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June 22, 2004

Memo to NAE: Think Open Source

NAE's teen_ad_2? This guy looks like he's 27![Disclaimer: This is a rant. It is done for effect only. Please don't take the harsh tone too seriously. I know I don't ...]

Ted Olsen has a nice summary of this week's L.A. Times expose of the National Association of Evangelicals' top secret document on "civic engagement" (a.k.a. politics). [Get free log-in info for the Times site here.] The document has been three years in the making, and recently was sent to 100 "evangelical leaders" for their comments on it — that's when the Times got ahold of it.

Olsen suggests that we should place an embargo on discussion of the NAE statement until the final paper is released in October. Basically, we should wait until the Big Cheese have set it all in stone and then have a look. I say that's hogwash. I want to see this thing now. Instead of just sending it to the Evangelical Illuminati, why not make it open source (as some evangelical leaders are doing) and allow the hoi polloi to give it a go?

I don't want to speak for anyone other than myself, but I know there's been some discussion in the blogosphere recently about those of us who would consider ourselves in the "evangelical" camp. Quite a few "emerging" leaders would probably have to admit we are born and bred "evangelicals" — theologically, if not politically, as well.

And NAE is apparently trying to court us, but they're still not speaking our language. Open the doors to your ivory tower, NAE, and let us kick back with ya'll for a while. If you set a place for me at your table, then I might come in and break bread with you. And I might actually have something to contribute. And then I might actually care.

And one more thing: Stop with the cheeseball stock photography!

[BTW — The L.A. Times calls this 12-page document "a groundbreaking framework for political action that strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party" — which is something I like the sound of. So come on, NAE, I'm already halfway there. What are you going to do to convince me?]

UPDATE 6/24: Let the discussion begin! The NAE has decided to make the "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsiblity" available to the public (as a PDF file). Too bad the NAE's statement doesn't actually encourage participation in the process — not even a link to e-mail comments/feedback?! Anyway, I'm reading through the document, and I'll post another update once I've got it digested (or at least mostly chewed) ... I hope you'll do the same! [Thanks for the link, Ted!]

Posted by Steve K. at June 22, 2004 10:37 PM

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Interesting piece. But I wish you hadn't included the "bugmenot" link, since bugmenot represents a significant threat to the ongoing effort by publications to find a financial model that works on the Web.

If we're not willing to pay for access to content-rich sites, advertising will have to pay the bills. And selling advertising is easier when you can gather demographic information about your audience.

When a publication is willing to give you its content for free, is it too much to tell them a few things about yourself to help them present themselves to advertisers?

There's an ethical question or two lurking in here. Someone who uses the bugmenot logon information is claiming to be somebody they're not -- lying. And they're doing it to get information without providing the nominal information-based "fee" the site tries to collect -- stealing.

Nobody has to visit the L.A. Times on the Web. But if they want to, shouldn't they do it on the terms set forth by the Times -- which, after all, is providing the free service?

It's an issue that's generating some buzz in on-line journalism circles. Here's a link to some interesting discussion of bugmenot:

Posted by: Doug at June 23, 2004 01:07 AM

Here is a quote from the document, according to the LA Times article:

"'When social structures result in such gross disparities and suffering, the Bible writers envision structural solutions, such as periodic land redistribution so that everyone can have access to productive resources and be dignified members of their community,' the draft states."

The "BIBLE WRITERS envision"? No-no-no-no-NO! Who worded this document? The scriptures are inspired and given by a living God, not out of the kindness or intention of man!

I'll tone down the rant in anticipation that this is a document in process, but at this point it depicts a VERY flawed epistemology.

The thought of Christian leaders working on this kind of statement encourages me if their intention is to inform and advise the elements of the Body that they serve.

Posted by: GregB at June 23, 2004 10:05 AM

Good post. Two things come to mind when I see something like this from "evangelical leaders": First, many times these statements and pronouncements end up being nothing more than barely disguised endorsements for the Republican Party and its agenda; and second, these documents also tend to make us see politics as the answer to our social and environmental problems.

Posted by: Scott Noble at June 23, 2004 12:46 PM

Interesting post, Steve.

