Pulling back from the culture wars?

Church historian Martin Marty discusses how conservative Christians are pulling back from the culture wars.  He cites the leadership of Pope Francis for the Roman Catholics and Russell Moore for the Southern Baptists.  An additional factor is the increasing secularization of the conservative movement, citing the Tea Party’s general indifference to moral issues the church has been concerned with.  (He might have added the active atheism and hostility to Christianity of the hard-core libertarian followers of Ayn Rand.)

Read what Dr. Marty has to say–and what I have to say about what he says– after the jump.  

From Evangelical Pullback/Retreat – Martin E. Marty | The University of Chicago Divinity School:

[After citing a number of news stories about the new emphases touted by Pope Francis, Russell Moore, and others.]  What is going on? Leaders named in these stories, and throughout mainline Protestant ranks, among Catholics-in-the-pew—who are only sometimes in step with those bishops who lead a faction in culture wars—and, now, most significantly, among Evangelicals are changing. These leaders rose from relative obscurity outside the South to become the headliners in culture wars. They are taking new looks. Many report that they have “lost” the young, who desert the pews (but not always the concerns which religion addresses), and are unsure of their place in Latino Catholic/Evangelical and now Black Protestant circles. The “obsessions’ of which the Pope spoke, do not obsess them. They may be indifferent to many religious agencies and outreaches, but they are not responding to the call to be “different” on culture-war lines.

Most significant in the eyes of many observers is the secularization (though sometimes under religious banners) of the Right, be it Far Right or Pretty Far, as in the Tea Party. Many participants in the T.P., according to polls, line up as being religious, but they are in coalition with forces that pay little attention to biblical and churchly calls. Most of their participation is frankly secular and pragmatic, which makes them hard to rally or to count on in the religious side of the culture warriors’ ranks.

Sensitive leaders like the Pope, Russell Moore, and great numbers of those who would be faithful to their core values but can’t live with the peels, are more and more the new agents of change.

Rather than “secularization,” we might speak of “de-churchification,” because, while we note that churches are pulling back from extreme Right Wing connections, religious rhetoric and appeals do remain strong on the Right.

I would add that evangelicals have long been advocating going along with the culture as a mission strategy.  So it is little wonder that their church growth ambitions would clash with their conservative moral and cultural instincts.

It seems to me that there has been a confusion between “cultural” issues and “political” issues, and that churches need to avoid “social gospels” of either the left (as liberal churches have been pursuing for more than a century) or the right.  Churches should be all about the real Gospel.   And yet, while Christians would do well to avoid the “war” language, they are right to oppose moral decadence wherever they find it, though that doesn’t always mean passing a law against it (a related confusion between the moral and the political).  But I hope the general disillusionment about political action doesn’t extend to ignoring what I consider the most pressing and urgent issue of all:  the routine mass abortion of children.

What is needed is a recovery of the Two Kingdoms theology, which alone can sort out all of these issues, showing churches how they can be distinct from the world while also showing Christians how they can be active politically and culturally, even in secular terms, as they live out their vocation as citizens.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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