July 10, 2014

How to Fight Evangelicals with Narrative, Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, story matters. In fact, it matters so much, it can overwhelm and hide the facts of the case so as to harm one party and benefit another. An example resides in a recent article by Politico which asserts that young evangelicals are giving up their convictions on marriage. The article posits that Millennial evangelicals are starting to adopt same-sex marriage as compatible with Christian teaching. There, one finds mention of a Pew study regarding attitudes toward marriage.

First of all, a new and more in-depth study by Mark Regnerus undercuts Politico‘s use of the Pew research. As Russell Moore and Andrew Walker point out, “[O]nly 11 percent of young Evangelicals actively expressed support for same-sex marriage.” In other words, the actual sexual ethic of young evangelicals proper isn’t going anywhere. What is changing is the rest of culture and–by extension–how Millennial evangelicals are going to deal with that conflict.

The story also cites examples of cultural retreat from evangelical leaders and cites Matthew Vines as the shining champion of evangelical acceptance of the LGBT agenda. The author, Jim Hinch, seems to believe that the Presbyterian Church, USA counts as an evangelical denomination. Oddly, one of the article’s subjects, Amy Tincher, leaves a United Methodist congregation to join the United Church of Christ (which is notorious for its plummeting membership). These are all Protestant Mainline denominations rather than the usual traditions that fall under the Bebbington quadrilateral. The UCC as well as liberal United Methodists and Presbyterians reject biblicism, crucicentrism, and conversionism; and thus hardly qualify as evangelical. Denny Burk commented on this a couple days ago.

Since the story is in Politico, we can conclude that it is targeted at the political class. The article is telling representatives, staff, and others that the strongest and firmest constituency for traditional marriage is abandoning its post. This signifies to political leaders that, in order to get elected, they need to get with the same-sex marriage program. In other words, this is a false narrative that dissuades magistrates from the pursuit of the common good.

However, this story has more merit in that there are megachurch pastors and young evangelicals who are pretty embarrassed by the idea of traditional Christian ethics having traction in the public square. I make this observation based on personal experience (again, a weakness). It is hard to get a sense of the pews until you are in them, and each congregation differs. Vocal minorities make their presence known while relatively silent majorities can keep to themselves. Nevertheless, after countless conversations in myriad situations, I think I can say that I have met Millennial evangelicals are not properly on board with marriage, tending toward a libertarian rather than progressive perspective. “Sure, let marriage change,” they say, “That’s the state’s business, not the church’s.” They justify this because the church can all of a sudden be very “authentic” in its witness while the state, they believe, will just leave everyone alone. They feel icky about fighting this battle: their schooling and their entertainment tell them to be that way. They might not be marching in pride parades or have rainbows anywhere, but they are not opposed to the redefinition of society’s oldest and most essential institution in the manner that they should be if they were concerned about the common good.

Others that are more radical than that are easier to “pin down.” They are of that aforementioned minority that tend to not be evangelical anymore, even if they attend evangelical congregations because they are enthusiasm vampires. Thomas Kidd had a nice clarification about this in a recent article. Nowadays, the media (in its usual ineptness) uses the term “evangelical” to mean anyone who takes their faith seriously. This definition is horrendously insufficient since revisionist Christians also take their faith seriously (even if it is different from traditional Christianity).

However, many young liberal Protestant Christians gladly oblige these fuzzy categories, since then they can connect to their past evangelical upbringing as well as tap into a tidy market for their books. Of course, the term “liberal Protestant” in the Millennial mind means the Mainlines, which conjure up the smell of must, organ bellows, cheap coffee, and watered-down Tang. That’s not hip or energetic enough. The evangelical catechesis requires relevance, enthusiasm, and a sense of “really really” rather than “kinda sorta.” That training for the emotive remains in the soul, even if the most important parts about Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and the Christian life do not. Therefore, expect for more examples of young progressive claiming the evangelical title for themselves: it has the correct ring to it, and it is effective for the agenda.

So where do we stand as traditional orthodox Christians? Too many stories for and against are surrounding these matters to grant a helpful strategic clarity on the ground. However, this is how the culture war is going to be fought in most hearts and minds: with soundbites and narratives. Evangelicals must realize this and steel themselves for the years ahead. That requires intellectual discipline and a firm will. As always, the best thing to do is find the Truth, follow Him, stand with Him, and—in the end—unite with Him. Let’s shoot for that, shall we?


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