For 51 years now I have been part of the evangelical community. It is a label I happily wore. I have been part of this community for a long time and I thought I knew this community. Now I’m not so sure. Who are we?
In my lifetime Billy Graham travelled the world. He filled stadiums with tens of thousands of people and millions responded. He preached about our human condition and that we as a people needed a savior. He called millions to repentance and unashamedly proclaimed that Jesus was our only hope.
There were many others but one I recall was a man who was passionate about families and purity. I remember seeing a Dr. Dobson video series shown at church. Over the years Focus on the Family grew into a significant cultural force standing for godly principles. There were daily radio programs, newsletters and books. I watched as this man stood up for unpopular positions and even served as a presidential advisor under Ronald Reagan. He became known as the most influential evangelical leader of the time.
Under this was a subculture that was growing. The Moral Majority was a cultural force that in many ways shaped society. It said, as did our founding fathers, that we must remain a moral people led by moral leaders or America would fail to be a great nation. Millions of people stood behind this movement. It walked parallel with the evangelical church. Politicians courted the Moral Majority and played to their sensibilities.
From these influences and a conviction of church leaders like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, the church really began thinking about their relevance in culture. Relevance became a major concern in our ability to reach others with the truly good news of the gospel. We could not appear to be anchored to the 1940’s or 50’s and reach the current generation. Until a decade or two ago, the church was seemingly 20 years behind the times. Actually that is not true in church history but in the mid 20th century it was true. Today there are many instances where churches are leading the way thanks to our push for relevance. Technical production in many of our churches is on par with Broadway and concert tours. Musical presentation is as attractive as popular bands in many cases and executed as professionally.
Yet I ask the question, “How did we get here?” because I see us crumbling from the inside out. Paradoxically the more we have sought to be relevant, the more irrelevant we have become. The metrics of George Barna’s research bear this out. We see an increase of people saying that Christianity or the Church is unimportant. The numbers spike alarmingly high when looking particularly at Millenials. But aside from the metrics, we can see it all around us in our society. The Supreme Court recently defeated a biblical definition of marriage, nearly 60 million babies have been barbarically ripped apart before they had even a chance to take their first breath. Our cities are increasingly at war as cultures rage against each other. Love has been replaced with hatred, peace with violence, trust with distrust, faith with suspicion and reason with rhetoric. If we as the church were truly relevant in our culture, these things would not be,
I watched as this paradox unfolded this past year in increasingly obvious ways in our culture. The man I looked up to as a man who stood unashamedly for family values, for purity, for goodness and morality; the man who sat on the Attorney General’s Commission on pornography under Ronald Reagan proclaimed his support for a man to lead our country who bragged about numerous adulterous relationships and sexual misconduct. a man who proudly displays a framed Playboy cover of himself in his office, speaks in reprehensible vulgarity, profits from casinos and a strip club, objectifies women in every way imaginable and relentlessly resorts to character assassination and intimidation if anyone dares challenge him. How did we get here?
The truth is that where we are now is both antithetical to the Moral Majority and the natural result of it. It turns out that the left was right. You can’t legislate morality. We tried it and we succeeded – for a while. However, we developed such tunnel vision of winning our specific agenda items, supreme court, pro-life agenda etc. that we lost sight of – or more accurately, didn’t care – how we got there or who it was that was promising our deliverance. The Moral Majority ultimately bound us to a political party and focused us on winning battles. It defined who we were supposed to be in terms of issues and in terms of party allegiance. Less than 2 decades ago the man who rallied millions to stand for morality in our leaders proclaimed victory in embedding morality into the leadership of the United States. We have turned so completely that this year that man’s son stood and proclaimed that morality was irrelevant in our leader. Similarly, the son of the man who boldly called millions to repentance and proclaimed that Jesus was our only hope stands now in support of a man who proudly stated that repentance is unnecessary and he alone is able to save America.
We set our principles aside to win a battle. We felt persecuted by our current leader and we decided to find a strongman for our side. We were fearful and we found someone who made grandiose promises to deliver us. We were angry at what was being done to us and we decided to strike back with someone who appeared to be the strongest force we could find. In so doing we have abandoned our principles. We have become faithless. We have turned from the words of the one who truly has life and freedom to offer. Jesus’ command to us was to remain faithful and to love those around us. He never instructed us to fight to retain cultural dominance. When we are faithful the result is in the hands of God and His hands are much more capable than ours.
So how did we get here? We have abandoned the command to be faithful and we’ve taken up God’s role of achieving the result. That never turns out well. If we are to be true to our calling we must leave the results to God and take up faithfulness with everything in us.