael Gerson. The Scribe  b.1964

 In modern American culture, where the language of politics influences the thinking and actions of not just its public officials but also its people and its institutions, speechwriter and columnist Michael Gerson is certainly the most influential evangelical rhetorician of the last generation and a powerful literary craftsman at the nexus Christian faith and public life.

 Today a columnist for The Washington Post, Gerson emerged professionally as a sure bet to make a mark in the public square. We were colleagues in the late 1980s on Chuck Colson’s personal staff at Prison Fellowship, Gerson drafting speeches and columns soon after graduating from Wheaton College. I was Colson’s chief of staff, so technically Mike worked for me, but only in the same way that press secretary Robert Gibbs works for White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. In reality, Gerson dealt with Colson almost entirely, and he served him with great skill.

The first major speech in which he had a significant hand was Colson’s 1993 acceptance speech at Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, when Colson received the Templeton Prize. That speech, The Enduring Revolution, demonstrated the powerful use of language, spiritual images, and rich content that would have a much larger megaphone when Gerson served as the chief speech writer for President George W. Bush.

 In The Enduring Revolution, Gerson/Colson penned these words:

 “Christian conviction inspires public virtue, the moral impulse to do good. It has sent legions into battle against disease, oppression, and bigotry. It ended the slave trade, built hospitals and orphanages, tamed the brutality of mental wards and prisons. In every age it has given divine mercy a human face in the lives of those who follow Christ — from Francis of Assisi to the great social reformers Wilberforce and Shaftesbury to Mother Teresa to the tens of thousands of Prison Fellowship volunteers who take hope to the captives — and who are the true recipients of this award. Christian conviction also shapes personal virtue, the moral imperative to be good. It subdues an obstinate will. It ties a tether to self-interest and violence.”[1]

After writing for Colson, Gerson went on to write for Senator Dan Coats, for Bob Dole’s and Jack Kemp’s presidential campaigns, and at U.S. News and World Report—before joining the Bush team and eventually serving in the White House.

Gerson has said one of his favorite speeches was given at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001, a few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which included the following passage: “Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn.”

Gerson also coined “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and “the armies of compassion.”

Gerson was criticized during his time as “The Scribe,” as President Bush called him, for his Christian influence on Bush and on the content of his speeches and policies. This criticism came from political opponents and others who object to religious content in government discourse and indeed to any suggestion that there are spiritual aspects to personal convictions and decision-making. 

Gerson addressed the topic of religious content in political life in a talk to journalists at a forum sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center in 2004.  He outlined the five aspects of religious rhetoric in public addresses:

1. Comfort in grief and mourning, and we’ve had too many of those opportunities: in the space shuttle disaster, 9/11, other things where people are faced with completely unfair suffering. And in that circumstance, a president generally can’t say that death is final, and separation is endless, and the universe is an echoing, empty void.  A president offers hope – the hope of reunions and a love stronger than death, and justice beyond our understanding.     

2. Historic influence of faith on our country. We argue that it has contributed to the justice of America, that people of faith have been a voice of conscience.

3. When we talk about our faith-based welfare reform . This is rooted in the president’s belief that government, in some cases, should encourage the provision of social services without providing those services. And some of the most effective providers, especially in fighting addiction and providing mentoring, are faith-based community groups.

4. Literary allusions to hymns and scripture . In our first inaugural, we had “when we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side;” or “there is power, wonder-working power in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people” in the State of the Union. I’ve actually had, in the past, reporters call me up on a variety of speeches and ask me where are the code words. I try to explain that they’re not code words; they’re literary references understood by millions of Americans. They’re not code words; they’re our culture. It’s not a code word when I put a reference to T.S. Eliot’s Choruses From the Rock in our Whitehall speech; it’s a literary reference. And just because some don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s a plot or a secret.

5. Reference to providence, which some of the other examples have touched on. This is actually a longstanding tenet of American civil religion. It is one of the central themes of Lincoln’s second inaugural. It’s a recurring theme of Martin Luther King – “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice;” “we do not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.” The important theological principle here, I believe, is to avoid identifying the purposes of an individual or a nation with the purposes of God. That seems presumption to me, and we’ve done our best to avoid the temptation. [2]

Since leaving the White House, Gerson has often criticized fellow conservatives in his columns (and they have returned the favor). One of Gerson’s first Washington Post columns was entitled “Letting Fear Rule”, in which he compared skeptics of President Bush’s immigration reform bill to nativist bigots of the 1880s. He has also been critical of some elements of the Tea Party movement and libertarians.  His book “Heroic Conservatism,” published by HarperOne in 2007, established Gerson as a continuing voice for compassionate conservatism, which is often seen in his twice-weekly columns, and which has pitted him from time to time against the most conservative elements of the Republican Party.

