In the late ’90s, my wife and I spent almost four years living in Central Florida, where I was an editor for New Man magazine at Strang Communications. So, it’s been interesting this week to see two of our Florida acquaintances playing significant roles in the events of the just-concluded Democratic National Convention.
Cameron Strang, the founder of Relevant magazine, is the son of Christian publishing pioneer (and my old boss) Stephen Strang. Cameron was set to give the Monday-night benediction but later backed out and suggested a replacement in his friend, Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller. I think the attention that Cameron received from the national media for not praying at the convention was probably more significant than any closing prayer would have been, since he had opportunities to share his faith and ideas on major TV and radio broadcasts. The drama surrounding his decision to back out of the benediction (and to attend the DNC in the first place) was one of the big religion stories of the week. The bottom line: Barack Obama has struck a major chord with the younger generation of evangelical Christians that Cameron represents.
Then Pastor Joel Hunter had the honor and formidable task of leading the benediction on the closing night of the convention following Obama’s big speech. Joel is the senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. My wife, Dana, and I attended Northland during our four-year tenure in the Sunshine State. We both came to know Joel as a thoughtful, authentic, and dynamic pastor/preacher who while clearly proclaiming the unadulterated Gospel of Christ also preached compassion, tolerance, and bridge-building to those who do not share our Christian faith. As far as pastors go, I wish I could’ve brought him back to Chicago with us when we moved home.
Joel is a pro-life conservative who wrote an excellent book on the interaction of faith and politics called A New Kind of Conservative (earlier on he had self-published the book with the title Right Wing, Wrong Bird). Anyway, I’m sure Joel also heard from some conservative evangelicals who were upset about his participation in the DNC. And then, last night when he invited the audience to personalize their prayers by closing it in whichever way their faith tradition dictated (albeit Joel’s “In Jesus’ name” was the only closing that the TV audience could actually hear), I turned to my wife and said, “He’s gonna get flak for that one.” But that gracious gesture—and Joel’s confidence that his God is big enough to work through a prayer that respects the various beliefs of a pluralistic audience—is just like the Joel Hunter we remember.