Remember when we were gonna not only change the world, but completely rearrange it?
The Jesus Movement was seeded by the Spirit in the soil of the massive social unrest of the 1960’s. Many Boomers who came of age during this era learned that the military-industrial cabal responsible for U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, the Cold War, Agent Orange, and Wonder Bread needed to be dismantled. Young people discovered their voices as they questioned authority in the form of dissent, protest, and in the case of a few extreme groups, domestic terrorism.
For those of us during those years who came to faith in a Jesus even more radical than the radical politics espoused by many of hippie age peers, many of us felt deeply about the war, environment, and the proliferation of nuclear arms. I knew a few believers who moved into left-leaning Mennonite-influenced communal living arrangements founded on non-violence and granola. But for every young Jesus person who made that choice, a hundred more found the spark for their political activism lit by social issues. The sex, drugs, and rock `n roll zeitgeist of the 1960’s crashed head-on into a brand-new wave of Jesus followers who’d repented of it all in order to follow him. The 1973 Roe V. Wade decision by the Supreme Court made abortion legal in this country, and served as a touchpoint for political activism among many of these newly-minted conservative voters.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at some of those early 1970’s policy-making meetings between Republican strategists and Evangelical Christian thought leaders. An alchemy took place between political social conservatives and leaders of the burgeoning Evangelical movement, and out of the strange fire jumped what looked like a way for the dampening embers of spiritual revival to be stirred into action. We could rearrange the world and make America a little more like the Eden for which our Founding Fathers longed if we’d just just join Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in voting a straight Republican ticket. They were the party defending the unborn, advocating for limited government, and ensuring we had $trong defense. They did such a good job branding themselves in this way that in some circles, it was considered heretical to consider voting any other way. I was a one-issue, straight Republican-ticket voter for decades.* Republican presidents and majorities in Congress did little to tackle pro-life issues. Republican leaders, in fact, were behind a host of other morally-troubling choices that had little to do with the ideals my Christian leaders insisted they shared with the rank-and-file in the pews. But they did figure out that we Evangelicals could be convinced to vote as a bloc for their candidates.
Please hear me: I am not comparing the platform of the Republicans that that of the Democratic Party here, or suggesting that the Dems are in any way morally inferior to the Republicans. I am suggesting is that we Jesus People didn’t have a very clear idea AT ALL of what Jesus was talking about when he told government official Pilate that his reign was radically different in nature than that of the world:
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
We’re a generation removed from the Jesus Movement of the late 1960′s. Christians have become known for our culture warring and mean-girl ways. Nowhere is this more obvious than in our political engagement. As I’ve noted earlier in this series, when a renewal movement hits the church, things are bound to get messy. Some of the mess is the work of the Holy Spirit as he reanimates dry bones. Some of the mess comes when a bunch of broken human beings try to touch, help, hinder, or profit from the beautiful chaos. I’d like to do a bit of reflection in this space on the unintended consequences of some of our choices and desires when it comes to political involvement by Christians.
What we hoped for a generation ago in the era of the Moral Majority followed by the Christian Coalition:
- An end to abortion.
- A return to the social values of the post-World War II era.
- Legislated sexual morality as our primary justice issue.
- Limited government intrusion into business, health care, education.
- A reclamation of the (imagined) godly values of our Founding Fathers.
- America as heaven on earth.
What we’ve gotten:
- The son of the founder of the Moral Majority endorsing a leading Republican primary candidate who is a thrice-married mysogynist, anti-immigrant, casino-owning billionaire.
- Lots and lots of broken promises and blame-shifting.
- Rapid shift away from traditionalist Christian sexual mores, supported by both legislation and court decisions.
- Abortion still the law of the land, and a growing acceptance (probably heading toward an eventual mandate at some point) of physician-assisted suicide.
- A disjointed approach from the church to other social justice issues including systemic racism and immigration.
If you were an Evangelical who once took your cues from the Moral Majority and their next-generation compatriots – or if you continue to do so – what else would you add to either list? I’m not interested in political debate here. I’m looking for reflection from believers about what we reaped, and what we’ve sown as a result.
* In the interest of full disclosure, I chose not to vote in the last 3 presidential elections. Though on paper I agree with many planks of the Republican platform, I’ve not been able to in good conscience vote for any of the party’s candidates. At this point, this year isn’t looking too promising, either.