[1] http://www.ifapray.org/downloads/The%20Enduring%20Revolution%20-%20Charles%20Colson.pdf 

[2] http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2005/01/The-Danger-For-America-Is-Not-Theocracy.aspx

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #23 T.D. Jakes. The Entrepreneur

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#23.  T.D. Jakes, The Entrepreneur   

 In many ways, Thomas Dexter Jakes looms too large in the evangelical milieu to ignore. Everything about him defies anonymity. The first time I heard him speak was at an annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters convention, where is totally dazzled the crowd with his rhetorical flourishes, spiritual inspiration, and pure theatrics. Jakes pastors one of the largest Pentecostal churches in America, The Potter’s House in Dallas with some 30,000 members, and he’s a dominant player in just every available media vehicle—enormous book sales (30 books), a large radio and television presence, flabbergasting conference success, his own record label and a theater and movie production company, and even involvement as a songwriter, playwright, and performer.

 In raw influence, he has overwhelmed nearly every other Christian communicator over the last 20 years, especially in the charismatic and African-American communities. 

 Jakes church services and evangelistic sermons are broadcast on The Potter’s Touch, which airs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Black Entertainment Television, the Daystar Television Network, The Word Network and The Miracle Channel in Canada. Other aspects of Jakes’ ministry include an annual revival called “MegaFest” (which has drawn more than 100,000 people), an annual women’s conference called “Woman Thou Art Loosed”, and gospel music recordings.

Jakes’ Potter’s House conducts drugs and alcohol counseling in the inner city, and assists the elderly, prostitutes and victims of domestic abuse. Jakes also has a special interest in the continent of Africa, and The Potter’s House launched an initiative that brought water wells, medicine, and ministry to thousands of people in and around Nairobi, Kenya.

On the other hand, many clearheaded analysts observe that Jakes beliefs and teaching have such doctrinal error that what he is leading is not an evangelical movement, but a cult. The worst of the error is Jakes’ apparent embrace of the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine that dismisses Trinitarianism—the belief that God is One in Three Persons—and instead asserts that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three manifestations of one God.

Some, including Jakes, calls this a matter of semantics. But most evangelical theologians disagree.

For Trinitarians, they say, a defining feature of the biblical God is a subject-object love relationship eternally existing within His own Being. For Unitarians (of all stripes, not just the sect by that name), until He created the angels and the world, God was one solitary Subject — absolutely alone. Such radically different conceptions of God cannot be harmonized. Whether it is the Arian god of Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Sabellian god of Oneness Pentecostals, a Unitarian god is not the biblical God (e.g., John 17:5; 24).

When asked about this by a radio host, Jakes does anything but clarify this discrepancy. Jakes said:

“I think it’s very, very significant that we first of all study the Trinity apart from salvation, and first of all that we embrace Christ and come to Him and come to know Who He is. Having come to know Who He is, then we begin to deal with the Trinity, which I believe is a very complex issue. The Trinity, the term Trinity, is not a biblical term, to begin with. It’s a theological description for something that is so beyond human comprehension that I’m not sure that we can totally hold God to a numerical system.  The Lord said, “Behold, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one, and beside Him there is no other.” When God got ready to make a man that looked like Him, He didn’t make three.  He made one man.  However, that one man had three parts. He was body, soul and spirit.  We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration. It’s very important that we understand that, but I think that the first thing that every believer needs to do is to approach God by faith, and then having approached Him by faith, then they need to sit up under good teaching so that they can begin to understand who the God is that they have believed upon.”[1]

Respected evangelical theological Norman Geisler, asked about Jakes’ denial of the Trinity, said:

“That’s correct. He does. It’s an old, old heresy in the Christian church called modalism. I know T.D. Jakes is very popular, and I know people don’t like his ministry being called a cult, but it is. It would have been condemned by any orthodox church down through the centuries. [When evangelicals just wink at this] it says the evangelical church in America is about 3,000 miles wide and an inch deep. Doctrinally, we are very shallow. In North Carolina we are in what is called the Bible Belt, but our problem is that we don’t have enough Bible under our belts. We have enough religion to makes us susceptible, but not enough doctrine to make us discerning. You can’t recognize error until you can recognize the truth. I’m told that when government experts want to train people to recognize counterfeit currency, they study genuine currency. The same is true with doctrine.” [2]

T.D. Jakes enormous reach and success exposes the soft underbelly of evangelical growth and stability over the last generation. As entrepreneurial figures have gained great wealth and a popular following beyond a local church or single medium, they feel invulnerable, untouchable, and certainly beyond real accountability. The entrepreneurial spirit can present great dangers when it is applied to doctrines of an ancient church. And since Protestants don’t have a central guardian of church doctrine, and some parts of evangelicalism–such as the independent charismatics–have a shaky doctrinal base and even shakier accountability structures, there is almost no ability to reign in giants such as T.D. Jakes, regardless of how far he strays from the straight and narrow.  

