Faith and Politics, The Next Generation of Evangelicals

The New York Times had an interesting article today regarding the impact of Evangelical Christians in politics today, especially with regard to the new generation of Evangelicals who apparently are not as vigorously aligned with the Republican Party the way the older generation is.

I find this interesting partly because in the Republican conventions that I’ve attended here in Iowa so far (with the state convention coming this month), I’ve witnessed a very strong devotion to Christian faith amongst those attending the meeting. I think there was more diversity of political perspective (some more liberal Republicans along with conservatives, for instance) than there seemed to be with regard to faith.

That said, I’m not so sure the article makes any case for there having been a substantive change in the way 18 to 29 year-olds really think about their faith and politics. Every generation comes in with some idea of how the prior generations have messed up or missed the boat and now it’s their turn to show the older folks how it’s done.

That’s exactly how I thought when I was younger.

That’s exactly how my parents thought when they were younger.

Every generation experiences this. So statements like this lack credibility:

They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.

It seems to me more likely that the Times is interested in using this story as a means to convince the younger generation that they are all indepedent thinkers and should consider the candidates and the issues in the light of what they believe, instead of kowtowing to the “power broker” Religious Right leadership.

What’s funny is, I agree with that message. But the underlying idea here is that John McCain represents the “old regime” of the nasty power brokers, and Obama represents the new, open thinking, the “service” thinking, the “Jesus” thinking.

The continued message of the article is that Evangelicalism is not what it used to be:

“Evangelicalism is becoming somewhat less coherent as a movement or as an identity,” said Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Younger people don’t even want the label anymore. They don’t believe the main goal of the church is to be political.”

Even those of us that are part of the “older” generation are not really interested in wielding the kind of abusive power that some have perceived the Religious Right (perhaps rightfully so) to hold. But we also know that by working together to analyze the positions of the candidates and communicate that understanding to all voters is valuable. When it comes to politics, some are vehement about pressing their faith-based cause in the hopes of forcing society to become more God-like, or to make society easier to deal with as a Christian, or to help society see the light of God. As a result, we’ve had a number of areas that are challenging to work through because we complicate the ideas of making the world a better place to live based on a Judeo-Christian world-view of what a better place should be, versus legislating morality (trying to make people be good, think good, want to act good), or worse yet to legislate a faith-based lifestyle.

I don’t want anyone to get me wrong on this point: I support a large part of the agenda that might be construed as “Religious Right”. I want desperately to see Roe v. Wade overturned. This is a miserable blight on our society. I know this both because God has shown us that life begins at conception and because I’ve seen the resulting pain and misery it has placed on our society. In the political realm, I do not promote abolishing abortion as a religious prerogative, but as a real social need… society will decay and crumble the longer it allows the wholesale murder of its children.

Some other excerpts from the article:

“The easy thing is to fight, but the hard thing is to put your gloves down and work together towards a common cause,” said the Rev. Scott Thomas, director of the Acts 29 Network, which helps pastors start churches. “Our generation would like to put our gloves down. We don’t want to be out there picketing. We want to be out there serving.”

The older generation, the congregants said, had drifted away from Jesus’s [sic] example.

“What the church has done wrong is that it has created these ‘holy huddles’ of Christian magazines, music and schools that have set them apart from the world because the world is bad,” said Mr. Beckemeier, who grew up in an evangelical family. “Instead of doing what Christ did, and bring light to the world, they retreat from it.”

It is unfortunate that these folks believe what they are saying, but again, this is not unusual. These are not new words, these are the same kinds of words I spoke 25 years ago myself.  (And if I hear “holy huddle” one more time, I’m gonna toss my cookies)

The fact is, promoting the truth is not always about politics (“politics” and “truth” tend to want to steer clear of each other), but is rather about just doing what is right, which sometimes means participating in politics. If you really think something is important enough, such as government policies on detaining enemy combatants, if you believe passionately that the government is wrong, you should do something to voice yourself like picketing, or writing for a blog.  You can’t go to Guantanamo Bay and help the detainees, but you can contact your congressional delegation, write to your paper, or yell from your roof.

The example of Jesus was clearly to serve, but also to speak the truth boldly. Many of the first century Church leaders, including the Apostles, were killed simply for proclaiming the truth. As Christians, I believe we have an obligation to speak the truth wherever God has put us, whether it is about the core Gospel message of our Lord Jesus Christ, about waiting for Marriage to enjoy the blessing of sex, or to stand up and say the genocide in Darfur is wrong and someone should intervene. People actively pursuing love, integrity, service, protection, etc., will do so for many reasons, but many of us do it for the sake of Christ and the sake of positively impacting people’s lives.

Read a little more…

Younger evangelicals focus more on “the ethic of Jesus” than on political issues, said Adam Smith, editor of the religion and culture magazine Relevant. They gravitate toward practical social action, Mr. Smith and others said, like working with poor, academically troubled inner-city schools, a priority at the Journey, or against human trafficking. While older evangelicals are also involved in such issues, younger people shy away from their emphasis on political organizing.

Younger people do tend to work toward solving immediate problems because they believe by doing so they are making the world a better place… and they truly are. As we get older, we begin to see that working toward longer term strategies to solve these types of problems often allow us to eliminate them altogether, or at least allow us to maintain a process to keep the work moving. Seeing the bigger picture and the need to develop longer term strategies are the reason that conservatives, including Evangelicals, get involved in political organizing. In the long term, we always need those people that want to be directly involved in providing for people’s needs. They will be able to do so even more effectively if the effort is part of a larger strategy that works toward meeting the core needs, not just the immediate needs.

As one person said above, Jesus brought light to the world. That is one of the directives He gave us as well. Lighting the world is exactly what I believe we are doing by being political active. And it’s not the only way to light the world, but it can have a lot of impact. And we all do what we do because we know in our heart that it’s right.

Finally:

Southern Baptist leaders, especially in Missouri, have criticized unconventional church outreach methods, like the Journey’s meetings at the Schlafly Bottleworks.

For Roger Moran, a lay Baptist leader in Missouri, being theologically conservative but culturally liberal could put evangelicals on the path to sin. To underscore that concern, the state convention will no longer finance start-ups of churches like the Journey.

Journey is a church mentioned throughout the article because they are talking about politics and faith and how the two intersect. They are doing so in a bar. This is an exceptionally creative approach, and I think it’s great. These are the types of ideas and approaches that have great value in reaching people. I am disheartened by the Southern Baptist Missouri state convention. They are not just being close-minded. They are taking the easy road, which is a common problem in the Church. It’s easy to just say “No” all of the time. It’s much harder to engage where people really are because it’s uncomfortable, not because we might sin. Of course, if you happen to believe that touching liquor is sinning, then you’re sorta stuck. But there are people who are always going to be where we’re uncomfortable being. We still have a mandate to engage them as well.

By the way, don’t forget that Jesus deliberately provoked a political conflict that led to his death.  Yup.

About the Author

Mr. Smith is the Publisher of The Conservative Reader. He is Partner/Owner of Ambrosia Web Technology as well as a Systems Architect for Wells Fargo. Art hold a degree in Computer Science from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a political blogger at the Des Moines Register. Art's views are purely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo.

 

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