Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Future of the Evangelical Movement and the Religious Right

A fascinating article by David D. Kirkpatrick is in the October 28, 2007 NY Times Magazine. Some of the themes are illustrated on the cover
Kirkpatrick describes his experiences with the Christian Evangelical movement in recent years and notes that ever since the 2004 election there has been a definite loss of enthusiasm for the Bush presidency and the Republican Party in general:

“There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. “To some extent — we have to see how much — the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats’ court.”

There are definite signs that many Evangelical Christians are moving to the left on many issues:

For the conservative Christian leadership, what is most worrisome about the evangelical disappointment with President Bush is that it coincides with a widening philosophical rift. Ever since they broke with the mainline Protestant churches nearly 100 years ago, the hallmark of evangelicals theology has been a vision of modern society as a sinking ship, sliding toward depravity and sin. For evangelicals, the altar call was the only life raft — a chance to accept Jesus Christ, rebirth and salvation. Falwell, Dobson and their generation saw their political activism as essentially defensive, fighting to keep traditional moral codes in place so their children could have a chance at the raft.

But many younger evangelicals — and some old-timers — take a less fatalistic view. For them, the born-again experience of accepting Jesus is just the beginning. What follows is a long-term process of “spiritual formation” that involves applying his teachings in the here and now. They do not see society as a moribund vessel. They talk more about a biblical imperative to fix up the ship by contributing to the betterment of their communities and the world. They support traditional charities but also public policies that address health care, race, poverty and the environment.
I recommend reading the whole article which is quite good. What I find most interesting is that while there doesn't seem to be a lessening of Christian enthusiasm, there's seems to be definitely a broadening of what that enthusiasm consists of: A moving away from ideas that might be called Conservative and more toward a broader mixture of altruistic (and hence Liberal) themes of concern for the poor and the like. This is far more in line with what I understood Christianity to be about from my readings of C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, in which Lewis mentioned that a state governed according to Christian principles would be quite socialistic.

I, for one, would love it if we could separate Christianity from the Right. I would love it if no one would confuse the positions of advocates of reason, egoism, and capitalism with the advocates of faith, humility, and charity. Or perhaps, dare we hope, we can return to treating religion, in Ayn Rand's words as "a private matter". Still, it is not clear to me that we have seen the end of that particular movement.

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