[1] “Living by the Word” on KKLA, hosted by John Coleman, Aug. 23, 1998 

[2]30 Minutes With Norman Geisler” World Newspaper Publishing. http://www.forgottenword.org/jakes.html

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #25 Samuel Rodriguez. Hispanic Advocate

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#25. Samuel Rodriguez. Hispanic advocate 

(b. 1971)



The enormous promotional skills of Samuel Rodriguez, the self-anointed “leader of the Hispanic evangelical movement” and “America’s voice for Hispanic Christianity,” will be put to the test over the next few years as he attempts to bridge conservative evangelicals and the emerging group of evangelical Hispanics over the contentious issue of immigration reform.

President of the Hispanic Christian Leadership Council (HCLC)—earlier known as the Hispanic National Association of Evangelicals—Rodriguez wields tremendous influence as one of the leaders of a religious-ethnic religious group being courted by Republicans and Democrats. It is a role the young Assemblies of God pastor clearly relishes, and he has recently demonstrated the skills that will be necessary as a coalition builder on immigration.

Rodriguez gains influence on the right with stellar conservative Christian bona fides. He serves on the board of directors of some of America’s leading evangelical organizations, such as Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today, Inc. He also serves on the advisory board of the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and various pro-life initiatives. In addition, he serves on the steering committee of The Freedom Federation, The Oak Initiative and the General Superintendents’ Cabinet in the Assemblies of God.

Raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Puerto Rican parents, Rodriguez grew up in an Assemblies of God church (and now pastors one in Sacramento, California). He delivered his first sermon when he was 16 and quickly grew to be a rousing and acclaimed preacher.  ”I want to be a voice for our people,” he says.[1] His wife Eva serves as senior pastor of Christian Worship Center.[2]

Rodriguez earned his Master’s degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University and he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational management and behavior. He is serving on President Obama’s White House Task Force on Fatherhood.

His conservative voice often has a slightly different tone than his anglo-evangelical counterparts, but the substance is usually the same. On the war on terror, he said:

“Our moral imperative must drive us to advocate a foreign policy of justice. If we must take the lead on the war on terror, let us simultaneously take the lead on the war on poverty. We can be both Pro Israel and Pro the Palestinian People. Let us help Israel and the Palestinians by both eradicating the terrorist groups while simultaneously building schools, infrastructure, and providing opportunity. Let us replace fear with hope, rockets with opportunity. At the end of the day, let us understand that Islamic religious totalitarianism is the 21st Century version of Hitler’s National Socialism. What do we do with evil? Negotiate compromise, surrender or confront? The answer will determine not only the fate of Israel, but the fate of world peace for years to come.” [3]

But Rodriguez’ marquee issue is immigration, which he calls “a family issue for Hispanics.” In May 2010, Rodriquez orchestrated an unlikely coalition of conservatives that adopted a consensus statement on immigration reform. The group included Matthew Staver of Liberty Counsel, a ministry of Liberty University; Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Rick Tyler, the head of Newt Gingrich’s new values-based organization.

CNN reported

 ”After securing our borders, we must allow the millions of undocumented and otherwise law-abiding persons living in our midst to come out of the shadows,” reads a recent draft of the document, which is still being finalized. “The pathway for earned legal citizenship or temporary residency should involve a program of legalization for undocumented persons in the United States. …”

 Many conservatives say illegal immigrants should be forced to return to their home countries and start the process of legally coming to the U.S. from scratch.

 Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — which represents about 16 million Latino evangelicals in the U.S. — says he’ll soon start presenting the document to Republican leaders like Gingrich, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio in hopes that they sign on.

 ”If the conservative evangelical community looks to the Republican Party and says, ‘We demand integration reform, we demand a just assimilation strategy,’ that may be the tipping point in getting substantial Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform,” Rodriguez said. [4]

Rodriquez points out that what commentators call an ”illegal immigrant” is, for Hispanic-evangelicals, beloved Uncle Carlos, a hard-working family man and deacon at the church. It’s hard to build alliances with people who want to put Uncle Carlos in jail. Rodriguez emphasizes that he’s not defending violations of the law. He is all for border control and immigration enforcement. He feels, however, that the argument has become anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. “I’m very disappointed. We need dialogue on why white evangelicals are so threatened by people who are so fundamentally in accord with their values.”[5]

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/id/81377


[2] http://www.nhclc.org/leader/rev-samuel-rodriguez

[3] http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/samuel_rodriguez/2009/01/hamas_hezbollah_and_al_qaeda_2.html

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/05/10/immigration.evangelicals/index.html

[5] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/31.82.html

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#41.  Nancy S. DeMoss. Philanthropist  b.1938 

While evangelical leaders recognize that God’s will and blessing are the most important ingredients of successful Christian work, it should be no surprise that funding is a vital lubricant for successful ministries. The primary sources of this funding are the individual donors who provide relatively small but regular gifts—“tithes and offerings”—to local churches and to national and international ministries.

