Future of Evangelicalism
New Ways of Shaping Society
Nonetheless, evangelicals are doing a better job of reaching the highest standards of education and performing at higher levels. That will generate the respect of the rest of higher education. It doesn't help the evangelical cause to claim outright bias, or march in protest against particular policies. Evangelicals cannot be part of the center of the institution if they are outside it. Outsiders never change institutions in significant ways; they only secure nominal assent from the power players within the organization. So if evangelicals want to fundamentally influence American higher education, they have to be players on the inside. They have to be scholars, administrators, presidents, and board members at the major institutions in the country. It is only when they are in those roles that they will actually be able to wield significant influence.
Sometimes that influence comes in very small ways, but over time it can make a real difference -- shaping, for example, curricular decisions or research trajectories in higher education, or in implementing forms of corporate policy in the business world. Those decisions are made by the people who have spent decades working within those organizations and institutions. So if evangelicals want to be that counter-culture for the common good, they have to be a part of the community of the institutions that they are trying to change.
I hate to ask you to prognosticate, but where do you think these trends -- becoming involved in the transformation of major American institutions at the centers of power -- might lead us ten or twenty years from now?
Demographically, American evangelicalism is going to look less white, as Asian-Americans and people born outside the United States come to be a part of the American evangelical community and have greater leadership roles. Those will be some of the key players, people who have learned how to assimilate into elite cultural life while retaining a distinctive identity. I'm not surprised, for example, that campus ministries today on major university campuses are dominated by students from China and India and Africa. Those voices will continue to have a large role. What we'll find is that evangelical institutions will be headed by more non-whites than they ever have been in the past. That will begin to adjust the tenor of evangelicalism.
The political landscape is also going to change considerably. Ten years from now, the issue of same-sex marriage will probably no longer be on the table. I think there will be some recognition of some form of civil union in all fifty states, and evangelicals will not win that particular cultural debate. The real test will be whether evangelicals are able to retain their rights, as religious institutions, to exclude practicing homosexuals from being hired by their institutions. That's not just going to affect the church, but it will affect a whole range of church-based institutions -- like colleges and universities, hospitals, and social service agencies. That will be the real test for evangelicals in public policy over the next decade.
I think we will also see the coziness dissipate between American evangelicalism and political conservatism. There will be a widening of the political agenda of evangelicals. It will include some more issues related to social justice, and priorities that have traditionally been debated by Democrats, while at the same time retaining the social conservatism that Republicans have advanced in recent decades.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.