Friday night I was surfing TV and came across the end of a special program on NBC hosted by Tom Brokaw called “In God they trust: NBC’s Tom Brokaw goes inside the world of Christian Evangelicals”.
Even though I missed most of the show they do have a transcript of the show on MSNBC.
The focus of the show was on one of those mega-churches that are one of the fastest growing churches in the country. The one Brokaw profiled is called New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He interviewed the pastor Ted Haggard and several members.
A majority of the program was spent showing how the selected members related to the church and their own religious views and a portion was spent talking about the mixing of church and politics particularly because Pastor Haggard is president of National Association of Evangelicals, representing 45,000 churches. The show wasn’t a hard hitting investigative piece like you might see on 60 Minutes or even NBC’s Dateline but it did raise some issues about Evangelicals, their lives, and how they want to be involved in politics.
It was interesting to see how excited the members are about their religion and church and how they want everyone in their lives to experience the same happiness they do. It seems they constantly express their “great” feelings about their religion and constantly “badger” people to go to the church. It seemed like they were drug pushers or cigarette makers trying to gain new customers. For example:
The message of New Life Church also resonates with Brandon Bernadoni, a 22-year-old U.S. Air Force Academy cadet. Although he was a varsity athlete, a self-described party animal, and popular with girls, Brandon says he only found true fulfillment in his new faith.
“It’s incredible to know and wake up and feel the light of day just come through the curtains in the morning, and just to feel the presence of God as I walk to class,’ says Bernadoni. “To feel that I have meaning and purpose, and to know for a fact why I’m here.”
Of course us non-believers have similar feelings when we finally ditch god and know that any purpose we have in life is what we make of it and what we do, so we can relate to the feeling if not the belief.
I was more interested in the political aspects of the Evangelicals particularly because Pastor Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and it was pointed out that the White House calls him quite often for advice:
Along with other religious conservative leaders, Haggard belongs to an association called the Arlington Group, the members push for common goals such as banning gay marriage and restricting abortion.
Brokaw: Let me read you what Senator John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, a Republican says, “Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s mind and they can advance God’s will through government.” Is he talking about you?
Ted Haggard: Well, I think all of us have a responsibility to advance God’s will through government. But we are in a pluralistic society. We’re not talking about theocracy. We’re not talking about some group of religious leaders dictating to the government how to write law. I’m not a power broker. I don’t call presidents. I don’t harangue the White House.
Brokaw: You don’t have to call him. He calls you.
Haggard: I’ll be talking to the White House in another three and a half hours.
Brokaw: About what today?
Haggard: I don’t know the subject today. We have a regularly scheduled conference call.
Brokaw: They reach out to you?
The NAE is an interesting group. It published a manifesto that has many things in it that secular people would agree with like needing to protect the poor and the enviroment but then there were some issues that non-believers would disagree with:
Just government and fundamental liberty
God is the source of all true law and genuine liberty. He both legitimates and limits the state’s authority. Thus, while we owe Caesar his due (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26), we regard only Jesus as Lord. As King of Kings, Jesus’ authority extends over Caesar. As followers of Jesus, we obey government authorities when they act in accord with God’s justice and his laws (Titus 3:1). But we also resist government when it exercises its power in an unjust manner (Acts 5:27-32) or tries to dominate other institutions in society. A good government preserves the God-ordained responsibilities of society’s other institutions, such as churches, other faith-centered organizations, schools, families, labor unions, and businesses.
We work to protect human rights
Because God created human beings in his image, we are endowed with rights and responsibilities. In order to carry out these responsibilities, human beings need the freedom to form associations, formulate and express beliefs, and act on conscientiously held commitments.
Governments should be constitutionally obligated to protect basic human rights. Documents like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are attempts to articulate the kind of treatment that every person deserves from the government under which they live.
Because the Creator gave human beings liberty, we believe that religious liberty, including the right to change one’s religion, is a foundational right that must be respected by governments (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are closely related to religious liberty, and people must be free to express their vision for a just social order without fear of torture or other reprisal.
We also oppose the expansion of “rights talk” to encompass so-called rights such as “same-sex marriage” or “the right to die.” Inappropriately expanded rights language has begun to function as a trump card in American discourse that unfairly shuts down needed discussion.
Notice how the NAE says that God gave us freedom and liberty, freedom of religion is a “first freedom”, governments must protect human rights, but same-sex marriage and a “right” to die are not worthy of protection. Further the document talks about science and says:
As many others in the West, we have had such faith in science and its doctrine of progress that we are unprepared for the choices biotechnology now brings us. We urge evangelicals with specialized scientific knowledge to help Christians and policymakers to think through these issues. As technologies related to cloning and creating inheritable genetic modifications are being refined, society is less able to create a consensus on what is good and what limits we should place on human modification. The uniqueness of human nature is at stake.
Where the negative implications of biotechnology are unknown, government ought to err on the side of caution. Christians must welcome and support medical research that uses stem cells from adult donors and other ethical avenues of research. But we must work toward complete bans on human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, as well as for laws against discrimination based on genetic information.
They acknowlege that science discoveries are changing our world on an almost daily basis and they acknowledge that the Bible is of limited use on issues like biotechnology, but because the implications are unknown there must be complete bans on human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. Real progressive, huh?
Then a final interesting comment from Pastor Haggard during the Brokaw interview:
In the meantime, Haggard will continue to consult with the White House and press for a Supreme Court that will outlaw abortion and gay marriage, insisting he’s not interested in a religious take over of the government.
Haggard: There’s no one that’s leading the mega-church movement or involved in the mega-church movement that is in favor of a theocracy. None of us are for that. We’re all defenders of freedom and liberty for all.
Well, he means freedom and liberty for all as long as you are Christian and adhere to the Bible.
Pastor Ted Haggard, ironically, had some not-so-evangelical secrets come out in 2009 when a former prostitute claimed Haggard paid him for sex and used methamphetamine back in 2006.
Controversy involving Haggard first erupted in November 2006, when a former prostitute, Mike Jones, said the pastor had paid him for sex over three years and had used methamphetamine in his presence.
Haggard initially admitted in interviews that he received a massage from Jones but denied having sex with him. He also said he bought methamphetamine, but threw it away instead of using it.
The assertions received widespread news coverage and sparked charges of hypocrisy, particularly because Haggard had condemned homosexual sex.
Haggard had to resign as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was fired as pastor of New Life Church.
He claims to have gone through a restoration process and no longer has homosexual feelings and has started a new church in Colorado Springs.