However, large ministries must also receive major gifts from individual donors and foundations focusing on Christian ministry.  The largest U.S. group providing money to evangelical causes is the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, a family foundation led during the last 30 years by its matriarch, Mrs. Nancy DeMoss. The foundation was begun by her late husband, Arthur S. DeMoss, an insurance innovator and highly respected Christian businessman. Art DeMoss founded National Liberty Corporation, the pioneer of direct response insurance marketing (whose advertising featured Art Linkletter) and then began the foundation before his untimely death in 1979.

His oldest daughter Nancy Leigh DeMoss said her father was “a living illustration of the principles he taught us,” showing his seven children to put God first in everything by giving the first hour of his own day to the Word and prayer—every day for 28 years. He taught his children to be generous givers through his own goal of giving away an extravagant sum of money during his lifetime.”[1]

 His wife Nancy has guaranteed that Art DeMoss’ goal became reality, as she has guided the foundation—with a strong hand–in its extravagant giving to Christian and conservative causes over the last three decades. 

The DeMoss family, like many families of means who give away large amounts of their treasure, is mostly private to reduce badgering by grant-seekers and for family safety. But since all foundation giving records are public, the generosity of the family cannot be hidden. Also, the foundation has sponsored some very public programs, and several  family members—although not Mrs. DeMoss–have been quite visible.  ”The Foundation has a history of not seeking publicity. Foundation grantees sign a confidentiality agreement so strict that they will not even discuss the group to praise it.”[2]

Although media coverage of evangelicals, such as Time’s 2005 cover story on 25 influencers, usually focused on political action and hot-button issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, in reality most evangelical attention goes to the spiritual priorities of the church, such as evangelism, Christian growth, and care for the poor and suffering.

This emphasis is reflected in giving within evangelicalism and is typified by the DeMoss Foundation. Records show that DeMoss provides gifts of some $21 million a year, largely support of evangelistic efforts in this country and around the world, with the top recipients including Campus Crusade for Christ, Prison Fellowship Ministries, and Liberty University. 

The foundation has also conducted some high-profile projects of its own, such as Power For Living, which has as its objective to acquaint as many people as possible throughout the world with information on how to get right with God. This is done through a multi-media campaign promoting the free book, Power For Living. The project has shifted overseas, but in the early 1990s it was quite visible in some major U.S. markets, with the foundation reportedly spending “more than $27.8 million–a sum outpacing [at the time] the media buy of a presidential campaign. [3]

Among its visible projects over the years was the 1992 ad campaign with the slogan “Life, What A Beautiful Choice,” one of the most effective and tasteful pro-life campaigns ever created. On his radio program, BreakPoint, Chuck Colson said at the time:

“The DeMoss commercials are an excellent model of how to win hearts. In a gentle, engaging style, they nudge people to reconsider how to respond to a problem pregnancy. It holds people up as admirable if they carry their babies to term. It reminds the audience that there are millions of couples ready to offer a loving home for those babies. The De Moss Foundation’s decision to air these commercials during prime time is brilliant. Right during thirtysomething, no less, when the audience consists of just those middle-class, single women most likely to abort.”[4]

Another high-profile ministry heavily supported by DeMoss is a Campus Crusade program called Executive Ministries, an evangelistic outreach targeting business and professional executives. The points of contact are luncheons and dinner parties featuring prominent Christian speakers, with these events often conducted at Mrs. DeMoss’ Palm Beach mansion, or at a facility in New York City called the DeMoss House. 

Three of the DeMoss children have been in the public eye.

  •  Nancy Leigh DeMoss, a best-selling author and popular speaker, has served on the staff of Life Action Ministries, a revival ministry based in Niles, Michigan, since 1980.
  •  Mark DeMoss heads the nation’s largest public relations firm serving Christian organizations and causes and is the author of The Little Red Book Of Wisdom , a book of principles for personal and professional fulfillment. (Note: I was a vice president at The DeMoss Group in the late 1990s).
  • Deborah DeMoss was a  forceful and sometimes controversial aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), championing Nicaragua’s contra rebels and advising conservative politicians in El Salvador and throughout the region (where she married and still lives).

Although liberal stalwarts like to criticize Mrs. DeMoss and the foundation for their support of conservative politicians and causes, most who know of her work sense the heartbeat of evangelism. Eastern College sociology professor and author Tony Campolo said:

 ”Their purpose is to propagate the evangelical commitments, and that includes the social values associated with those commitments. But what they are really about is old-time religion, endeavoring to see that every person in the world comes to know Jesus.”


[1] http://library.generousgiving.org/page.asp?sec=8&page=579

[2] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,28859,00.html#ixzz0sWuxxSmB

[3]  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,28859,00.html#ixzz0sWuxxSmB

[4] https://www.colsoncenter.org/bpcommentaries/breakpoint-commentaries-search/entry/13/10200

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #36 Ralph Reed. Political muscle

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#36  Ralph Reed. Political muscle  b.1961 

 Ralph Reed is “perhaps the finest political operative of his generation,”[1] and has certainly been the most bare-knuckled evangelical political brawler of the last 20 years. As executive director of the Christian Coalition (1989-1997), he built one of nation’s most effective grassroots organizations and played a pivotal role in the election of the first Republican Congress in 40 years. Under his leadership, the organization grew from 2,000 over 2 million members and supporters in 3,000 local chapters.

