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Is Rick Warren really a moderate? That was the rhetorical question I posed back in February of 2006 over at Talk to Action. It was certainly not the first time we had discussed Rick Warren (since the site theme is the religious right -- and what to do about it). But the matter of Warren' supposed moderatation merited -- and still merits special attention, as it is the thought-stopping slogan used by Democrats to justify the promotion of this rising star of the new religious right.  

In any case, the ocasion of my post was no less than Harvard historian Richard Parker taking a meat cleaver to this big hunk of Inside the Beltway baloney. Strangely enough, the baloney narrative of Rick Warren as moderate has held -- the facts of his extreme views, his polarizing rhetoric and overt and highly partisan political behavior over the years, not withstanding.

Exactly why this is so suggests that many of us may like being fed big hunks of baloney and adjusting our political views to conform with whatever baloney the religious industrial complex may be serving -- for years at a time, no matter how rancid the baloney may become.

Is Rick Warren really a moderate? That's a question that Harvard historian Richard Parker starts to address over at TPMCafe in answer to some of the punditocratic slogans about changes going on on the religious right, and more broadly in evangelical Christianity.

Before we get to that, one quick observation. A surpising number of people conflate evangelical Christiany with the Religious Right. Yes, conservative evangelicals have led the Religious Right political movement, but not all evangelicals are conservative. (Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter are evangelicals, for example).


And while it is true that there are changes and transitions going on in evangelical Christianity; and the Religious Right itself; and that there are openings on such matters as fighting poverty, global warming, and AIDS...  the hope for commonalities may not be as great as advertised in light of the actual views of many alleged moderates. Some more careful evaluation of the landscape is very much in order.


Here is an exerpt from Parker's, must-read discussion of E.J. Dionne's new book Souled Out, in which he points out that a social justice oriented evangelical like Jim Wallis, who sees the Democratic Party as offering real progress in attacking poverty, for example, is not in any way to be confused with the far right views of the so-called moderate megachurchman, Rick Warren.  Indeed, different; or not as extreme; or not a hate monger; does not necessarily make for political moderation, let alone the progressivism inferred when Warren publicly associates with a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton.  

Here's Warren two weeks ago rebuking a conservative columnist who called Warren a "statist like Jim Wallis" (Wallis--because he actually votes for Democrats, is married to an Anglican priest, and was raised in a Northern evangelical denomination--is still treated like a leper by the most of his ostensibly "new evangelical" colleagues):


"Actually, I completely disagree with Jim Wallis's big government approach to poverty," Warren wrote. "The answer is not aid, but trade, not subsidies but freer markets, not wealth redistribution but wealth creation. not the government but local congregations. Saddleback's P.E.A.C.E. plan is the exact opposite of outdated and ineffective liberal social government programs that have failed....


"The great thing out of all of this is that I discovered the Von Mises website! Peter Drucker was my personal mentor for 20 years, right up to his death. Drucker introduced me to Hayek who obviously led me to Von Mises. Of course you know Von Mises said 'Human action is purposeful behavior.' I'd call that a purpose driven life!"


Frankly I'm hard-pressed to see what's so "new" or "transformative" about this sort of evangelical talk, or why Rick Warren is being celebrated as a "new voice" among white evangelicals. I think it's terrific that, unlike Falwell and Robertson, he doesn't blame gays, feminists, and the ACLU for 9/11....


But does Warren really believe that "the churches" rather than "the government" will, for example, come up with the $500 billion or so that will be eventually needed to rebuild New Orleans post-Katrina? Does he really plan to take his PEACE program to Africa--and cure poverty by using the same principles as the now utterly-discredited Washington Consensus, which the World Bank and IMF now admit was a disastrous failure that led to a "lost decade of development"?


Does Warren seriously believe that Saddleback or Habitat for Humanity rather than the FHA and Fannie Mae can build enough housing to shelter those in need? Does he honestly think that wealth redistribution is not an issue, now that America has the most unequal wealth and income distribution in the Western world or in its own modern history? And how precisely will more Wal-marts and Chinese imports make up for the export of high-wage, high-skill jobs from America ? (Ludwig von Mise and Friederick Hayek, whom Warren is praising here, were two of the most reactionary economists of the 20th century, heroes to Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of economics. These are the policy mentors of the "new" evangelicals like Warren?)

Rick Warren seemed to break new ground when he invited Barack Obama to speak at his church last year. This was good for Warren in putting some light between him and the rigid idealogues of the religious right. It was also good for Obama to be seen addressing a conservative megachurch as part of his campaign to make the Democratic Party appear more "faith friendly," especially to evangelicals.  


Similarly, Hillary Clinton also benefitted when she was the only presidential candidate to show up at a Warren hosted AIDS conference.


Please understand -- I am not criticizing Obama and Clinton for speaking at Warren's shop. Rather, I am underscoring that  Rick Warren and other so-called moderate evangelicals are not necessarily supportive of Democrats or of a moderate or progressive agenda, just because they are civil, or at least not openly hostile in the fashion of Dobson, Falwell and Robertson.

Well, that's what I wrote in February 2006.  Not much has changed since then.

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 10:07 AM PST.

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