Thursday, July 13, 2006

The End of the Religious Right?

This article by Harvey Cox, long-time professor at Harvard Divinity School, in the Boston Globe was very interesting. Essentially, Cox suggests that the younger evangelical generation is both theologically conservative and politically liberal. As he notes, "Evangelical Protestants are becoming increasingly concerned about a wide range of issues-the Iraq War, the environment, torture, and poverty, for example-which put them at odds with much of the Bush agenda." As a result, he envisions (and hopes for) the coming end of the "antigay" "anti-abortion" Religous Right.

Cox may be right, although not for the reasons that he suggests. He belives that the reasons younger evangelicals are interested in traditionally "liberal" issues (enviornment, peace issues, poverty) is because they are paying more attention to what Jesus said: "The difference, one could argue, is that they are more concerned about actually following Jesus, who had much to say about violence and the poor, but said nothing about gays or a strong military, and who was put to death by torture."

I think the reason is actually more complex. It strikes me that a number of younger evangelicals are fed up with the cultural system called "evangelicalism," because it appears to identify certain issues as central to the Gospel which are actually not biblical or doctrinal issues at all. One great example of this was the lengthy debate that both the PCA and the OPC had over "women in combat." This issue because one of the dividing line issues for the Gospel, we were breathlessly told, because it represented a slippery slope--women in combat means weak men, which means feminism, which means male headship, inspiration of the Bible, and Christianity all fall like dominos. I think that most younger evangelicals just didn't (and don't) buy that.

The Iraq war is another example, for exactly the reasons that the Calvin College community suggested. The reality is that pre-emptive war (the Bush doctrine) can be found no where in just war theory and is not justified in most expositions of the Sixth Commandment. The way that most conservative evangelicals have supported President Bush and engaged in "Spread Eagle" patriotism leaves a younger generation cold--not because they necessarily disagree with Bush policy, but because it appears to link evangelical Christianity with Republican politics.

That doesn't mean, however, that younger evangelicals will be out in force for Hillary Clinton in 2008 for the simple reason that the Democrats continued to have such a strong pro-abortion lobby. Again, Sixth Commandment issues prevail here as they would on end of life issues, another weak point for the Democrats. Hence, the mass exodus to the Left that Cox and his colleagues long to see probably won't happen.

What will happen, though, is that younger evangelicals will probably be politically motivated over a wider range of issues than just abortion or tax cuts. Rather, they will demonstrate a critical independence that will make them a wild card in future national elections, looking for principles (and politicians) that agree with a broader sweep of biblical thinking.

[HT: SharperIron]


Anonymous said...

Perhaps younger evangelicals are awakening to the same realization as I: that politics is not the point. Jesus didn't send us out to change or lead the world system, but rather to change the hearts of individuals by leading them to him.

Changing people's hearts through politics is putting the cart before the horse. It's washing the outside of our collective national cup. We're to be strangers and aliens, soldiers who don't get entangled in the affairs of this world.

Anonymous said...

As a young evangelical, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment and the last paragraph in particular.