Reed’s departure from the Coalition to form his own consulting firm in Atlanta provided a vivid demonstration of the importance of leadership.  The group was never the same, and today it is a shell of the organization it was in its heyday. Reed went on to have a successful career as a political consultant to both corporations and candidates. He headed George W. Bush’s southern campaign and transformed the Georgia Republican Party, building first-time Republican majorities in the State House and capturing the Governor’s Mansion and both U.S. Senate seats. 

Reed made a run for public office, but he found that his work as a political operative and consultant involved associations and tactics that didn’t bode well as a candidate. As one of the toughest of the modern political players, the ugly and risky strategies he used in high-profile political races did not look statesmanlike (or of a high ethical standard) in the bright light of a candidacy, and he was soundly defeated in the Georgia Republican primary for Lt. Governor in 2006.

This surprised observers who had seen nothing but success from the the young wunderkind:

Many thought “the young man who at 33 graced Time magazine’s cover in 1995 as “The Right Hand of God” might appear there again, perhaps a decade from now, taking the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Instead, there was Reed, just 45 but with crow’s-feet carved gently into his temples, offering a meager group of supporters a curt concession speech in a hotel ballroom in Buckhead. He had lost the primary to a little-known state senator named Casey Cagle in a 12-point landslide, Reed’s once invincible lead in the polls and fund raising eroded by a year of steady revelations about his ties to the convicted former G.O.P. superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. In the political vernacular that Reed loves to employ, he was waxed.”[2]

Nonetheless, Reed remains one of the brightest and most sought-after political consultants in the nation and is extending his public voice through The Faith and Freedom Coalition advocacy group, which he started in 2009. He also published an insightful political thriller called Dark Horse that demonstrated Reed’s knowledge of both national politics and Christian conservatives. 

[1] Wall Street Journal


[2] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1218060,00.html

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #37 Richard Cizik. Renegade

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

37.  Richard Cizik. Renegade  b.1951 

After nearly five years of tweaking conservative evangelical leadership on a variety of issues, but most pointedly global warming, from his post as the vice president and chief Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizik finally accomplished what his persistent Christian adversaries could not. He self-destructed on a national radio program, stepping beyond NAE dogma not on an environmental issue, but on same-sex unions. After a run as one of the most-quoted evangelicals, occasionally taken to the woodshed by his NAE bosses but frequently glorified in mainstream media, Rich Cizik was fired by the association and found himself in the evangelical wilderness, with invitations and job offers only from his secular admirers and the most progressive evangelical allies.

 Cizik has been an honest and valuable voice for evangelicals for nearly 30 years, twisting the arms of politicians on issues important to the movement, such as abortion, pornography, religious freedom, AIDS, and—more recently— human trafficking, global poverty, climate change, and torture. The issues that gripped him broadened over the years, and while he remained theologically conservative and pro-life, the matters that began to stir his passions shifted from the historic issues of the culture wars to the causes usually championed by the evangelical left and progressives generally. 

 Cizik is described as one of the “new breed of evangelicals,” a label made popular by the New York Times[1] to give sashay to evangelicals who began to add their voices to those of progressives on topics such as the environment. He was on the point for this new part of the movement, but he outran his cover and left himself vulnerable to his adversarial brethren. Although evangelicals have been embracing many new missions, they aren’t moving as fast as Cizik or as far to the left.

 I’ve seen all of this happening while working at Rich’s side in the evangelical environmental movement, and as our public relations firm, Rooftop, represented him and the NAE government affairs office in the final years of his tenure. I have found Rich to be devout, earnest, ambitious, and slightly reckless.

 Cizik can easily be seen as one strand of a thread extending from the generation’s beginnings, in the tradition of Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry–evangelicals who were strictly orthodox, but advocated a broad engagement with the world. “I’m not some upstart who’s trying to conjure up a new vision,” Cizik said. “This goes back a long way.”[2] His errors are tactical rather than theological.

More than anything, Cizik has been driven by this moral necessity for Christians to fight climate change.

He thought little about climate change until 2002, when he attended a conference on the subject and heard a leading British climate scientist, Sir John Houghton, a prominent evangelical. “Sir John made clear that you could believe in the science and remain a faithful biblical Christian. All I can say is that my heart was changed. For years I’d thought, ‘Well, one side says this, the other side says that. There’s no reason to get involved.’ But the science has become too compelling. I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I didn’t want to be like the evangelicals who avoided getting involved during the civil rights movement and in the process discredited the gospel and themselves.

