Q&A: Leith Anderson
Minnesota pastor Leith Anderson was named president of the association earlier this month. He has been serving as interim president of the National Association of Evangelicals since former president Ted Haggard resigned in November 2006, after a male prostitute said that he and Haggard had a three-year sexual relationship and that Haggard had used methamphetamines.
Anderson is credited for saving the association from financial ruin during his 2001-2003 interim presidency (see "NAE Rights Its Ship"). He is senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which has 5,000 in attendance.
Anderson spoke with Christianity Today about the future of the NAE.
Why does the average evangelical need the NAE?
There are many functions in the NAE. We endorse chaplains, we own World Relief, we have our Washington office. There are many functions of the NAE that are wonderful expressions of evangelicalism in America. The NAE is able to speak on behalf of evangelicals because of our constituency, which is primarily in the 60-some denominations that are members of the association.
If the NAE disappeared tomorrow, what difference would it make?
We would lose a significant voice for united evangelicalism. Otherwise, we end up with individual voices that may not be as accountable to constituencies. The NAE is an association of denominations and Christian organizations, and we are accountable to them.
In a movement as theologically and politically diverse as evangelicalism, is it possible for anyone to be a spokesman?
That's a matter of degree. The same thing is true in marriage. Is one person able to speak in every detail of agreement for the partners in marriage? The answer is, in marriage, there are great differences in opinion. So, of course there are differences among evangelicals. What we are able to do is speak for many and raise issues for concern and discussion among all.
As you move forward, how has the NAE's vision changed since its founding?
I don't think it has changed since its founding. For 65 years, NAE has been a voice for evangelicalism on a variety of topics as well as an agent of coordination among evangelicals.
After presidents of evangelical organizations like Haggard resign, does it have an effect on the association?
Sometimes it does, but in this particular case, I think within evangelicalism and in the broader community, it was perceived to be as a matter related to him personally rather than the NAE as an organization.
For the coming years, do you have a single top priority or several top priorities?
There are a couple of top priorities. One is to strengthen the association's relationship with member denominations and member organizations. One example is our evangelical leaders survey, which monthly interacts with these leaders on a series of topics. The one in September was over the primary issues that evangelicals are facing. The one in October related to the presidential candidates for 2008.
On the public policy side, we have a document that is called "For the Health of the Nation." They are seven priorities that the NAE organizes around in terms of being a public voice.
[The document] relates to religious freedom, sanctity of human life, human rights, and creation care. It was first issued in 2003 and then re-affirmed by the NAE in March of this year. What we're doing is organizing many of the activities of the Washington office and the association around each one.
These are big topics like justice and compassion for the poor and the vulnerable. That results in things like the statement released that we endorsed earlier against torture and the statement we released earlier this month on behalf of the Dalits of India.