The New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision of the Common Good, Part 2
For example, mainline Protestants attended college at much higher rates than Evangelicals, whose college attendance rates have risen steadily until by 2000, they were what mainline Protestant rates where in the 1970s. Evangelicals have traditionally had more kids than mainline Protestants, and so on. There have been many factors contributing to Evangelical growth and mainline decline. Among them, I think the two I mentioned are especially important. If you know what your mission is and you organize everything leanly and cleanly around that mission, you'll go farther than if you are mission-fuzzy and organizationally flabby. And if you're stuck in institutional maintenance—keeping traditions and systems going whether or not they're actually helping people—you'll falter before those who are driven by actually making a contribution to people's lives.
As you analyze evangelicalism in America you come to the conclusion that right wing politicization of the Church has in some cases reduced Christian identity to nostalgia, nativism, and negativity. In writing about nostalgia you say that it is "is remarkably similar in feel whether it occurs in evangelical, mainline, or Catholic settings." What are examples of "nostalgia" in those three settings?
In Evangelicalism, you see a lot of nostalgia for the 1950s—or an idealized version of it, when America saw itself in a life and death battle with Communism, when women stayed home and dad went to work and nobody got divorced, when respectable folks went to church every Sunday, and when White folks felt themselves to be normal and normative and White privilege could be taken for granted. In mainline settings, there's lots of nostalgia for the same period, but there's also nostalgia for the 1960s when progressive Protestant leaders decided Dr. King was right and the Vietnam War was wrong and they had a passionate sense of moral conviction and a vision for justice. In Catholic settings, you can feel this desire to return to the pre-Vatican II era, to return in the liturgy to obsolescent language that has that old-time, classic feel. But it's not the 1950s or '60s anymore, and there's no going back. It's a little hard to believe that a lot of folks still can't imagine a Christian faith that's even more vibrant as it deals with 21st-century issues . . . like caring responsibly for the planet, like working for and with the poor, like striving to make peace.
You and I have spoken together about our shared fear that the "center" of evangelicalism is becoming itself increasingly radicalized by the Religious Right. In that context I found this comment you wrote particularly striking:
With much to lose by being labeled "liberal" and much to gain by retaining the conservative label, few leaders show the courage to speak out about the stranglehold the nostalgic, nativist, negative wing has on the movement. The only way they can resist extreme voices to their right is to paint voices to their left as equally extreme. They can thus take the posture of being moderates or centrists, but their moderate center becomes smaller and less robust the more it drives away its more progressive voices and defers to its most conservative wing. Because this so-called center can only welcome those deemed acceptable by the right wing, it is in truth neither moderate nor a center.
For me, probably the clearest example of this trend was the firing of Richard Cizik by the National Association of Evangelicals, a story Richard recounts in the book. What do you think of what happened to Richard?
Greg Metzger is an independent journalist and blogger with a Master's degree in International Relations from Boston University.