Evangelicals Embrace New Global Priorities

Some top leaders want to broaden the focus from culture-war 'family issues' to helping the world's poor.

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More moderate and liberal religious leaders have long urged evangelical Christians-who claim their ranks comprise 40-50 percent of the Republican Party-to give more attention to poverty issues. Now, it appears, those appeals have hit home.

"Many leaders of the evangelical community have been stung by the criticism that's been directed at them from outside the evangelical community," including Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

As for criticisms from among their own ranks--chiefly Wallis, Sider, and Campolo--Green says, "Maybe that stung a little bit more."

Warren's letter, and his increasingly outspoken endorsement of a global agenda, has some thinking that a natural alliance is emerging between Warren and his socially conservative colleagues and liberal anti-poverty figures like U2 rock star

Bono

. But in order for such an alliance to fully materialize, says commentator David Brooks, conservative Christians might have to take a break from the abortion- and gay marriage-centered "culture wars."

"We can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can't have both," wrote Brooks in a May 26 New York Times column.

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It's unclear what this line in the sand might mean for Warren's relationship with both his evangelical compatriots and the Bush administration.

But the boundaries between groups may be becoming somewhat more permeable, as evidenced by Pat Robertson's appearance alongside Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, and P. Diddy in a recent public service announcement for

The ONE Campaign

to end poverty.

Warren's push is part of a larger vision he has been unfolding over the last few months. In April, during Saddleback's 25th anniversary celebration, he announced he would lead thousands of churches around the world in eradicating five "giant problems" that oppress billions of people: 1) Global poverty. 2) Diseases, such as AIDS, that affect billions of people. 3) Illiteracy -- half the world is illiterate. 4) Spiritual emptiness -- billions of people don't know their purpose in life. 5) Self-centered leadership.

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Holly Lebowitz Rossi
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