“As a biblical Christian,” Cizik said, “I agree with St. Francis that every square inch on Earth belongs to Christ. If we don’t pay attention to global climate change, it’s pretty obvious that tens and or even hundreds of millions of people are going to die. If you have a major sea-level rise, then Bangladesh becomes uninhabitable. Where do you put its 100 million people? Do you put them in India? In China? They’d have no place to go.”[3]

In 2006, Cizik was part of a group that organized the Evangelical Climate Initiative[4], a major statement from 86 key evangelical leaders that described climate change as an urgent moral issue for Christians and called for the government to act on it. Cizik was part of the group of four people who planned ECI and made waves with its launch. (I was part of that group and served as campaign director for two years.) The real mastermind of the initiative, though, was Jim Ball, who for the last 15 years has been the progressive, intellectual glue for environmental work among evangelicals (now climate director for the Evangelical Environmental Network). It is Ball who mentored Cizik and taught him most of what he knows about both the science and the biblical basis for climate work. Ball, however, is a far more cautious operator, and while cheering Cizik’s progress on environmental issues, constantly counseled him to be more careful about his public statements on climate change as an NAE spokesman.

That counsel, as well as similar advice he received from Rooftop and others, went unheeded. 

It is a shame that Cizik is currently too toxic to have influence among mainstream evangelicals, for his instincts and convictions are important among a profusion of concerns. That may change as he continues to work within his new organization: The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and as the disagreements on some issues begin to lose their edge. Also, while some of Cizik’s most virulent critics are in the final years of active ministry, he is a relatively youthful 58.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/03/us/03evangelical.html


[2] Newsweek. January 28, 2010  http://www.newsweek.com/id/232669

[3] http://www.grist.org/article/2010-04-27-jesus-climate-change-journey-of-evangelical-leader-rich-cizik/

[4] http://christiansandclimate.org/

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #33 Richard Land. Lobbyist

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#33.  Richard Land. Lobbyist  b.1946 

 Conservative evangelicals are inclined to oppose East coast elite, Washington insider, Princeton-Oxford educated, career lobbyists. That is unless he’s their lobbyist.

Enter Richard Land, the chief Washington lobbyist of the Southern Baptist Convention and a key part of the fixed conservative set in the culture wars.  Land has presented what he sees as Southern Baptist interests to policymakers and media for more than 20 years. Land is clear where the bulk of Southern Baptists will come down on most issues. But except for the convention resolution process once a year, there is really no mechanism for Land and the SBC agency he heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)—the official policy voice of the SBC—to derive the SBC position. Land often develops his own position and builds support from key players in the denomination. He knows well what will sell in the SBC, which helps him steer clear of positions that would attract the ire of Baptists across the country.

Land is a formidable public spokesman and culture warrior. “People think they’re going to be dealing with some bootstrap preacher,” said Larry Eskridge, a the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. “But he can match pedigree and training with the best of them.”[1]

He helped stop the 16-million-member SBC’s  slide to the left in 1979, and he has a hand in most of its key policies, from its 1995 apology for having supported slavery, to its 1998 statement that wives should submit to the leadership of their devout husbands.

While most ERLC positions are predictable—most recently its stubborn opposition to even nuanced climate change legislation—Land does occasionally surprise.

In 1994, he was a signer of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document,  not a popular expression of ecumenism in the SBC.

 In 2010, Land announced the denomination’s support for establishing a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants. Land said that after borders are secure, there needs to be a way for them to pay back taxes, take a civics course and get in line with others seeking legal status. Similar to many ERLC positions, the reasoning on immigration is both spiritual and political.

The spiritual: “It is love your neighbor, do unto others. This is a kingdom issue. They are disproportionately suffering because they are forced to remain in the shadows because of their illegal status.”

The political: “Hispanics are hard-wired to be social conservatives unless we drive them away. They are family oriented, religiously oriented and pro-marriage, pro-life … tailor-made to be social conservatives.”[2]

 Land’s positions are not always the winning ones within the convention. In 2010, he took a hard line on responses to the Gulf oil spill; one writer called him the “drummer in the right-wing parade of blame” of the the environmental movement and the Obama administration, while treating British Petroleum gently.[3] A more balanced resolution for SBC action passed overwhelmingly at the 2010 convention and although Land later expressed his support, he privately sought to undermine it at the committee level.

 Land, who Time magazine called “God’s Lobbyist,” exercises great power because of his intellect and persuasive skills, but also because of his ability to choose his tactics as a SBC powerhouse—either leading (in times when he has deep personal convictions) or following (when he can claim to be only a spokesman for the denomination).

 He’s done both with great effectiveness in a generation of public evangelical engagement in the halls of power.

[1] Time magazine, January 30, 2005,


[2] Tennessean.com, June 8, 2010

[3] http://baptistplanet.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/richard-lands-misanalysis-of-the-deepwater-horizon-catastrophe/

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #34 George W. Bush. Resolute witness

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#34. George W. Bush. Resolute witness  b. 1946 

 One of many things that agitated George W. Bush’s political opponents was the bold statement of Christian faith that made him one of the most visible—if not one of the most articulate—witnesses for Jesus Christ in the modern era. Bush’s public professions demonstrated the clumsy language and descriptions that evangelicals recognize as typical of new believers brought to the public stage. Bush attests that he came to faith in Christ in his mid-life as a result of wife’s influence and then a 1985 family weekend with Billy Graham.

