March 31, 2014

Christian America in the Past Tense

By In Articles, Society and Culture

I generally enjoyed the short summary of Russell Moore’s words on the future of Christian youth published by The Christian Post over the weekend.  I didn’t quite agree with everything, but I thought it was worth commenting on.  Moore was speaking at the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Faith Angle Forum.  The Christian libertarian ought to generally be wary of Christian statements on public policy topics these days, as the distorting political environment in America has so pervasively seeped into the Christian churches.  Liberal churches, who often operate under the banner of “evangelical,” have become entranced with the “leftist” political mindset of economic and cultural marxism.  And more conservative churches, some theologically better than others, have become entranced with neoconservative political mindsets which includes dangerous war making, corporatist-central planning, and the like.  But what was seen in Moore’s statement, I think, is a sign of a “coming to terms with” the fact that Christianity is no longer the majority American worldview.  Now, one might argue quite convincingly that Americans had long ago given up a proper worldview.  J. Gresham Machen experienced the first generation blow.  In any case, what is important is that conservative Christians are beginning to see the truth of the situation; namely, that our status as pilgrims who don’t fit in with the world is something we should not be surprised with.

Moore stated that Young Evangelicals are abandoning the Christian Right, but not necessarily moving left.  If this is true, we ought to rejoice.  The Christian Right is a political coalition of individuals –and power groups –who want to grow the State in the name of Jesus.  The Christian Right has been a failure precisely because it trusted in the wrong God.  Economically, it was statist, contrary to its most dramatic anti-communism polemics.  The irony is in its profoundly socialistic methods of battling the so-called expansion of Russian Communism.  But when Moore opines that the youth, while leaving the Christian Right, are actually not headed toward the left, it reveals that there is more to the Christian life than our politically defined “right and left.”  “Right and left” certainly have their uses, and their variance and nuances, but the problem in previous decades is that the State, the schools, the media, yes, even the Churches, set the parameters around “right and left” so as to limit the options.  Now it is becoming quite clear, both inside and outside the Church, that the political spectrum is far more broad than the Republican and Democratic Parties.  When Moore notes that Young Evangelicals are seeking to move beyond the Christian Right and the left, he happily contradicts the false assumption that the conservative must rally behind George Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.  My prayer here is that this same message can stay true during the next Presidential election.  Will the young conservatives, aware of the incredible dangers present in both national parties, be mocked for refusing to select from the official menu of approved politicians?

Rather than staying within the false paradigm of modern politics, the article informs us that Moore’s opinion is that young evangelicals “are embracing a counter-cultural, “freakish” message tied to the Gospel.”  Now, before we move too much further, it is my suggestion (which I admit carries no weight) that if we are really going to do this, if young people are really going to separate themselves from false paradigms and meaningless labels, perhaps evangelicals should admit that the very label evangelical has been abused, beaten to a bloody pulp.  The media uses, and the conservative power groups claim, the label, despite the fact that there is a hardly an evangelical in office that has any idea the history and etymological root of the word.  Moreover, and equally as terrible, is the fact that the religious liberals, those who deny historical Christianity at almost every point, have also taken up the label evangelical.  If everyone is an evangelical, such a word has no meaning.  It is my contention that we ought to use Protestant once again.  After all, as for Luther and Calvin, there is no shortage of false doctrine harming both church and society that is worthy of Protesting.  But I digress.

“Counter-cultural” is a great phrase.  It speaks volumes to the fact that the “counter-culture” of the previous mid-century has taken over –it is now the mainstream.  This is important precisely because Christians are often told by all sorts of leftist culture warriors that Christians look down on anti-Biblical lifestyles because these Christians have a cultural monopoly.  This is meant to induce feelings of wrongdoing and manipulate via guilt.  A great book on the matter of behind the scenes political and cultural efforts is Paul Gottfried’s Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.  When we state that we as Christians are counter-cultural, we are stating that the Christian worldview is no longer widely accepted.  It is not the way the mainstream youth of America, indoctrinated by government education, clever marketing, and social circles, think.  Conservative Christian Americans (Protestants) must get used to this.  This is not abnormal in history.  In fact, what is abnormal is a society that has a majority of Christians with a solid Biblical worldview.  Christ Himself noted in Matthew 10:22 that the world would hate His followers because the world hates Christ.  Christians are pilgrims on this earth, and our status in society is beginning to reflect that.

Moore notes that the new generation of Conservative Christians will be seen as “strange” in the eyes of the culture at large.  He also states, and I agree with him enthusiastically, that this development is a positive development.  It will separate the wheat from chaff.  There will be far less nominal Christians, who claim the title because it is culturally acceptable, financially promising, or even emotionally catering.  Gold is refined in fire and Christians are proven in trials.  It is not in the foreseeable future that we will face the same persecution and tribulation as Christians in places like Korea, parts of Africa, or the middle and far east, but it is in the foreseeable future that Christians — the Biblical God-fearing ones — will be seen as oddballs, “freakish” in the words of Moore.  Perhaps the power of the gospel, which has eternal promises based on past events rather than immediate promises based on current “social” efforts, will be mightily portrayed.  In Moore’s words, “moving into a more secularizing time gives the Church the opportunity to refocus on what the Gospel is.”  Quite so.

