Friday, March 20, 2009

A rare, fascinating look at the decline of Christian Evangelicalism . . . . from within the movement

The Coming Evangelical Collapse

By Michael Spencer, Christian Science Monitor via Alternet. Posted March 20, 2009.

A "postevangelical" predicts the coming of an anti-Christian era that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment.

"We are on the verge -- within 10 years -- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century. . . .

. . .

Why is this going to happen?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society. The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith."
So, I don't know who Michael Spencer is, or what exactly constitutes his connection to the evangelical Christian movement, but this is not the first I've seen or heard of the imminent collapse of the Christian Conservative movement. The Christian Coalition, for example, reached its most culturally juggernautical years, its summit of influence and membership, in the mid-'90's, and stories of its long and precipitous decline can be found here, here, and here on pdf. Hell, the Christian Coalition's former national leader, the execrably smarmy Ralph Reed, couldn't even get through a Republican Primary for the highly rated office of Georgia Lieutenant Governor, and that was back in 2006.

But one organization gone South (figuratively, I suppose) does not an entire Christian Wrong make. It's hard to argue that the Christian Wrong is collapsing just two months removed from the denouement of its most monumental and relevant political accomplishments - the "election" and "re-election" of George W. Bush . . . unless you're an insider who really knows the movement, and where it's headed. That's why this article from Michael Spencer is so fascinating, and frankly, to an avowed agnostic secularist, so encouraging. The Christian-Science Monitor (via Alternet in this case) has given us an insiders' take on the very real, and possibly-quite imminent demise of the Christian conservative movement.

What's even more mind-blowing to those of us who've been watching the Christian Wrong for years, is that Spencer seems to show a genuine sense of responsibility and remorse for the path that evangelical Christianity has taken over the last several decades. Rather than predictably blaming "the liberals," "the secular humanists," "Hollywood," or "teh gays," Spencer wags the Church Lady-like finger of blame squarely at the movement itself:
Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
I don't know where the CSM found this guy, but apparently there is an occasional flicker of brain cells still firing synapses within the Christian conservative movement, and for finding that flicker, and publishing it, I think they ought to win a Nobel Prize. Or a Pulitzer. Can't we give them both? Spencer has actually taken an honest assessment of the Christian Wrong's mis-steps and mistakes - ethically, spiritually, and tactically - and concluded what we already know: there is something deeply wrong about evangelical Christianity in America. From there, he moves on to a realistic look at the long-term prospects for right wing "Christianity" in America, and fires this off, as the opening salvo in his last section:
Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.
I believe I speak for tens of millions in saying that I'm ready to help dig the grave.

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