“But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
“The glass is half empty,” is a phrase that is supposed to represent the perspective of a pessimist, while the statement “The glass is half full” represents an optimistic view of the same situation. That’s a simple way to explain the difference between the two opposite views, though in real life things become more complicated.
The hand wringing, weeping and gnashing of teeth since the November elections among certain segments of the religious right are an indication of their perspective of themselves, their ministry, and the outcome, all rolled into one. I would characterize their view of the glass as half empty, cracked, and leaking, with enough water pouring out to flood the floor. Some have even gone so far as to define the result as “an evangelical disaster.” If you see that holding worldly, political power is the only way Christians can have ministry success, then I suppose November’s election was a disaster for you. But you’re wrong in every possible way. Take it as a wake up call and look at the opportunity that is so clearly there.
“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6b
The Washington Post story I linked gives a small glimpse into a specific location and situation that is representative of similar scenes which occurred in many places all over the country. I genuinely feel sorry for the people involved, such as the woman in this particular piece. But I do not recall this “end of the world” attitude over the results of an election until the past couple of decades. Talk radio has had its effect. People isolate themselves inside of a media bubble, and only listen to one perspective. And the media inside that bubble has distorted the facts beyond recognition, because it is not interested in reporting news, but in changing worldviews. The right wing media made a lot of calculated errors in convincing people that their way of thinking about politics is the only right way to think about it, that anyone opposed to their way is conspiring to take over the country and take away your basic freedoms and liberties, and if the other side wins, it will be the end of the country as we know it. I know it is more complicated than that, but in a nutshell, that’s where the attitude comes from. Why it is hard for those caught in that bubble to discern facts from propaganda, I do not know, but apparently that is a huge problem. The right wing media has missed its guess and made major errors for quite some time now, calling its credibility into serious question, but it seems that it still has its followers, and many of them are Evangelical Christians. The end result of that is an emotional over-reaction to what is going on in the political arena.
The Apostle Paul wrote some remarkable passages in the New Testament about being obedient to the civil government, the very same civil government that would eventually have him executed. If anyone had a reason to be suspicious or fearful of the power of the government, Paul did. And yet he made a point to teach Christians that part of their faith was demonstrating their obedience to the civil government as an acknowledgement that its power and ability to operate was completely in God’s hands and that its leaders would be held accountable to God for what they did.
For a long, long time, Evangelicals have had a very difficult time separating the source of their values. There are Biblical values which come from scripture (and whether we admit it or not, from our own traditions and interpretations of scripture), and there are American values which have come out of the culture, blended with all sorts of different influences and interpretations. The two things are not synonymous, though many American values do have their roots in the strong, Protestant Christian influences that came along in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The blending of all of those elements, which got going during the Second Great Awakening, and continued on for about 150 years, led to Protestant Christian denominations, collectively, becoming a sort of de facto “state church” with government turning a blind eye to an awful lot of influence and favoritism that, from a purely constitutional perspective, violated the establishment clause. But few voices were raised in protest, and most people didn’t see the problem.
People have written books about the cultural shifts that are taking place which have had a major effect on American society. I wouldn’t even begin to be able to deal with those influences here in any depth. One of the main ones has come through the public education system in the form of secular humanism. Over time, things have occurred in American Christianity which have led to its decline in both number of people actively involved in local churches, and its influence to continue being the state church by default. Mainline denominations drifted into liberal theology as a result of the influence of secular humanism, and began a steep decline in membership and participation that continues into the 21st century. Many denominations that were leaders in influence by sheer number have been reduced to survival mode, shadows of their former greatness. Evangelicals picked up the mantle, and with some of the conservatives left in the mainline denominations, continued to carry the banner throughout the last decades of the 20th century. But they have never been able to put things back where they were, and in the late 80’s. their numbers began to decline as well. More Christians are in “sit, listen and contribute money” mode in megachurches than they are active and involved, and this has taken a toll on their influence. And over the past 20 years, Evangelicals have seen a disastrous loss of their younger generation as 80% or more of those raised in church are leaving it during or immediately after their college years.
Evangelical Christians have depended almost entirely on the promises of politicians and votes at the ballot box to maintain their influence in the culture, and the benefits that have come from being the predominant religious view in America. That’s not consistent with what the Bible has to say about being salt and light, but it has been difficult, in fact, it has been impossible, for the leaders of the movement to resist the temptation that comes with political influence. The numbers are no longer there. African Americans, and the increasing number of Hispanics who have flocked into Evangelical churches via the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, do not share the political worldview of moving the church forward on the back of a political party. Their personal and community experiences do not lead them to see the world, or the political system, in the same way as most Caucasians do. The number of “unchurched Americans” in the younger population has increased exponentially over the past two decades, and what was a small generation of young voters under 25 a decade ago has swelled to an army of younger voters under 35, almost tripling in terms of numbers of them registered to vote and participating in elections. The “religious right,” as it has become known, is no longer able to marshall the voting power it once had.
To be continued………..