American Christianity is experiencing head-snapping change. Specifically, Christian political engagement is changing with the emergence of the new generation. What kind of change?
The 1950s were they heyday of Christian Civil Religion. Church attendance grew from 31% in 1950 to 51% by 1957. This was the decade that saw “Under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” adopted as our national motto.
Then came the Shock. Beginning in the 1960s, a wide variety of cultural factors challenged American Christian Civil Religious hegemony: Vietnam, Environmentalism, Civil Rights, Feminism, Gay Rights and Biblical Criticism, to name a few.
Next came the First Aftershock: Christians mobilized against “moral decay”. During this period, the role of the pastor was redefined to be a moral watchdog.
These so-called Cultural Warriors were so successful that TIME Magazine declared 1967 the “Year of the Evangelical”.
But the new generation that arose after them felt the Second Aftershock. They hadn’t experienced the 1950s. They saw Evangelical engagement in politics as partisan and unhelpful. This gave rise to Dave Kinnaman’s “You Lost Me” generation.
The New Shape of Christian Political Engagement
- The Culture Warriors were highly partisan, voting either Republican (Evangelicals) or Democrat (Mainline).
- The Culture Warriors had a narrow agenda. The Religious Right sought to ban Abortion and Gay Marriage while Mainline churches pursued “social justice” causes.
- The Culture Warriors were divisive.
The New Generation of Christians:
- They are Independent.
- They pursue a broad agenda. The test of our faith isn’t supporting one or two issues.
- They tend to be more civil. They tend to partner and achieve instead of dividing and conquering.
Embodiment: The Missing Political Element
Jesus didn’t deal with issues from afar. He incarnated.
This isn’t a call to withdraw from the public sector. Whatever else following Jesus means, it’s not merely private. But at the same time, we can’t equate faithfulness with advocacy.
The first century was far more oppressive than today’s culture. And Jesus is shockingly silent about standing up for religious rights. He doesn’t say, Go advocate for freedom in Rome. He says, Build something new where you are.
We must be careful of patriotism. As Screwtape told his nephew Wormwood,
Convince them patriotism is part of faithfulness and you’ve nearly won your man.