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Friday, December 12, 2014

Evangelicals Are Beginning To Not Be What They Use To Be

Michael Gerson has recently written an article in the Washington Post reporting on the changes that are occurring in Evangelical circles (click here). These changes are due to the varying Evangelical reactions to changing cultural values and the role of religion in public life. These varying reactions has put today's Evangelicalism in a partial state of flux

The two most prominent cultural changes Gerson mentions include a growing acceptance of moral libertarianism and how religion has begun to be seen as a threat on public life as it attempts to continue to infringe on individual rights by dictating personal morality.

The varying Evangelical reactions to changing cultural values, and we are especially talking about continued changes in public values concerning sexually related issues, varies with age with younger evangelicals being more accepting of those who were previously marginalized to older evangelicals who are not so accepting. 

Regarding politics, while, according to Gerson, there have been no major shifts in party affiliation, there has been a change in the level of satisfaction evangelicals have with conservative politics in general. A study cited by Gerson indicated this by the responses evangelicals made to a number of questions. Here, evangelical millenials, whose circle of friends consist mainly of people with similar views, have a more unfavorable opinions of the traditional evangelical view of how religion should interact with the general public. According to Gerson, the authors of the study believe this is due to a spurning of their parents' sometimes brooding reactions to changes in cultural values and the loss of Christianity's privileged place in determining society's values. 

Gerson suggests an alternative approach to older evangelicals regarding how they should react to the changing times. Gerson suggests that unhappy evangelical conservatives should embrace civility, inclusiveness,  and be devoted to the common good. But some of these suggestions indicate that Gerson does not adequately know either evangelical conservatives or religion's interaction in the public sphere.

An example of Gerson's lack of knowledge regarding evangelical conservatives is seen by the fact that one of the major defenses evangelical conservatives make for denying same-sex marriage has to do with what is optimal for society.  These conservatives assert that the best home environment for children is when there is both a mom and dad at home. Thus, one of the reasons why some conservative evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage is because of their view of what is the common good.

And because of conservative evangelicals' view of what is the common good, they feel obligated, which kind of American Christian's burden, to seize a paternalistic role in society. These evangelicals' disgruntlement is not just due to a loss of an idealized past, as Gerson suggested in his article; rather, their discontent also has to due with the future for themselves, their children, and the beloved nation. And as long as they are in the driver's seat in determining society's laws and values, they do offer a more limited exclusiveness than what is desired by both evangelical millennials and the general public. 

And though there should be no disagreement with Gerson's call for evangelical conservatives to embrace what he suggested, there are too many details left out of that list to describe conservatives and how they should change. The figure below shows how Christianity interacts with society.















At one end of the continuum is a Christian domination of society while while at the other end is a Christian withdrawal from influencing society. The real debate in America about Christian involvement with society, especially concerning supporting legislation,  revolves around these two issues. For the crux of the matter is about what concerns are Christians exerting influence. I believe that while millennial Evangelicals oppose Christian influence being used to write legislation controlling personal morality issues, I don't believe they would object to Christians trying to influence laws regarding social justice issues. To show the latter part of this claim, all one has to do is check and see if evangelical millennials object to what Martin Luther King Jr. advocated.

Evangelical conservatives tend to have opposite positions on those issues so that they want to influence legislation that would revolve around personal morals while tending to let social justice legislation go by the wayside. The social justice issue for which the majority of evangelical conservatives would support legislation is racism and how to control its effects. But, from what I see, the majority of evangelicals would note support legislation for social justice issues like economic justice, the environment, and American imperialism.

It seems that while evangelical millennials prefer a Christian influence on society without gaining a privileged position in determining society's laws and values by accepting a moral libertarian approach while supporting Christians who take stands on social justice issues, conservative evangelicals tend to want the other middle point in the continuum because many of them want to control the personal morals of those around them. We should note that the pairings here which are associated with Christian influence sans privilege and those which are bound to Christian influence with privilege are not fixed. These pairings are due to historical movements and events.

Gerson definitely has provided some valuable insights in his article and might be saying much more than this post is giving him credit for. What this post has tried to illustrate are some of the details I feel need to be fleshed out which were not in his article.



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