Two quick thoughts: First, I'm actually a little surprised they aren't getting the final draft finished in time to rally the troops for the November election - it gives me hope that maybe the goal isn't to create another Newt Gingrich.

Second, was anyone else a little put off by this statement from NEA's website? "It is time for the world to know that young believers are ready to defy all expectations of mediocrity."

Er, who exactly is having this "expectation of mediocrity" about young believers? And why are these expectations so low? There's a rant here just dying to get out.

BTW, Steve, I'm putting together a post about mega-churches from an article I read in a recent Christian Chronicle. Might be of interest to you. Should be up later today.

Posted by: dave at June 23, 2004 01:59 PM

Now, what is wrong with Newt. He's just a good Georgia boy trying to take America back from his Lesbian sister. He is trying to protect us from evil.

Posted by: notsteve at June 23, 2004 10:33 PM

A few responses from the Real Steve (not this "notsteve" character):

Doug -- I debated whether to link to BugMeNot, but honestly it's a service that I am using, and for good reason. I'm not opposed to newspapers gathering data for use in selling advertising to pay for their product. I am opposed to spending all my time filling out registration forms on EVERY single news site that I visit. Knight Ridder and some of these other big publishers need to figure out a way to give their regional papers the demographic info they need to survive, while giving us (the users) the ability to register ONCE and have our log-in info go with us wherever we want to go. There's a technical solution out there that needs to be found and adopted (ideally a third party system that allows people to register *one time* in *one place* and have that carry over across all sites -- say, why not use Amazon?!). Anyway, until it is adopted, I'm not spending my time filling out registration forms when I want to read something online. As for the moral arguments about lying and stealing, I'll have to pray about those questions ;-) Thanks for the Poynter link, BTW. Good discussion there, for sure.

GregB -- This is why I'd like to see NAE open this thing up to more input from the rest of us!!!

Scott -- From what I'm reading, it sounds like this statement is a move away from the One Party system of evangelicals, which is something I wholeheartedly endorse. So hopefully you're wrong about both of those things!

Dave -- Good point. I hadn't thought about the timing of it being post-election cycle. That is a good sign. And don't get me started on the NAE's attempt to court "younger evangelicals" (ahem). Your post about mega-churches is really good BTW. I'll try to think on your question and get back to you.

NotSteve -- Whoever you are, identify yourself!!! Or face the wrath of the delete button ... Well, OK, you're probably fine staying anonymous, as long as you don't sneak a "cheap Viagra" link into your comment ...

Posted by: Steve K. at June 23, 2004 11:16 PM

Information is free. That is the point of both the bugmenot and I think Steve's point about the NEA document. It think Steve's point about regional papers and the need for one time registration is a good one, and a technical one--not a moral one.

The LA Times Online stinks--too many pop-up ads. I stopped reading it just because of it. And I'm pretty sure they won a bunch of awards then laid reporters off!

What is interesting is that the document will be edited and re-imagined by bloggers anyway, so the whole idea that they are producing a "codified" document is wishful thinking anyway just like the idea that evangelicals are a homogeneous group.

Posted by: Tim Bednar at June 24, 2004 09:55 AM

Hey! Thanks for the reminder that I need to tell my readers that the NAE document has been posted. Your wish has been granted: http://www.nae.net/images/civic_responsibility.pdf

Posted by: Ted Olsen at June 24, 2004 06:08 PM

"hoi polloi" means "the unwashed" so prefacing it with a "the" is redundant.

Posted by: sertainjones at June 28, 2004 06:03 PM

Interesting stuff.

I'm in the process of writing up my initial thoughts on the draft at my blog.


So far it seems somewhat idealistic in its presentation of politics.

It is an understatement to say that how the political process is understood is the subject of much ontological disagreement. Idealism in this regard is often suspect because of how it obscures the fallible governance of those who then will seek to present a unified front for "evangelicals" to act on.

Given the contested nature of the label, "evangelical", and the theological differences that exist among us, it may be hard for us to unite on political issues, which one might expect for us to have even less unity about.

I'm still reading. I think it may be an interesting attempt to broaden many "evangelicals" political activism beyond abortion and homosexual marriages and counteract the lack of concrete political successes by so many of the religious right.


Posted by: dlw at June 29, 2004 06:38 PM

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