For years, as the principal public voice for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's biggest evangelical group, Richard Land warned of a "radical homosexual agenda" and pushed for a federal ban on same-sex marriage. His successor, Russell Moore, sounded a different note when the Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "Love your gay and lesbian neighbors," Mr. Moore wrote in a flier, "How Should Your Church Respond," sent to the convention's estimated 45,000 churches. "They aren't part of an evil conspiracy." Marriage, he added, was a bond between a man and a woman, but shouldn't be seen as a "'culture war' political issue." Since the birth of the Christian-conservative political movement in the late 1970s, no evangelical group has delivered more punch in America's culture wars than the Southern Baptist Convention and its nearly 16 million members. The country's largest Protestant denomination pushed to end abortion, open up prayer in public schools and boycott Walt Disney Co. over films deemed antifamily. Its ranks included many of the biggest names on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Today, after more than three decades of activism, many in the religious right are stepping back from the front lines.
There is a contingent within evangelical Christianity that believes they are, as John 18:36 put it, "not of this world." They're inclined to withdraw from politics and the culture war, and leave parochial disputes to others, focusing instead on their immediate faith community.
With this in mind, consider a profile the Wall Street Journal ran this week on the new Southern Baptist Convention leader.
Given the Southern Baptist Convention's recent history, the prospect of the SBC pulling back from politics and the culture war generated considerable controversy, though some caution is probably in order.
For one thing, as Ed Kilgore noted, the Southern Baptist Convention has made similar noises in the past, but never actually retreated from the culture-war battlefield. For another, as Rob Boston explained, there appears to be a shift in tone, but not position -- Russell Moore appears ready to put the same agenda in a less-confrontational package.
Still, given the Southern Baptist Convention's size and influence, it'll be worth watching what kind of changes, if any, the denomination is prepared to make under its new leadership.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Towards the beginning of the recent government shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly turned to prayer for guidance, thinking "there must be a reason" he was in his position.
* Similarly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) believes there has been divine intervention in key moments of his political career.
* Following up on an item from last week, Pope Francis this week suspended German Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst -- sometimes referred to as "Bishop Deluxe" or the "Bishop of Bling" -- for his lavish spending on his personal accommodations. Pope Francis ordered Tebartz-van Elst to vacate the Diocese of Limburg, at least temporarily (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And failed Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum believes the Devil has used the U.S. film industry as "his playground," though Santorum hopes to push back with a movie of his own.