EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – When a presidential campaign contacted the Rev. Leith Anderson to ask for a meeting recently, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals said he had a bigger priority that day. “I had a wedding or a funeral, I can’t remember which,” Anderson said, sitting in his book-lined office at the suburban Minneapolis megachurch he’s led for 31 years. “Anyway, I don’t pre-empt a wedding or a funeral for a presidential candidate. Because I’m a pastor.” Indeed, Anderson still leads seven services a weekend at Wooddale Church. But the story of the spurned candidate, whom he declined to name, offers some insight into his vision for the NAE – an organization that represents 45,000 churches and 30 million members. “My life is not in Washington,” Anderson said. “I am not a politician. What evangelists are about is primarily faith, and not politics.” The NAE has never had aims as explicitly political as other evangelical groups like the Christian Coalition. But it does have a presence on Capitol Hill and tries to set an agenda for the broader evangelical movement, issuing “Statements of Conscience” to guide the community activism of evangelical congregations around the country. Prominent evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson and James Dobson became known for their dedication to passing laws cracking down on legalized abortion and same-sex marriage. By contrast, climate change is the policy issue most closely associated with Anderson. In March, when Anderson was still interim president of the NAE, a group of religious right leaders including Dobson, of Focus on the Family, and Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, wrote a letter to NAE leaders demanding that the organization fire its chief Washington lobbyist, Richard Cizik, for waging what they called a “relentless campaign” against global warming. They said it detracted from more pressing moral concerns. But Anderson stood by Cizik, and in August stepped up his own activism when he joined a delegation of evangelical pastors and scientists on a weeklong trip to Alaska to see firsthand the effects of climate change. “In terms of social issues, they relate to the sanctity of human life – before and after birth,” Anderson said. “So I would see issues like poverty, or the effects of climate change, as sanctity-of-life issues.” Anderson said concerns about abortion and same-sex marriage would always be important to many evangelicals. But he spoke of both in guarded terms, saying society has reached “something of a stalemate on abortion,” and noting that those concerned about the effect of gay marriage on the family structure should be just as focused on divorce and single-parent families. He said his broadening of priorities comes from increasing diversity among evangelicals, who he said have grown beyond a base of “white suburbanites” to include many blacks and Hispanics. “In the African-American community, there is a great deal of emphasis on issues of justice and poverty,” he said. “In the Hispanic community, there is a high concern over immigration and comprehensive immigration reform.” Anderson’s attempt to widen the movement’s priorities has raised concern, even inside the NAE. Jerald Walz, an NAE board member and the vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, joined in the criticism of Cizik’s global warming activism. He says now that he’s willing to give Anderson a chance, but “at the same time I’m chagrined because if we lessen our emphasis on our main issues that would be unfortunate. Evangelicals have not won the battle on life, and it would be unfortunate to shrink back from that at this point.” Anderson said he is willing to meet with presidential candidates – assuming there are no weddings or funerals at Wooddale that day. But he shows no concern at the idea that the evangelical movement will be less overtly political. “I am far more concerned about our spiritual influence rather than our political influence,” Anderson said. Those who know Anderson say he means it. “In all the years I’ve known him, I have not once ever known which candidate he voted for in any election,” Brushaber said. “He keeps that private.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre Anderson, who moved from interim president to president of the NAE in October, brings both his biblical focus and a wide-ranging set of concerns about the environment and human rights to the leadership of the NAE at an unsettled time. His predecessor, Ted Haggard, resigned last year in a sex-and-drugs scandal. Meanwhile, evangelicals have been finding it difficult to settle on a Republican presidential candidate who is seen as viable and opposes both abortion and same-sex marriage. Anderson, 63, is among a group of evangelical leaders who are “just as orthodox in their theology” as leading conservative Christians but think that relating faith to culture is more complex than just a couple of issues, said George Brushaber, president of the evangelical Bethel College near St. Paul. “He wants the church to be part of the conversation in the public square, and not be owned by any narrow base,” said Brushaber, who has known Anderson for several decades.