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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rick Warren, newly ascended establishmentarian.

Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College and editor of the school's outstanding (but hard to resubscribe to!) magazine Religion in the News, writes a great blog called "Spiritual Politics." He posted the smartest observation I've yet heard about Rick Warren's "Saddleback Forum" featuring Barack Obama and John "Prisoner of War" McCain:

[I]n hosting the two candidates, Warren's behaving not like a sectarian but an establishmentarian--a religious office that's been largely unoccupied in recent years.

Establishmentarian religion serves to bless, convene, and otherwise hold a sacred umbrella over the community at large. When consensus has to be built, it is there to build it; when a common goal has to be achieved, it is there to hallow it. Nationally, in the first part of the 20th century, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalians or the Bishop of the Methodists or the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterians were there to do the job. After World War II, a more interfaith approach came to the fore. Perhaps the greatest contribution of establishmentarianism in American history was to set its seal on the civil rights movement.

But the lesson mainstream religion took away from that era was not of its own role but of the prophetic one, incarnated in Martin Luther King, Jr. And ever since, it is the image of the prophet, not the priest, that has mesmerized the imaginations of American religious leaders. That goes, of course, for those evangelical leaders who, modeling themselves on the black civil rights clergy they had once reviled, created the religious right a generation ago.

As Time's David Van Biema makes clear in last week's cover story, Rick Warren flirted as recently as four years ago with religious right leadership. But with a personality that doesn't quite fit the job description, and the nose of the successful entrepreneur who can tell where there's a market opening, he has since moved powerfully into the role of American Establishmentarian-in-Chief.

Read the whole thing.

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 20 August 2008 at 5:12 PM

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Dudley M Jones:

August 21, 2008 12:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College and editor of the school's outstanding (but hard to resubscribe to!) magazine Religion in the News, writes a great blog called "Spiritual Politics.""

How can a magazine be "hard to subscribe to"?


August 21, 2008 12:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

It was easy to subscribe to. The problem is that my subscription expired without a notice, and I've been unable to reach them to renew the subscription -- even though new issues have kept coming out. Very odd!

Paul Maurice Martin:

August 21, 2008 01:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

And it's a role I find profoundly disturbing. A friend bought me his "Purpose Driven Life" several years ago and just glancing through it was a major turn off. I particularly recall a line in which he equates Christianity's venerable contemplative tradition with the superficialities of self-help books. One would think that his publisher might have hired, say, a reference librarian to do some basic fact checking.

As a graduate of the U of Chicago Divinity School, I'm well aware that the nation has at its disposal many well informed Christian clergy and scholars - if, as Americans, we now insist on displays of public piety for the purpose of getting votes. Personally, I have no idea how people can imagine that such forced displays of religiosity tell them anything real about a candidate's spiritual life.


August 23, 2008 01:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

One wonders that if Barak Obama is elected president, would Rick Warren then become an antidisestablishmentarian?

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