I don’t often engage in prediction, but here’s one I can venture to make, not as prognostication, but as warning and call to action. American Christians of all denominations and races are going to choose between four widely diverging paths in the decade ahead.
The first road – wide and well-paved – invites its travelers to double down on the subtly morphing agenda of the Religious Right. Under a so-called pro-life, pro-family, pro-security, anti-debt, anti-immigrant flag, people on this road will be enlisted to return the US to the glorious old America they or their grandparents knew and loved: the rural or small-town America of the Old South in the pre-Civil Rights era.
Camouflaged beneath the heart-warming rhetoric of a seemingly moral, patriotic, and traditional agenda, many will be tricked into supporting a covert agenda reflecting a very different morality:
- maintaining privilege for a shrinking White majority at the expense of everyone else
- plundering the environment and thus stealing health and well-being from future generations
- weakening public education
- continuing a historic transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor people to the super-elite at the top of the economic pyramid
- weakening democracy through gerrymandering and voter suppression
- and more
The second road is even broader and smoother than the first. On this highway, moderates will want to distance themselves – at least slightly – from what their brethren to the right are doing to their Catholic and Protestant Christian identities – driving away younger generations, making outreach nearly impossible, attracting only aggressive and fearful people who want a religious justification for their reactive ideologies. As moderates become increasingly uncomfortable with this drift, they will take a road that they claim is “spiritual” and a-political. But contrary to their intention, their silence will mean tacit approval for the momentum built by their brethren to the right. But silence or very tepid critique will be the best they can muster, because they can’t afford to criticize or break from their brethren to the right for fear of splitting churches and losing members and donations.
The third road will be taken by those who decide that religious engagement with public policy is a lost cause, spoiled by the Religious Right. They will take the exit ramp to another highway – that of the secular left. This is an old road in need of much repair, but more and more are taking it, and new lanes are under construction now.
There’s a fourth road … and it’s being pioneered by Christians in many places – from Immokalee, Florida, toNorth Carolina to a bus full of nuns that traveled around the country, where leaders like Rev. Dr. William Barber are stepping out to chart a new course. Only people with courage and determination can choose this option because it is an uphill and difficult path. Here’s the kind of vision (from Rev. Dr. William Barber) that attracts people to this road …
Love and justice have never lost. Been crucified and beat up, but we’re on the right side of history. When you push people down, they’re going to spread out and come up. It would seem that these folk would learn that, but when you’re blinded by extremism and power and greed, you can’t see the callousness of your actions.
The worst kind of abuse is the abuse of power. But if the Biblical story is about anything, it’s that Goliath only has a day. The Pharaoh only has a limited time. The non-violent and the people of deep faith always transform history. And we’ll do it again, right here in North Carolina.
Big consequences. Big opportunities. Big choices.