Moore also stated: “Younger Evangelicals are suspicious and skeptical of politicians… [but that] “does not mean they are moving to adopt another group of politicians,” [it just means that they] “don’t want to baptize political leaders as spiritual leaders.”  If this is true, and we shall certainly see, this is the best news of all.  The Christian churches of America have since the Progressive era seen the American Federal State and its chief proponents (politicians) blasphemously as the exception in the world when it comes to power and authority.  In contradiction to their near-worshipping of the American State, these Christians have vocally, and rightly, opposed with great words and grand speeches the power-grabbing politicians and expansionary, imperious, mindset of world leaders.  And yet, they have been so radically blind to the same actions and mindsets taken up by the American Government and her rulers.

If Moore is correct that young Christians are moving away from this hypocritical mindset, this marks a sharp distinction from the previous two (perhaps three) generations of Christian leaders.  Friends, we ought to rejoice!

Now, quite disappointingly, Moore seems inconsistent with the above when he says the following:

“As young Evangelicals become more involved in politics, Moore believes their activities will be more narrow in one sense and more broad in another sense than previous generations. It will be narrower because they will be less likely to claim there is a biblical position for specific political positions like the line-item veto or a balanced budget amendment. It will be broader because they are concerned about issues beyond life and marriage, such as human trafficking, orphan care, domestic abuse and creation stewardship.”

I would hope that seeing the State as a threat to Christianity and the Gospel drives young persons away not towards politics!  Serving in the public arena, in civil society, contrary to the message taught to us by politicians and youth indoctrination camps (curiously labeled “schools”), does in no way necessitate one become involved in politics.  Moreover, the idea that there is no Biblical position on even narrow political positions is not exactly true.  I must emphasize here that to understand the proper position on a given political matter is not necessarily to be involved in the political world.  The gospel must be at the forefront of our mind and mission, but this does not infer that we are ignorant of right and wrong.  Specifically, spending other people’s money and bringing them and their children into debt, which is what is meant by not balancing the budget, is not righteous behavior.

Now, it is even more interesting that in the quotation Moore begins with “involved in politics,” and ends with four examples of “broad,” presumably political, “issues.”  These issues, while certainly worthy of concern, are in my opinion heated keywords, that is, politicized phrases of the statist left.  So as to not give my readers a false understanding here, it is doubtless true that these things are problems and two of them fall under the umbrella of “protection-services.”  However, using these specific phrases smacks of a sneaky nanny statism; that is, political expansion and power-accumulation efforts under the banner of helping the most vulnerable in society.  The most vulnerable in society should be protected, no one disagrees with that.  But what often happens in an internationalized liberal democracy such as ours is that vulnerable groups become the excuse, the means, for those who wish to gain power and grow political influence.  The fact that human trafficking is present in a political list that includes “creation stewardship,” brings to mind the brilliantly-understood concept of a “Dominant Social Theme.

These issues, more often than not, are used in politics in two ways: First, they are used to draw up bills which include in them all kinds of anti-liberty, anti-private property, and anti-local sovereignty measures.  Second, they are used as emotional leveraging so as to manipulate otherwise principled citizens into supporting government-expansion.  Good intentions must always be matched with good action.  If young Christians make these issues the end-all-be-all of government involvement in society and Christian involvement in culture, they will have given up the Christian Right only to enter the Christian Left.  I’m not sure exactly what Moore is driving at with these words, but I am compelled to say: proceed with considerable caution.  None of these things are bad in themselves, my own wife has a heart for and is involved in anti-human trafficking efforts.  But one is blinded if he does not recognize the tainting and twisting effect of politics on social issues.

One might find it odd that I would go to such great lengths to consider here what Moore is saying.  We must, however, be aware of the nastiness of political realities.  If Christians get into politics under the current structure of nanny-statism and are not aware of the political atmosphere, complete with emotion-triggering catch phrases, they will be perpetuating the evils of authoritarianism and misconstruing the gospel message.  The gospel is about the individual soul and eternal life, not “social justice” and cultural benefits.  In the end, the Christian duty is to present the Gospel, the Truth given to us in the Bible.  And the role of government in society, preferably a private (non-socialized) government, is to enforce individual justice; that is, to punish those who breach the life or property of another human being.  If young Christians leave the Christian Right, it will be a waste of time if they still seek to grow the power of the State.  Staying principled and Biblically honest is a sure and honorable way to be in the minority.  Popularity is not worth sacrificing the Truth.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • KenH

    This is a great column. Well said, sir. Well said.