In the 1980s, evangelicals suddenly got political, and with promises that they’d be heard and their views would be implemented, they supported Ronald Reagan, who defeated the first president to ever publically call himself an evangelical, Jimmy Carter. These were the days when Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority, and there was a push to revive the Christianity of our American forefathers. There was a wave of evangelical fervor to take back culture from liberals (George Bush #1 wouldn’t even say the “L” word). Those were heady days.
Rush Limbaugh became extremely popular when Bill Clinton was in office, and it was hard for people to distiguish between Limbaugh’s political views and evangelical political views at times. There were always the lefties from the Sojourners movement, who had been evangelicals like Carter, but generally they weren’t to be trusted.
There have been a multitude of causes for evangelicals in the culture wars– abortion first, then violent video games and vulgar music (think Tipper Gore), gun rights, censorship, against drugs, for prayer in school, for states rights, against gay marriage…there were a series of causes for which to fight. But in most of these, evangelicals have not won.
Now, on the front page of the wall street journal, there is a story about the head of the Southern Baptists telling his people that they need to back off their culture war talk, and not alienate young evangelicals: http://www.online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324755104579072722223166570
Russell Moore, is the 42-year-old leader of the Southern Baptists, and he is trying to tone down the activism and political talk which he feels is alienating younger members. He is trying to rein in the evangelical political activism and culture wars which started nearly 35 years ago, and redirect his denomenations energy to “a Christian vision of justice and the Common Good”. In contrast to his predecessor, Richard Land, who had compared Glen Beck to Billy Graham as “a person in spiritual motion” (Beck is mormon), Moore wrote the following in an essay called “God, the Gospel, and Glen Beck” (which, by the way, says that Glen Beck isn’t the problem, conservative Christians are causing their own problems):
“Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.”
Moore speaks for a lot of younger evangelicals when he writes these words, and that is, apparently, why he has taken the helm of the Southern Baptist Ship. The southern Baptists have seen membership drop off in recent years, with many who were raised in that church feeling disenfranchised– not because they didn’t love Jesus or believe the Bible, but because they were not feeling convicted of the same political convictions as their fellow-southern-baptists. They didn’t think that following Jesus necessarily meant being Tea-Party people.
Moore is no leftie, he is not going “soft”. The gospel still plays a central role in his criticisms: “Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do.”
These are times of upheaval, change, transition and uncertainty. In times like this we appreciate voices who speak authoritatively and clearly about things– cutting through the confusion to something decisive. But if those voices aren’t clearly rooted in the gospel and kindness and love of Christ, then they are just more din and noise, not a solution. I’m encouraged by Moore’s direction.
For Moore’s article on Glen Beck see: http://www.russellmoore.com/2010/08/29/god-the-gospel-and-glenn-beck/
May God have mercy on us all.