December 20, 2006

America Has Changed

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:54 pm

I have come to the conclusion that America has changed, and for the better.

After the election, I wrote about the change in the media perception of the Christian voter to a more moderate, compassionate view. Since then, it’s become even more apparent that this is the case. Articles like this one in the Christian Science Monitor are getting more frequent:

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, Evangelical superstar Rick Warren – author of the runaway bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life” – hosted an AIDS summit at his California megachurch. The keynoter? Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois.


In recent decades, the political profile of white Evangelicals has been fairly predictable: strong allegiance to Republicans and focus on a few social concerns. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson form the familiar trinity of the Christian Right.

Although embryonic, a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.

To be clear, Evangelicals are not turning into liberal Democrats en masse. But I’ve never been hoping for that. All I’ve ever wanted is to see the authoritarian choke-hold that a very small number of politically minded conservative Christian leaders have had on the public conversation regarding Christianity end. Many articles have been written in conservative magazines (as well as comments on this blog) stating emphatically that true Christians can not be liberal. Of course many of these same people are now calling Richard Cizik, David Kuo or Rick Warren liberal apostates from the one true Christian faith. But no one believes them anymore. Joel Hunter, the megachurch pastor who turned down his appointment as president of the Christian Coalition rather than abandon a broader social agenda, can’t be dismissed as a liberal. Barack Obama, who clearly is a liberal, can’t be dismissed as less than Christian.

In retrospect, the Christian right’s authoritarian leaders (Falwell, Robertson, Dobson et al) never spoke even for all conservative Christians. But somehow the whole country acted as if they did. Their agenda became “the Christian agenda”. Dissent from their leadership among conservative Christians would supposedly harm the fight against godless secular humanism, so better to be quiet than be found on the side of Satan. They stoked the fear of secular society as the enemy, and pushed the imminence of the Rapture, to make sure the Christian troops didn’t stray from their battle plan. And conservative Christians complied, internalizing the message that to be Christian means accepting the entire conservative Christian orthodoxy as a package. Straying from this orthodoxy in part meant rejecting it in full, so the discipline was total.

This authoritarian discipline, it seems to me, has fallen apart, thanks be to God. But we also have to thank some very visible conservative Christians, people such as Warren, Kuo and Cizik. Then there have been Christian progressives, foremost among them Jim Wallis, but also Jimmy Carter, Bill Moyers and many like them, who preached a different gospel.

In a much darker sense, though, this fracturing of the conservative Christian base was inevitable. Bush’s compassionate conservatism turned into a morally failed war in Iraq while humanitarian needs have been starved for funds. His conservatism has been shown to be neither compassionate nor Christian in its impact. It’s become too difficult to pretend the emperor has clothes. But there have been other disasters — Terry Schiavo and Ted Haggard come to mind — that have made many Evangelicals question the conservative orthodoxy.

This doesn’t mean we Christian progressives can pack up our bags and go home. There are lots of fights yet to come. Conservative Christians are still pushing failed abstinence-only education in Africa, and working to block gay marriage and stem cell research. But my sense is that, now that the authoritarian orthodoxy has crumbled, we can have a much more open and respectful conversation with many Evangelicals about these issues without having the door closed in our faces before we even begin. The hard right is still clinging to the failed orthodoxy, but many others will be peeled away, persuaded by Christ’s call to care for the most vulnerable rather than the old Christian conservative leaders’ call to fight the culture wars.


  1. Here’s to hoping this represents a continuing trend rather than a singularly uncanny incident.

    Comment by Jarred — December 21, 2006 @ 8:41 am

  2. I have no intersest in fighting the culture wars. I apostles did not fight cuture wars. They preached the facts(doctrine) of Jesus. Thats what we are called to do. While showing compassion to our neighbors. That means sometimes love means saying that something is immoral.
    Webster’s defines the word “tolerate” as follows: “to recognize and respect [others’ beliefs, practices, etc.] without sharing them” and “to bear or put up with [someone or something not especially liked].”1 Webster’s New World Dictionary of English, 3rd ed.

    Comment by Reformed Catholic — December 21, 2006 @ 11:49 am

  3. Lots of good insights in this post, Bob.

    Comment by Melissa Rogers — December 22, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  4. Can’t be dismissed as less than Christian?

    Interestingly, the website of Obama’s own Trinity United Church of Christ invites everyone to join them for Kwanzaa celebrations on December 27, but makes no mention whatsoever of Christmas.

    Peculiar, to say the least. Certainly “less than Christian”.

    Comment by Marty — December 23, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  5. […] Sure, some things have changed since the mid-term elections, but some things stay the same: Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Park Service Won’t Tell Grand Canyon’s Age — December 30, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

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