I have mostly been avoiding post-election conversations. I’ve read a few things that came across my screen including Dutch Sheet’s response. There is one statement in his response I agree with:
“The complacency and lack of discernment concerning our real condition in America – especially by the Church – is both appalling and horrifying.”
I’ve been thinking about us – the church – who we are and what we should look like in our culture. It won’t surprise any of you that I believe we really missed it, particularly this election season in a country obviously looking for hope and change. Could the message to the church be any clearer?
A sketchy history of the American church’s cultural engagement would show that from the time of Jonathan Edwards, the church was involved in both spiritual renewal and social reform. The Scopes evolution trial is credited with setting fundamentalists on a separatist path. In part, fundamentalism was a reaction to the social gospel, equating social activism with religious liberalism.
Dispensationalism, prevalent among fundamentalists, championed separation and disengagement from the culture. Belief that the world is evil and the church will soon be raptured from the earth eventually smothered engagement in social issues and contributed to withdrawal and retreat.
The rise of evangelicalism was a movement back to mainstream involvement and a rejection of separatism. However, rather than truly re-engaging with culture, evangelicals developed a parallel, christian subculture, a sanitized Christian version of American culture.
As evangelicals became involved in the public arena, they realized that political power was within reach. The religious right began crusading in regard to moral and tax issues. This focus on the family represented an agenda that was mostly personal and sought to protect middle-class security and comfort.
While the evangelical church became an influential voting demographic crusading for conservative issues, they still largely neglected engagement in social justice. In its complacency, lack of awareness, and lack of concern, the church failed to be a distinctly kingdom community.
The focus seemed to be on extending the christian subculture to the national level. By seeking political advantage, evangelicals attempted to impose Christian values in the public realm and build a moral utopia.
They put their hope in legislation to reform people’s hearts and behavior. The misdirected focus to take back the centers of power in our culture resulted in building walls and diminishing the witness of the church. In my opinion, the religious left are in danger of repeating this mistake.
To be continued…