September 16, 2012

Young Evangelicals and Politics

How will and should young evangelicals approach politics in this election year and beyond? Four distinguished young evangelicals offered guidance at a panel at this year’s Value Voters Summit, hosted by the Family Research Council and other pro-family groups this weekend in Washington, DC.

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Called “Millennials and the Future of Political Engagement,” and moderated by FRC Social Media Manager Chris Marlink, the panelists argued against apathy or shifting left, trends evinced among some young evangelicals in recent years.

“There are abundant examples of Christians throughout history who’ve achieved political victories,” explained Owen Strachan, Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. He cited movements for temperance, abolition, and public health in the 19th century, plus anti lynching and civil rights campaigns in the 20th. Christian political reformers knew they were “first citizens of the kingdom of God” but weren’t “exempt from meaningful involvement in the kingdom of man.”

Strachan warned: “We’re at something like the zero hour with gay marriage.” Political uninvolvement is only helping America choose gay marriage, he regretted. “America is not the new Jerusalem,” Strachan said. “But we need to vote.” And he challenged Christians: “You have to fundamentally redefine history,” noting, “We have the ultimate… life changing transformative message.”

Echoing Strachan, Family Foundation Policy Analyst Andrew Walker of Louisville, Kentucky, noted that Jesus and His apostles “reordered political allegiances” by teaching Caesar’s subordination to God. Walker warned against “moral equivalency” that fails to distinguish between “building wells or opposing abortion.”

Walker stressed that when “Christian ethics confront the public square,” asserting opinions about how the world ought to be governed, partisanship becomes inevitable. He rued the “ideal of non partisanship” currently in vogue among some evangelicals. “It’s not what democracy is built on,” he said. “Democracy depends on persuading people.”

Stressing God’s pre-existing victory through Christ, Walker said, “Our job is to give witness to what has been decisively accomplished,” but also to “season with salt and grace.” He admitted that speaking gently to hostile media like Pierce Morgan won’t reduce resistance.

Citing such hostility and threats to religious freedom, likes Obamacare’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate on religious groups, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration foresaw the “next level” of threats. “People in this room may end up in prison in my lifetime, maybe sooner,” he speculated of Christians who “won’t render up to Caesar what belongs to God.”

Many “young evangelicals don’t want to pay the cost of [losing] cultural cache,” Teetsel observed. But he also celebrated ongoing widespread resistance to cultural elitists such as support for Chik-fil-A.

After Teetsel, author Matthew Lee Anderson defended the political importance of abortion and marriage, which he called “symbols of our concern for life.” But he noted Christians have not always been “on our a game when it comes to messaging.” He encouraged “a tone that is…cheerful and winsome,” amid an “unfair media environment” where “one error is magnified” and there’s “no room for mistakes.”

Anderson urged “more craftiness in our presentation” and more attention to branding. He admitted culture war may not be good for the social order but is unsure it’s avoidable right now. He urged appeals for mercy amid hostility. “I’m not sure this thing gets solved without Jesus,” Anderson concluded.