Following the 2008 presidential campaign's rampant debate surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his potential influence over then-candidate Barack Obama, the subject of pastoral impact may emerge, once again, as a theme in the 2012 race. Already, some conservatives and liberals, alike, are questioning how GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty's pastor, Leith Anderson, has influenced his views.
Anderson is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and has been the pastor at Wooddale Church in Minnesota -- one of the nation's largest evangelical churches -- since 1977. With an interesting set of beliefs on a variety of issues, Anderson's politics can most aptly be described as "moderate."
Judging from Pawlenty's own words, there's no doubt that the pastor has had a profound impact on the politician. In Pawlenty's 2010 autobiography, "Courage to Stand," he wrote, "I'm not the only one Leith Anderson has inspired; great leaders have many followers. But he'd be the first to underscore that his mission is not about him; it's about drawing others to Jesus."
While Anderson is careful to stay relatively political neutral on the whole, he and his church have taken definitive stances on a variety of highly contentious sociopolitical issues. According to The Huffington Post:
Anderson isn't shy to discern a political agenda in Scripture. When he reads in Psalms, "I knit you together in your mother's womb," he sees a strong anti-abortion message. He also opposes same-sex marriage on biblical grounds.
But, on other issues, the pastor has found himself dancing left of the line. The Atlantic reports that he is a firm believer in global warming:
In 2006, when Anderson added his name to a high-profile group of Evangelicals who signed a "call to action" statement, the Associated Press described his support as being in favor of "strong government involvement" on the issue.
Earlier this month, The Blaze covered Tim Pawlenty's change-of-heart when it comes to global warming and cap and trade. While it is perfectly acceptable that a politician would change his or her opinions over time, critics will surely question whether Anderson's views previously impacted Pawlenty.
On another issue -- illegal immigration -- Anderson also takes a more leftist approach. While Pawlenty has waged a hard stance on the issue (pushing for an end to "birthright citizenship" and punishments for business violators who willingly employ illegals), Anderson's NAE has pushed for "comprehensive immigration reform." According to The Atlantic, Anderson supported:
...2007 resolution calling for the "government to establish a fair process for undocumented immigrants already in the country to earn legal status and fair labor and civil laws for everyone."
Politico further highlights some of the actions that the NAE has taken that agree more readily with the Democratic side of the aisle:
They issued statements of support for the START Treaty ratification last year, supported Obama’s push for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and issued a report on 18 issues in which NAE and Obama concur.
While there are certainly some issues with which conservatives would disagree, Anderson's background paints him as a compassionate, Christian pastor who happens to have very balanced views. That said, some of the most left-leaning streaks are certainly causing some questions to emerge regarding his influence over Pawlenty's viewpoints.
What do you think?