While rumors of the Christian right’s demise are regularly invoked by the media and pundits, such obituaries are just as easily revoked as the U.S. presidential campaign season approaches.
This is not to say that the Christian right has not changed: in 2011 conservative Christian activism appears more localized and attuned to charismatic and Pentecostal sensibilities than in the past. The conservative evangelical weekly World (October 22) reports that in such a highly politicized state as Iowa, churches were roused to political activism by hate-speech legislation that was feared would constrain what may be preached from the pulpit. Three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled with the majority were voted off the bench, bringing a new confidence to pastors.
Outside of Iowa, pastors are increasingly heeding the call to speak out on politics. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention describes the emerging national movement of activist pastors as a “congregational version of the tea party.”But it is in the Pentecostal and charismatic milieu where the promise—or temptations—of political activism is mostly strongly felt. The November issue of Charisma magazine is devoted to Pentecostals and politics, noting that current Republican candidates Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry are appealing to Pentecostals, who are “prone to like authoritative candidates who speak with the same authority of a traditional Pentecostal preacher.” Charismatics tend to be more open than other Christians to minority candidates, such as Herman Cain.
But the current political season has particularly reinforced the feeling of bigotry against Pentecostals, writes John Stemberger. The article points to media attacks against “Pentecostal-friendly” candidates and their connections to a shadowy movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).Stemberger writes that the NAR, often associated with charismatic teacher Peter Wagner, has been compared to a Christian “jihadist” movement. When the NAR refers to concepts such as the “seven mountain” strategy of asserting Christian influence in various spheres of society, it is wrongly accused of pressing for a Christian government.
But he adds that Pentecostals and charismatics may make themselves targets of media criticism and derision with their tendency to run their churches with “singular authority” that is backed up with questionable prophetic teachings. Stemberger concludes that emerging charismatic leaders in politics, such as Samuel Rodriguez and Bishop Harry Jackson, defy an across-the-board Republican agenda, such as on immigration, and appeal to non-charismatics. Other influential leaders who have mobilized charismatics include Rick Joyner (who founded the Oak Initiative); charismatic prayer leader Lou Engle; Jim Garlow, who rallied thousands to defeat the California gay marriage initiative; and Rod Parsley of the Center for Moral Clarity.
(World, P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802-9998; Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)