With the passing of Jerry Falwell, Alan Cooperman ponders the direction of the religious right. The new symbolic figure is Frank Page, head of the Southern Baptist Convention:
"I would not use the word 'moderate,' because in our milieu that often means liberal. But it's a shift toward a more centrist, kinder, less harsh style of leadership," Page said. "In the past, Baptists were very well known for what we're against. . . . Instead of the caricature of an angry, narrow-minded, Bible-beating preacher, we wanted someone who could speak to normal people."
With members of an older generation of evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Billy Graham, the Rev. Pat Robertson, psychologist James C. Dobson and the Rev. D. James Kennedy, ailing or nearing retirement, Page is one of many pastors and political activists tugging conservative Christians in various directions.
Others include the Rev. Rick Warren and the Rev. William Hybels, megachurch pastors who are championing the fight against AIDS in Africa. David Barton, head of a Texas-based group called WallBuilders, stumps the nation decrying the "myth" that the Constitution requires separation of church and state. The Rev. Joel Hunter of Orlando urges evangelicals to see climate change as a serious religious issue, because "our first order in the Garden was to take care of the Earth."
The problem with all of this is that these 'religious' leaders continue to turn attention to wordly rather than heavenly concerns. Yes, we live within creation, and have obligations as stewards, but our primary obligation needs to be souls saved. Of course, with the theology of many of these folks, maybe it's better to have them distracted after all.