 “Over the course of a weekend, Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul,” Bush says in his testimony. “It was a seed that grew over the next year. He led me to the path, and I began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life. I had always been a ‘religious’ person, had regularly attended church, even taught Sunday School and served as an altar boy. But that weekend my faith took on a new meaning. It was the beginning of a new walk where I would commit my heart to Jesus Christ.”[1]

 His later-in-life conversion, although not uncommon, made him “among a small number of American presidents to have undergone a profound religious transformation as an adult.”[2] What matured his faith were the actions he took as a new believer: reading the Bible voraciously, becoming involved in a men’s Bible study, and committing to a regimen of regular prayer.

Bush said: “I have also learned the power of prayer. I pray for guidance. I do not pray for earthly things, but for heavenly things, for wisdom and patience and understanding. My faith gives me focus and perspective. It teaches humility. But I also recognize that faith can be misinterpreted in the political process. Faith is an important part of my life. I believe it is important to live my faith, not flaunt it. America is a great country because of our religious freedoms. It is important for any leader to respect the faith of others.”[3]

 One of the most striking differences in the actions of born-again president George W. Bush and two other modern presidents who professed Christianity, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—both Southern Baptists at the time of their presidencies—was the number of evangelicals that Bush surrounded himself with in his Administration.

 “Though Clinton talked often about his faith,” wrote Rice University professor Michael Lindsay in his book Faith in the Halls of Power, “the presidency of George W. Bush strikes many observers as the most evangelical in recent memory.”[4]

 “Bush surrounded himself with more evangelicals than any other U.S. president in the last 50 years,” Lindsay wrote. “Even among nonevangelicals [in the administration], there was a general affinity for religious faith.”

There was also divergence from his Democratic predecessors reflected in Bush’s views on the role of personal responsibility and government. Bush commented:

“The new culture has said: ‘Individuals are not responsible for their actions; we are all victims of forces beyond our control.’ We have gone from a culture of sacrifice and saving to a culture obsessed with grabbing all the gusto. We went from accepting responsibility to assigning blame. As government did more and more, individuals were required to do less and less. The new culture said: ‘if people were poor, the government should feed them. If someone had no house, the government should provide one. If criminals are not responsible for their acts, then the answers are not prisons, but social programs.’  For our culture to change, it must change one heart, one soul, and one conscience at a time. Government can spend money, but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives.” [5]

But more than anything Bush will be forever remembered as the president who guided the nation after the 9/11 attacks, and then as an unpopular war president. Taking a nation to war in both Afghanistan and then Iraq, and in the more vague War on Terror, subjected Bush not only with anti-war vitriol from the left, but also forced him as a Christian to consider the question of whether the conflicts were morally justified or just wars.

Christians since Augustine have used the Just War theory as a calculus for determining whether acts of aggression are morally justifiable. Historically the jus ad bellum criteria have included: just cause, right authority, right intention, proportionality, reasonable hope of success, and last resort.

There are, of course, different views on whether the conflicts that were begun under the Bush Doctrine of preemption and preventive action qualified as “just wars” using these critieria. One moral theoretician concluded:

“While there are on the face of it morally justifiable elements of the Bush Doctrine as a security response to terrorism, from the perspective of the Just War tradition the doctrine’s linkage with a power-driven, hegemonic foreign policy strategy undermines the moral credibility of the doctrine, and thus the moral credibility of the United States.” [6]

Others find moral justification for the Bush Doctrine. Jean Bethke Elshtain, in her book Just War Against Terror, cites the just war tradition as a source for legitimating her claim that it is the “burden of American power” to undertake the global war on terrorism. In her application of the just war criteria, Elshtain finds not only adequate reasoning for the Bush Doctrine conflicts, but overwhelming justification for these actions.[7]

It is perilous to analyze the personal faith of political figures in the context of their policies and popularity.  To label—as I am inclined to do–George W. Bush the most Christian president of the modern era brings both cheers and jeers. There is little doubt, however, that Bush best represents among U.S. presidents an evangelical figure that experienced a profound spiritual conversion, explained his faith in the language of evangelicalism, applied the movement’s moral criteria and spiritual disciplines, and worked for policies most important to the conservative Christian church.

[1] http://www.prayforbush.com/testimony.php


[2] The Faith of George W. Bush, by Stephen Mansfield

[3] http://www.prayforbush.com/testimony.php

[4] Lindsay, D. Michael, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite; Oxford University Press: 2007.

[5] http://www.prayforbush.com/testimony.php

[6] http://www.trinstitute.org/ojpcr/6_1snau.pdf States.

