Great article in the Sunday New York Times on the swing of the political pendulum in Christianity, The Evangelical Crackup.
…So when Fox [Terry Fox of “Operation Rescue” fame] announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on â€œcultural issues.â€ Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. â€œIt just wasnâ€™t pertinent,â€ Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.
Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the churchâ€™s lay leaders had turned on him. â€œThey said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!â€ he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. â€œAnd these were deacons of the church!â€
These days, Fox has taken his fire and brimstone in search of a new pulpit. He rented space at the Johnny Western Theater at the Wild West World amusement park until it folded. Now he preaches at a Best Western hotel. â€œI donâ€™t mind telling you that I paid a price for the political stands I took,â€ Fox said. â€œThe pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view. The real battle now is among evangelicals.â€
The older leadership is dying off. Jerry Falwell died last spring, and James Dobson, 71, is planning his succession.
Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors â€” including the widely emulated [mega-church] preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels â€” are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesusâ€™ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty â€” problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.
The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. â€œThe quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,â€ Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. â€œPeople who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.â€
â€œThere was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,â€ said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. â€œTo some extent â€” we have to see how much â€” the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democratsâ€™ court.â€
See also Sara Robinson, in Roosting Chickens, Part II:
I’ve been saying for a while now that the religious right in America finally and firmly jumped the shark over the past few years. But now that that big ol’ shark’s behind them, there’s another bunch of critters looming ahead that may prove to be even more damning. It’s that whole big flock of chickens that are finally coming home to roost.
I don’t know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, they didn’t see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we’re still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren’t afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.
And now, a new study reveals that young Americans, both inside and outside Christianity, have indeed taken note of this righteous spectacle– and a large and growing majority of them are absolutely revolted by what they’ve seen.
A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s — both Christian and non-Christian — are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago…
One of the things that’s always annoyed me is the tendency of liberal politicians to play the right’s game. Nowhere is this more evident than in professings of faith. Even if the politician is something other than Christian (let’s be hypothetical now), there is plenty of support for leftish positions in the gospels. And yet I have yet to hear a full throated defense of liberalism based solidly, and easily on the words of Christ. Do that, and we snatch and run away with the ball that Olasky and Barna say is now rolling into the Democrats’ court.
Update: Tristero isn’t buying it:
Seems like everyone’s predicting the imminent implosion of modern christianism. And yes, it does look that way, doesn’t it? Despite the wide variety of clinical-level personality disorders on display amongst the current Republican candidates, the so-called “religious” right can’t find the particular flavor of lunacy that makes them get all hard. Call it electile dysfunction. As it happens Rich’s point is underlined by a simultaneous article in the Sunday Times on the same subject.
I truly wish this were so, that we didn’t have to worry about the theocrats amongst us. But I don’t believe it for a second…