Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Conservative Christians finding more ways to block progress in the conscientious public forum

Pastor Rick Warren is the head of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California and author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life”. He also cares a great deal about the major AIDS related problems around the world. As a result, he made a bold decision that deserves respect and congratulations from anyone that hopes for a society that can come together from all sides of the political spectrum and make progress fighting a global evil and threat to human beings everywhere: he invited prominent AIDS activist and fellow Christian senator Barack Obama to speak at his annual AIDS conference at the Saddleback Church. Yet Warren is receiving quite a bit of angry resistance from fellow evangelical church members and activists for his decision. The reason is simple: Obama is pro-choice. A recent article published by Time reporter David Van Biema explores this issue and asks why exactly what someone believes about abortion has to do with reaching across political lines to join the fight against AIDS. The article ( quotes several anti abortion activists in the greater evangelical community uttering extremely divisive and closed-minded comments about Warren’s decision to invite Obama to speak at the AIDS conference. These comments include talk radio host Kevin McCullough accusing Warren of betraying the “sacred piece of honor” that is his pulpit by endorsing the “inhumane, sick and sinister evil that Obama has worked for”. Perhaps even more disturbing, Wiley Drake, the second vice president for the 42 million member Southern Baptist Convention told the LA Times, “You can’t work together with people totally opposed to what you are. This kind of conference is just going to lead people astray” (Biema). If one of the top leaders of the largest conservative Christian organizations gives the public message that working with others on a larger global problem is completely out of the question simply because they hold different political or religious views on some other issues, what are the 42 million Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians around the country supposed to think? Again the idea of a “culture war” comes up here, yet this is only more evidence that the only people who seem to want to encourage this idea of a “war” within our society come from the conservative evangelical Christian community. Obviously, this is not a unanimous feeling amongst this community, as Warren himself is leading an effort to bring all fellow Christians and humans together in a common cause. However, how can Drake say Obama, or anyone else, is totally opposed to what he is when obviously they share the same concern about AIDS? By creating and defining pro-choice Christians as “others”, leaders such as Drake are actively contributing to building a culture war where there are two sides, with or against, exactly the same or “totally opposed”, and thus laying the foundations of any kind of “war”.

The bottom line is that if there is no discussion within the conscientious public forum, no changes or improvements will be able to occur. Just as McGraw argues that in order for democracy to exist in a legal sense there has to be legitimate discussion within the civil public forum, the same applies to the conscientious forum. By attacking with verbal slander and separating themselves from anyone and everyone that does not hold the exact same beliefs as they do, these leaders of the conservative evangelical community are purposely dividing the conscientious public forum and trying to stop any discussion from taking place. As a result, many terrible problems that face the human community as a whole are made just a bit more overwhelming and challenging to solve. The fact about the AIDS issue is that there is no division over whether or not it is a problem; no groups are arguing that AIDS isn’t a big deal and we should focus on other problems. So there is common ground here, and this common ground should be what unites people from all sides of the political spectrum. Instead, these conservative leaders are looking to other issues to find reason to oppose working together on the AIDS issue. This is a discouraging sign to all those who hope to see an American culture able overcome political or religious beliefs in order to unite against a common threat.


  • It's very important for people of all political stripes to join together to fight problems like AIDS, which affect everyone. I have a friend who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, and I think it's extremely important to do whatever we can to halt the spread of the disease and to find a cure. It's unfortunate that because Obama is pro-choice, his views on other issues are ignored even if he is in agreement on those other issues with the people who are deriding him. How can you ever hope to make any progress, or even to change someone's mind on an issue, if you are unwilling to invite them to join you in addressing common problems?

    By Blogger Michael Vick, at 3:11 PM  

  • This is a really interesting article which, I think, speaks to the major problem evident in the the outspoken political Evangelical community today. It did not surprise me (though it did make me incredibly angry) that just because Obama differs from the Evangelical community on one point, his willingness to help fight AIDS is nullified altogether. Thinking like this completely limits the scope of social change that can be achieved because it suggests that in order for anything to happen on any important topic, those who fight for it would have to be in complete agreement on every aspect of political debate. It seems to me that this complete narrow-mindedness is more harmful than any other flaw that aflicts the Evangelical tradition.

    By Blogger jessica, at 10:42 AM  

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