When you oversee an empire it's hard to let go. Pope's don't retire, they just die. Succession is determined later. Protestant mega-church pastors are usually entities unto themselves and they more often than not determine their own successions. Bob Schuller passed his aging empire on to his son. Jerry Falwell died in office, but the keys to the kingdom are being shared by his sons. Pat Robertson is hanging on, but his son is taking a great role in the "TV Ministry." Fortunately I'm not a mega-church pastor because my son has no interest in the family business!
But then there's D. James Kennedy, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church -- proponent of the ever precarious idea that America is and was and shall be (if he can help it) be a Christian nation. When I first heard of James Kennedy it wasn't in relationship to conservative politics. His was the Evangelism Explosion of the 1970s. We watched a film about how his church evangelized the community in chapel. But that was before politics became the burden. I expect Evangelism Explosion is still being used, but it's not what we equate James Kennedy with any more. It's politics, and a particularly narrow version -- one focused on homosexuality and abortion -- with a glance toward making American Christian again.
But he's giving up the reins and retiring at age 76. That's well past normal retirement age, but when you run an empire, it's hard to give it up.
The question is, what's next. There's evidence that some younger conservative evangelicals want to go in a different direction -- one that's broader in focus, but also less politically charged. That would be welcome -- at least in my mind. It's not that we shouldn't engage the public square, but we need to do it with more humility and less triumphalism. We need to be a bit more circumspect about where God fits into this conversation. Too often we speak as if we're God's chosen mouthpieces. Perhaps this isn't the best way to enter the public square.
So I say to James Kennedy -- happy retirement -- enjoy playing golf. My hope is that this will mark a new day for the church, one that is less divisive, more humble.
For more on Kennedy and his retirement from the Coral Ridge Church check out this article in the Miami Herald.