I’m a history major, through and through. That means I like my armchair and my non-committed skepticism when approached by the fortunes of men. However, this spectator’s perspective is one that has its potential weaknesses, especially when faced by pressing needs or decisions. This includes my commitments to faith and that faith’s interaction with public life.
My friend Owen Strachan’s latest post over at the Canon & Culture blog provided some helpful correction and analysis to help wake me up a bit. The article discusses the Millennials (those who were born in the 1980s and who are now entering adulthood), evangelicalism, and social witness. Right now, Millennial evangelical social thought seems to be at a wishy-washy nadir. Strachan writes,
Unlike the Moral Majority, many Millennials are quiet as a church mouse on public square issues, save for a vocal rejection of past tactics. Let me get down and dirty here: If your only significant act of public square proclamation is a sneering disavowal of Jerry Falwell, you’re doing it wrong. A church inspired by the gospel, aware of its claim on all of life, and in tune with a historic tradition of figures like Augustine, Wilberforce, and Colson cannot content itself with exquisitely calibrated public neutrality. Neither can it accept the velvet muzzle its opponents offer. It cannot dance like a celebrity cha-chaing his way back to the C-list when a confused church member asks for guidance on cultural questions of grave import.
It must speak. It must offer a new social witness.
There is much to be commended here. I don’t agree with the Kuyperian overtones, but I do think there is much to consider in Strachan’s diagnosis. Ingratitude and historical amnesia plague the young evangelical community right now. I am certainly guilty of the former. When I look at the economic turmoil of the Great Society project, the effects of the Sexual Revolution, and the social unpreparedness to meet such challenges, I’m kind of amazed our grandparents and parents made it through the tumult as well as they did. Social crises are heating up on tremendous issues. Guilt and embarrassment offer few solutions or constructive responses. The Millennial evangelical response has not passed muster for the rising challenges.
However, when I shared this article, Nicholas Bolzman (who blogs at Looking For Overland) shared an important rejoinder that also merits serious deliberation, especially by evangelicalism’s cultural doorkeepers:
I have a counter hypothesis. We’re less jaded and more weary than this article would indicate. We don’t appear to have a sense of moral agency to the “Moral Majority” because that movement’s leaders don’t let us in, don’t let us be part of the conversation. We’ve been pushed to the bottom, labeled foot soldiers, and told to follow orders. In the meantime we’ve seen causes we used to care about come to ruin through mismanagement. We might be interested in resurrecting them, but not under the orders of the people who have damaged the cause.
We consider a just immigration policy more important than shutting down public schools. We consider trafficking more important than abolishing welfare. We might believe that being good stewards of the earth involves an environmental streak. We’ll pursue those passions. But our efforts to do what this article calls us to do are usually opposed by the current movement leadership. So we’re a little gun shy. We appear more silent than we are, because the people complaining that we’re silent have spent the last ten years telling us to shut up.
In other words, according to Bolzman, the older generation that complains about the lack of young evangelical witness have themselves to blame. The comment’s hyperboles aside, hyper-conformity on a wider swath of issues has shut down some good people and left them burned. Similarly, ambitious Millennials are tired of being used as foot soldiers. I shared a similar yet distinct sentiment when I complained, “Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war.”
I differ from Bolzman in that I really didn’t engage on much frontline activist or campaign work in conservative or Republican circles. I also differ from Bolzman in that some of the offending policy positions don’t get my dander up as much as they do for folks on both sides of those issues. My own positions and priorities are different. Thus, I can’t say Bolzman fully represents my own sympathies.
However, I think the commentary reveals a possible result of this turn of affairs: certain young active evangelicals that heed a call to public service will found their own organizations and avenues to express their views and advocate for their causes. The upside will be a freedom of expression (as well as a freedom to make mistakes on one’s own).Of course, there are a few downsides to this. First, what useful organizational experience, connections, and possible wisdom that the old guard has may be lost in the disconnect. Second, if such prominent young voices try to establish a platform, they will be faced with the reality of funding. Significant funding generally comes with strings attached.
Time will tell how things will develop in the strange world of social influence. I hope that Christians will make wise decisions. As that particular field of controversy unfolds, I’ll be watching from my armchair.Google+