ATLANTA (BP)–The evangelical community drew CNN’s spotlight Oct. 24 in a news special, “Fight Over Faith.” The CNN Presents program’s premise, while far from a new assertion, was that there is a division between evangelicals and others in the U.S. Christian sector over how closely the Bible’s teachings should be followed.
The “soldiers of the cross [are] in a family feud,” CNN correspondent Carol Marin said in opening the special, which featured Mike Hamlet, pastor of First Baptist Church of North Spartanburg, S.C., as well as SBC President Bobby Welch during his cross-country bus tour in which he called on Southern Baptists to evangelize and baptize 1 million individuals.
CNN’s Marin said Southern Baptists, as the “most conservative” of the “mainline” denominations in the country, “have all but declared war on American culture” in the “fight over faith.”
And the battle “is as much about culture as it is about religion,” she continued.
“It is a fight for faith” primarily against Satan, said Welch, who also is pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. “Our enemy is Satan. Our enemy is not conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans. Those are not our enemy.”
In this fight, Welch said, “eternity is in the balance.”
Yet it didn’t take long for the program to turn to politics. The opening clip featured CNN anchor Aaron Brown saying born-again Christians “are making their presence felt well beyond the pulpit.”
Marin pointed to a “new phenomenon” in evangelical churches across America — their “enormous political influence.”
She said there are some “who believe that churches should have nothing to do with registering people to vote.”
Hamlet acknowledged, “Those people are the ones who absolutely fear the evangelical community. They are the ones who would say to us sit down over there and shut up. Be religious. You’re not going to have a part in our culture.”
Born-again, evangelical voters are a “very significant voting bloc,” said Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during an address at Hamlet’s church shown on the program.
Clips of the ERLC’s iVoteValues.com Mobile Voter Registration Rig and Information Center were shown at a stop in Asheville, N.C. The iVoteValues.com initiative is proof, Marin said, that Southern Baptists are serious about educating voters on the issues.
The truck has visited 20 states and hosted more than 30,000 people since it began its run at June’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis.
The pro-life and same-sex marriage issues “in large part fuel the evangelical vote,” Marin suggested, noting at the iVoteValues.com truck, “there is a distinct mixture of faith and politics” along with a “music video to stir the hearts of a potential voter.”
Hamlet said people who meet him often are surprised to learn that he is a conservative evangelical, saying many buy into the false stereotype of an evangelical as someone who is “mean-spirited, hard, and ignorant about points of view.”
“Liberals in the country are afraid of evangelicals,” Hamlet continued, saying that while others may compromise, an “evangelical’s faith is built on a certain principle — a commitment to Christ, a commitment to God’s Word.”
“My position is based on a set of moral absolutes,” he said. “That’s the problem America has; we now have no moral absolutes.”
C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said there is a “religious McCarthyism” afoot. “There are power-hungry people, both in the church and in politics, who are using those issues to divide congregations in order to identify who the true believers are,” he asserted.
Gaddy contended that the “religious right” uses a “litmus test” in order to “pass judgment on another person’s spirituality, not by asking the singular question about your relationship to God and your belief in Christ, but where you are on a variety of socio-political issues.”
Gaddy said “Christianity is more exclusive now than it was at its inception.” This exclusivity is a “danger to America’s diversity,” Marin quoted Gaddy as saying.
Hamlet told Marin that Jesus Himself said He is “the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me,” noting that Muhammad, Buddha, and all the other religious leaders are dead. “We serve a risen Savior through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
When asked by the CNN reporter if he could assert “there is only one way to the Kingdom of God,” Gaddy responded: “I will never attempt to play God, and to make any statement that is sweepingly exclusive of other people is to assume that I can make a judgment that I believe only God alone can make.”
“There may be a lot of things about the Bible that I don’t understand. But I’m not really given the choice of what I can believe and what I can’t believe,” Hamlet said.
The program featured brief segments with a family from the Spartanburg church, Cassidy and Robin Carlisle and their two children, Rick, 15, and Caitlin, 11.
Caitlin told of becoming a Christian at age 3.
Marin asked the girl, “Can a 3-year-old really understand or know enough to –”
“All you have to understand,” Caitlin said, “is, I’m a sinner and I need Jesus, and Jesus died for me. That’s all you need to understand.”
This CNN program will be re-aired Saturday, Oct. 30. Check local listings for the time in your area.