The 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion was this past June. The reader of history can look back knowing the outcome of events in a way the participants in those events cannot. We marked the anniversary with thankfulness but the boys storming those beaches didn’t know what would happen next.
I often think of the strategic decisions in preparing for the battle; it began long before boots hit the sand. The Allies were careful to mislead Hitler into believing that the attack would come at Pas-de-Calais, the shortest point across the English Channel. They fed false information across the spy networks and created massive faux-bases that easily deceived German reconnaissance pilots. You could do that in a world before satellite imaging.
When the attack finally began, German forces were ready but no where near the scale they would have been without the deception of the Allied generals. Hitler reportedly was happy the battle had finally started. He never imagined the battle could be lost or that it would be the beginning of his demise. He fortified the wrong beaches and could not stop the onslaught once it started.
The Evangelical Pas-de-Calais
As I survey the cultural landscape I cannot help but think that late-century Evangelicals also fortified the wrong beaches. Somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s Evangelical leaders sensed they had some power. It was numbers thing. They realized that while they did not get the attention of the press, they had far more people than the press believed. “The Moral Majority,” they called it.
Evangelical leaders became active in politics endorsing candidates, pushing agendas, and speaking out on issues of morality. It was great, for awhile. Evangelicals seemed to have some weight to throw around the political arena and did, often with success. For example, the issue of abortion drove rank-and-file Christians to the polls for decades but was eclipsed in the mid to late 90’s by gay marriage. This became the great deception and diversion of Christian political involvement, the Evangelical Pas-de-Calais.
In an effort to support what is now called “traditional marriage,” Christian people enshrined into law the view of marriage as one man and one woman. Political success felt good. Laws were passed in nearly three-fifths of the states, in California twice, and once federally. It seemed the “will of the people” could not be stopped.
…but it could be changed
While Christians focused on passing laws Hollywood began churning out movies, sitcoms, and other media that portrayed gay people and relationships in positive lights. Christians passed the Defense of Marriage Act. Hollywood made Will and Grace. While Evangelicals were chasing votes, Hollywood was chasing hearts. They knew laws can be ignored or changed at any time…if you have the hearts of the people.
In recent years, the courts have struck down many of the legislative victories Evangelicals once celebrated, all the effort and capital expended to pass them wasted. Meanwhile, polling data shows that Americans feel more favorably about gay marriage than ever even in states that currently prohibit it.
If Evangelicals worked so hard to change laws why have they lost the battle in public opinion? At a time when their political influence seemed to be unstoppable a quick tidal surge of public opinion washed away all their efforts. Why? Evangelicals fortified the beach of law and neglected the more strategic beach of public opinion.
The term “public opinion” is slightly misleading and may suggest to Evangelicals that we only tickle the ears of those paying attention to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as Evangelical leaders became more concerned about numbers and influence they lost both. They were short-sighted about how cultures change. They thought of themselves as modern-day Wilberforces. They ended up more like modern-day Marie Antoinettes.
Fortifying the Right Beaches
My view on this began to change several years ago when I reviewed a book by Os Guinness titled A Free People’s Suicide. Guinness convinced me that the foundation was never based on policies one supports. Rather, the Founders believed that the republic rested on the character of the people. Fighting for causes is nice but fighting for people is more important and, ultimately, more effective.
The tides have turned and my point is not to begin a political debate or to criticize Evangelical leaders. They were men and women of their time and did the best they could. This is a different time which calls for new actions.
What can we do in a post-Evangelical world to influence an increasingly hostile culture? We must fortify the right beaches.
Influence is not gained by demonstrating mass numbers. It’s earned in increments bit by bit. This is why Peter writing to a soon-to-be-persecuted church says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
We have to start thinking smaller not bigger churches, buildings, and budgets. I’m not anti-megachurch. I’m anti-churches that do not promote discipleship to Jesus. Post-evangelicals hear the calling to apprentice individuals to Jesus and trust God for their influence in the broader political universe.
The only instruction Jesus left us with was to make disciples. That is, to tell other people about the great news of what He’d done on the cross and to teach them how to live in light of this news. The rest of the New Testament is stories of people learning to live in the amazing grace of God.
People change when their understanding of the world is chiseled into one resembling the way God understands it. American culture no longer has the Bible as the factory installed worldview and it’s past time for Evangelicals accept this stubborn fact. But if you want change then you have to learn to speak the new language. Don’t fight it. Use it to your advantage and you just might find genuine influence under your fingertips.
When I started this blog my tagline was “Where Faith and Politics Meet.” I was trying to convey that Christians have a place in politics. I still believe we do. But I’ve grown to believe that Christians must take a much longer view when it comes to cultural transformation.
It starts with heart transformation.
It starts with grace.
It is apprenticeship to Jesus.
That’s why I’m relaunching Rev Nev with a whole new focus. Gone are the political policy debates of the past. Now the focus is on people and what it takes for them to move closer to Christ whether they already consider themselves Christ-followers or not.
There are four primary topics I will write about:
- God – The central Christian pursuit is knowing and relating with God. Paul expressed this beautifully when he called it the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” We’ll explore the Scriptures for what they have to tell us about Him and what He wants us to know. Sometimes it’s theology and revelation and others it’s about how to listen and interact.
- Community – “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Christian community is a much larger universe that we normally imagine. Our perspective can be limited to the people in our small group or church and occasionally our denomination. But it’s much bigger. You have more in common with a believer from 1000 years ago than with a peer who doesn’t believe. Expect posts on who some of these people are and how they encourage you and I to keep the faith.
- Perseverance – The true result of faith is perseverance not perfection. The perfection is already handled by Jesus. He calls us to live in light of his gifted-to-us righteousness, we also must persevere when we and others don’t.
- Reward – God has something wonderful for us. It starts now but it extends forever. Taking an eternal view of things puts the rest of life in perspective.
The world is changing and that is okay. Some Evangelicals are fighting to retain their power and whatever prestige they have left but because those things were never eternal to begin with it’s a hopeless cause. We only have two options: (1) continue to fight a battle we’ve long since lost, or (2) reinforce on a new front. It will mean learning new tactics and ways of speaking. It will require us to contextualize our message in ways Christians never have before. We will need a fresh breath of the Spirit to bring us to life but that is no problem for our God.
Consider this post an invitation.