The evangelical Christian movement, which has been pivotal in reshaping the countryâ€™s political landscape since the 1980s, has shifted in potentially momentous ways in recent years, broadening its agenda and exposing new fissures.
The death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell last week highlighted the fact that many of the movementâ€™s fiery old guard who helped lead conservative Christians into the embrace of the Republican Party are aging and slowly receding from the scene. In their stead, a new generation of leaders who have mostly avoided the openly partisan and confrontational approach of their forebears have become increasingly influential.
Typified by megachurch pastors like the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, the new breed of evangelical leaders â€” often to the dismay of those who came before them â€” are more likely to speak out about more liberal causes like AIDS, Darfur, poverty and global warming than controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
But the conservative legacy of the religious right persists, and abortion continues to be a defining issue, even a litmus test, for most evangelicals.