[7] Elshtain, Jean Bethke, Just war against terror: the burden of American power in a violent world, ,Basic Books; 2003.

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#47  Beth Moore. Ceiling breaker  b.1957

Beth Moore is a Bible teacher whose books, study guides and conferences have had an enormous impact on millions of Christian women. Oh yes; men, too—but keep that to yourself. There are enough evangelical churches that believe that women cannot teach men about spiritual things that successful female Christian leaders often mask the truth about the number of men who benefit from their teaching.

Moore is perhaps the best-selling female author among evangelicals in the last generation and a symbol of women who over the last decade have begun to break into the upper echelons of evangelical influence. At the center of the strongest resistance to an egalitarian role for women in the church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Beth Moore is among the most successful and perhaps the best-selling Baptist author, and a financial boon to the denomination’s B&H Publishing Group. For the longest time, when you walked into a Lifeway (SBC) Christian Bookstore it appeared there were only two authors at work:  Beth Moore and Henry Blackaby. 

Moore committed her life to vocational Christian ministry at the age of 18, but years later, when she was volunteering as a Sunday School teacher, she realized that she needed to learn more about the Bible. She went to a biblical doctrine class that gave her a deep yearning to know the Bible, and she began sharing her expanding knowledge through a weekly Bible study class. By the mid-1990s that class had grown to 2,000 women and she was speaking at churches throughout South Texas. It was then that B&H began publishing her Bible studies, leading to a national speaking ministry.

Moore founded Living Proof Ministries in 1994 with the purpose of teaching women about God’s Word. Moore writes books based on the regular Bible studies that she conducts at the Living Proof Live conferences and at her local church, First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. Her books include Breaking Free, Believing God, The Patriarchs. and When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. Living Proof Live conferences are conducted in every state and have been attended by more than a million women. Moore began a radio ministry called Living Proof with Beth Moore in 2004, and she has a Bible study segment on the television program “Life Today with James and Betty Robison.”

The evangelical consideration of gender roles often puts men in the forefront and one result is that any listing of evangelical leaders is predominantly male. Despite this, there is no doubt that women are the primary strength of the modern church. This is not because of the positions they hold but because they are teaching the children in the churches and at home, they dominate in sheer numbers, they are more faithful in participation (including modern missions), they are frequently the real life examples and teachers of spiritual things to their spouses, and they are the most effective hounds of heaven. At times, superior teachers such as Moore, Anne Graham Lotz, Kay Arthur, Joni Eareckson Tada, Joyce Meyer and others have risen to the top as speakers and authors within a male-dominated subculture, and although they are restricted by conservative convictions on gender roles, we all find ways to listen in.

 Criticized for teaching men, Moore responded:

 “The ministry to which God has called me is geared to women. My conference and weekly Bible studies are entirely focused upon women. The only exception to an entirely female audience is my Sunday School class. Men continue to come and sit in the back. We never sought them but did not know how to deal with them. Would Christ have thrown them out? I just didn’t know. I handed the problem over to my pastor and under his authority; he said to allow anyone to come who chooses. I have wrestled with this and the Lord finally said to me, ‘I tell you what, Beth, you worry about what I tell you to say, and I’ll worry about who listens.’ My ministry is to women. That’s where my heart is. I make no bones about it. But what if men come and sit down? Do we stop and throw them out? I really don’t know. I just placed myself under the authority of my husband, my pastor, and my God.”

50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #42 John Maxwell. Mentor

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#42.  John C. Maxwell. Mentor  b.1947 

John C. Maxwell is an evangelical author and speaker who has written more than 50 books, primarily focusing on leadership. Maxwell is a familiar name inside and outside the church, but particularly among business professionals. A lot of people know you when the books your write sell 13 million copies.

His training organizations–INJOY, Maximum Impact, ISS and EQUIP–have trained more than 2 million leaders worldwide.

 The most surprising thing about all of that is that leadership training is John Maxwell’s second career. He’s so well known as an author, for his conferences, and his high-profile speaking that most don’t realize that Maxwell pastored Wesleyan churches for 30 years.

Maxwell says God called him away from pastoring to speak mainly with business professionals about leadership. He talks often about all the criticism that he had encountered since that decision, but finds assurance in the fact that God is using him to share Christ in the secular business community. This year more people have accepted Christ through his life than during any five-year period when he was a pastor, he says.

The criticism is a characteristic of many of the evangelical community who frown on a change among those in what’s called “full time Christian ministry,” to a “secular” vocation. And Maxwell is an example of how that change can be made without losing sight of the underlying Kingdom values. 

Now, Maxwell quite simply teaches people how to lead, and he’s found many ways to do it. He could sell an icebox to an Eskimo, as the saying goes, but then he’d write a book about the 10 steps it took to do it.

 Every year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations. Maxwell was one of 25 authors and artists named to Amazon.com’s  10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. Three of his books, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader have each sold over a million copies.

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