To the younger evangelicals like Jonathan Merritt and Rachel Held Evans, who are begging their fellow evangelicals to disengage from the culture wars so as to not lose the the younger generation, Mark Tooley* has a message: Forget it.
Evangelicalism, he notes, was birthed in conflict, and thrives on conflict. Conflict is, as it were, the gas in the engine that drives the evangelical car down the road:
Evangelical Left icon Jim Wallis, who often appeals to young evangelicals with his message of supposed post-partisanship, likes to compare himself to 19th century evangelicals such as evangelist Charles Finney. Wallis often recounts that Finney, at his revivals, enlisted converts into the abolitionist cause. Unmentioned by Wallis is that Finney mailed abolitionist tracts into the South, where they were often gathered into bonfires and fomented rallies against intrusive northern preachers. Finney did not foster social harmony. He and other evangelicals of their era were the ultimate culture warriors.
The non-confrontational, therapeutic evangelicalism that some young evangelicals, and their older mentors, seemingly advocate today as they denounce culture war is at odds with much of evangelical history, which has always thrived on conflict. No less important, it’s also at odds with much of American history, dating to the 17th century New England Puritan divines, who envisioned a righteous nation. Even supposed secularists of today often walk in that tradition as they demand contentious social reforms, including, in their view, same sex marriage.
Hoping evangelicals and other serious religious believers in America will en masse shun social controversy as they retreat to quiet cafes to read the New York Times is not realistic. The antebellum Methodists and Baptists who abandoned earlier convictions to accommodate their culture’s acceptance of slavery purchased only a temporary peace. Today’s evangelicals who hope they can delete marriage, abortion, and religious freedom from their political menu might be similarly outflanked by irrepressible historical tides rooted in four centuries of American religion.
*Yes, I get that Mark Tooley is an ultra-conservative culture warrior with the IRD. But his thoughts are still worth considering.