Editor’s note: The following is interview between IRD’s Evangelical Action Director, Chelsen Vicari, and Gabriella Hoffman, co-founder of Counter Cultured. Hoffman and her sister Anna Maria founded Counter Cultured in September 2012 as a forum which advocates for culturally conservative issues through blog posts, videos, interviews, social media graphics, and Q&A discussions.
In our latest installment of young conservative profiles, we are thrilled to write about Chelsen Vicari. Chelsen is the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy and author of the book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith. (It’s an excellent read-I highly recommend it!)
Religion often gets a bad rap from the media for being “uncool”, “oppressive,” or “too strict.” While there are some hypocrites among the faithful, it’s wrong to suggest that religion-especially Christianity- doesn’t have a place in our society anymore. Our nation was established on the pretext of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity has largely been infected by socialistic ideals and is in need of some remedying, which is where people like Chelsen come in.
Chelsen was kind enough to share her thoughts on how to encourage Millennials to come back to the Church without the sway of big government policies.
GH: Tell our readers about yourself and your work at IRD.
CV: Do you ever wonder why your Christian friends are also your liberal friends?
Instead of faithful discipleship, many young Christians are starting to treat the Bible like a Shoney’s buffet line, picking and choosing which Scriptures verses to follow and which ones to ignore. Much of the time their choices include cherry-picking Scriptures that align with liberal politics instead of the ethics and values outlined by the Gospel.
A big reason for this is out of fear of being falsely called “hateful” or “uncompassionate”. Many young Christians are buying into theological falsehoods from popular liberal Evangelical writers and preachers. As I’ve noted before, liberal elites tell young Evangelicals that if they accommodate abortion and accept same-sex marriage, then the mainstream media, academia and the popular culture at large will finally accept Christians. But popular culture often gets it wrong, especially when it comes to religion.
You might not realize that there is a so-called “Evangelical Left,” a movement of liberal activists shrouded under the cloak of Christianity spreading a distorted version of the gospel to Christian youth that ignores the authority of Scripture, rejects moral values and seeks to satisfy culture instead of Christ.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has been fighting these battles for 33 years. IRD is a faith-based alliance of Christians who’ve been monitoring and reporting on liberal inroads into the Church since 1981. We know that faithful Christians must confront liberal distorted Christian teachings in order to safeguard the rising generation of young Evangelicals and protect Christianity’s valuable role in public life.
That is why IRD launched its Evangelical Action program two years ago. Evangelical Action is committed to fighting the increasing pressure on Evangelicals —especially Millennial Evangelicals— to remain silent on the sanctity of unborn human life, the harmful effects of radical feminism, the deterioration of the family, the intrusiveness of Big Government, the destructive nature of collectivist ideologies, and attacks on religious liberty at home and abroad.
As director of IRD’s Evangelical Action, I feel a special burden for Millennial Evangelical women who, now more than ever, need strong, Biblical role models. Yet too often these young women are pointed to destructive forms of radical feminism. My several years working at Concerned Women for America, especially with IRD board chair Dr. Janice Crouse, along with my graduate studies at Regent University’s Robertson School of Government, have equipped me, I pray, with the experience to help equip Millennial Christians to speak up and defend their convictions instead of concerning themselves with the dictates of popular culture.
GH: What led you to write Distortion? How has the book been received by people?
CV: While faithful Christians weren’t looking, the Left crept into our chapels and commandeered Scripture in order to advance a liberal political agenda aimed at young Evangelicals. It is a brilliant strategy that, unfortunately, is working.
I know because while I was attending a Christian campus ministry, I found myself under the influence of what is called the “Evangelical Left” (or “Religious Left” if we extend our discussion to include the Mainline denominations). The Evangelical Left advances hot button agendas like homosexuality, feminism, and socialism by telling young Christians that they must be more “tolerant,” “politically correct,” and “inclusive” by somehow reconciling same-sex marriage or feminist ideologies with their Christian faith. So largely out of fear of being ostracized or called uncompassionate, I found myself condemning my parents’ generation and “old-fashioned” religion my senior year of college because they would not affirm same-sex relationships, denounce Israel or endorse entitlement expansion and socialist ideologies for the sake of appealing to a broader audience.
Thank God I put down my Rob Bell book and picked up my Bible, so to speak.
So, I jumped at the opportunity to write Distortion as a type of guide to the Christian Left for fellow Millennials and their parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, youth ministers, pastors, or friends who see that something has gone wrong when it comes to the rising generation of Evangelicals, but can’t pinpoint what the problem is and how to face it.
What most delights me about the publication of Distortion is receiving “thank-you notes” from other Millennial Evangelicals who felt like they were the only ones on their campuses, in their youth ministries or social circles who recognized liberal politics were trumping Gospel teachings. To hear that Distortion helped reinvigorate them when they felt outnumbered, well, that type of reception is incredibly humbling and inspiring.
I thank God for the unexpected opportunity to help shed a little light on this nuance of the Left.
GH: What advice can you offer to counter cultural Millennials who want to counter the Left’s distortion of Christianity?
CV: I know you are facing tremendous pressure to suppress your conscience for the sake of cultural appeasement.
Know that you’re not alone!
The mainstream media doesn’t tell you this, but there are tons of counter cultural Millennial Christians out there willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of the Gospel. Many of them I know personally, who live on shoe-string budgets so that they can afford to work for non-profits in in Washington D.C. that organize pro-life marches, expose abortion giants’ trafficking of unborn baby parts, highlight social science that shows kids do best with both a mom and a dad, or promote every citizen’s right to live and work according to their conscience.
Yes, America’s current legislative decisions could have very serious consequences for our Christian convictions on our campuses, at our jobs, and in our private lives. Yes, we face losing friendships, garnering hostility from schoolmates and perhaps even family members all because we refuse to compromise and water-down the Gospel. But that doesn’t intimidate or silence us.
Christ was criticized, crucified, by the popular culture of His day because he was willing to be counter cultural for the sake of the whole world. Remember that, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Don’t be afraid, for the Lord promises He is with you. Don’t be discouraged, for He is our God. He will strengthen you and help you. He will hold you up with His victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get burnout. Don’t be silent. Silence does not spread justice, compassion, truth, or love. It is action that changes hearts and minds.
Trust me, it’s possible to be a counter cultural Christian who maintains her compassion and still holds fast to her traditional convictions. Not only is it possible; it’s essential for every Christ-follower.