About halfway through a fascinating New York Times Magazine piece today called (a little in contrast to its thematic points) "The Evangelical Crackup," comes a reference we decided to follow up. You might, too.
The article's point was not that the evangelical community is diminishing or disintegrating, but that its once near-monolithic support for President George W Bush and Republican candidates is fracturing. Reporter David Kirkpatrick cited quite a few instances, most from the south (such as Texas) and plains (notably Kansas). One of the most interesting is Bill Hybels.
Hybels, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, is very possibly the single-most-influential pastor in America; in the last 15 years, his Willow Creek Association has grown to include more than 12,000 churches. Many invite their staff members and lay leaders to participate by telecast in Willow Creek’s annual leadership conferences, creating a virtual gathering of tens of thousands. Dozens of churches in Wichita, including Central Christian and other past bastions of conservative activism, are part of the association.
As his stature has grown, Hybels has seemed more willing to irk Christian conservative political leaders — and even some in his own congregation. He set off a furor a few years ago when he invited former President Bill Clinton to speak at one of his conferences. And the Iraq war has brought into sharp relief Hybels’s differences with conservatives like [Focus on the Family's James] Dobson.
We decided to check and see whether the Willow Creek Association has much link with churches in the Northwest. Indeed it does: According to its list, it has 192 member churches in Washington, 83 in Oregon and 19 in Idaho. Substantial in all three, though to different degrees.
The larger proportions in Oregon and Washington are of interest; could it reflect a variably changing evangelical response in the states to changing conditions?