He is the most influential evangelical in America that no one has ever heard of. Check out Emma Green’s interview at The Atlantic with the retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Emma Green: I think people like you have ceded the ground to people like Robert Jeffress. Evangelicalism, in the mind of the public, is very much tilted toward people who are quite politically conservative. Especially in the past few years, more moderate or nonpolitical perspectives like your own have receded into the background. Does that trouble you at all?
Leith Anderson: It does—in the sense that, to me, evangelicalism is about faith. It’s not about politics. It’s a historic religious movement. And that’s not a popular message, in the midst of polarized politics.
I distinguish between politics and government. I was on President Obama’s advisory council. That was a government function, not a political one. If I were asked to pray at a government event, like a White House Easter breakfast, I would say yes to that. But when I was asked to pray at political conventions, I declined.
Green: Let me push you on that. The NAE is not necessarily a political organization, but politics has certainly been part of its history. George W. Bush spoke to the NAE during his 2004 reelection campaign and said the organization was “doing God’s work.” Ronald Reagan gave his famous 1983 “Evil Empire” speech to the NAE.
Anderson: I was six feet away from him.
Green: Did it not seem clear then that evangelicalism was becoming more of a political movement, or at least that it was being perceived that way?
Anderson: To my knowledge, I’ve never preached a sermon that most people would consider to be political. Actually, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a sermon talk much about politics.
I feel a pressure to portray evangelicals in terms of faith and beliefs. There’s something like 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor and the widow and the orphan and the homeless and the hungry. To me, that transcends politics. That’s what we believe, and that’s what we’ve got to do.
Or immigrants. With all the teachings in the Bible about the way you treat the stranger and the immigrant, have we taken strong positions on immigration reform and Dreamers? Yeah, we have. But I don’t see it driven primarily by current political issues. I see it driven primarily by what the Bible says.
Read the entire piece here.