Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life

Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life

Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life

Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life

Synopsis

Since the 2000 presidential election, debate over the role of religion in public life has followed a narrow course as pundits and politicians alike have focused on the influence wielded by conservative Christians. But what about more mainstream Christians? Here, Steven M. Tipton examines the political activities of Methodists and mainline churches in this groundbreaking investigation into a generation of denominational strife among church officials, lobbyists, and activists. The result is an unusually detailed and thoughtful account that upends common stereotypes while asking searching questions about the contested relationship between church and state.

Documenting a wide range of reactions to two radically different events- the invasion of Iraq and the creation of the faith-based initiatives program- Tipton charts the new terrain of religious and moral argument under the Bush administration from Pat Robertson to Jim Wallis. He then turns to the case of the United Methodist Church, of which President Bush is a member, to uncover the twentieth-century history of their political advocacy, culminating in current threats to split the Church between liberal peace-and-justice activists and crusaders for evangelical renewal. Public Pulpits balances the firsthand drama of this internal account with a meditative exploration of the wider social impact that mainline churches have had in a time of diverging fortunes and diminished dreams of progress.

An eminently fair-minded and ethically astute analysis of how churches keep moral issues alive in politics, Public Pulpits delves deep into mainline Protestant efforts to enlarge civic conscience and cast clearer light on the commonweal and offers a masterly overview of public religion in America.

Excerpt

In a nationally televised debate among candidates for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, each was asked which political philosopher or thinker he most identified with and why. John Locke, replied Steve Forbes, because he set the stage for the American Revolution. the Founding Fathers, said Alan Keyes, because they conceived a constitutional government that has preserved our liberty for over two hundred years. “Jesus Christ,” answered George W. Bush, “because he changed my heart.” Prompted that viewers would like to know more about how Jesus changed his heart, Mr. Bush testified, “Well, if they don't know, it's gonna be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as a Savior, it changes your heart and changes your life, and that's what happened to me.” in so answering, the president-to-be reassured many Americans of his faithful and trustworthy character, alarmed others by his testimony of heartfelt religious conversion offered in place of judicious political philosophy, and left still more surprised and wondering how his born-again Christian faith would square with the rule of law and the role of reason-giving in American public life as well as the separation of church and state.

President Bush's reelection victory in 2004 offered vivid, if uncertain, answers to such concerns with all the power of history itself to defy prediction and overdetermine events. “Moral values” mattered most to 22 percent of all voters surveyed in nationwide Edison/Mitofsky exit polls, and four out of five of these voted for Mr. Bush, reported the New York Times on November 4. Since pollsters left these values unparsed into specific issues, some observers inferred that banning gay marriage, abortion, and embryonic stem-cell research led the values list, and culturally conservative evangelical and Catholic “values voters” decided the election. Others . . .

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