A Meditation on the Evangelical Existentialist Political Crisis of Faith
Michael Spencer at the Christian Science Monitor concluded recently that evangelical Christianity is headed for collapse in the U.S. due to too many of its adherents caring more about politics than the faith.
Spencer argues that evangelical Protestants have long neglected the fundamentals of religious education and created a faith of super churches and spectacle but little theology. Spencer misses the great irony however: having argued for years that man is more than a political creature, the Christian Right failed to heed its own advice.
While fundamentalist churches have been effective in making a case against same-sex marriage, they have had little success with their most hot button issue at the national level. With the Reagan coalition shattered and the Democrats firmly in control, the window for overturning Roe vs. Wade appears to have closed.
Despite dominating the White House and naming justices to the Supreme Court, Republicans failed to deliver on the pro-life agenda for social conservatives. For over three decades, at least seven of the nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents, yet Roe vs. Wade remains intact. The resutling pessimism hung heavily over the recent March for Life in January. Clearly something has gone wrong.
If evangelicals and social conservatives want to shape the moral future of America, they should stop focusing on national politics and think smaller. Instead of getting up in arms about gay marriage in Connecticut, evangelicals in South Carolina should concern themselves more with God’s kingdom close to home. They should form churches and raise their children according to their values. Instead of focusing on what is happening in Washington, they should care more about what is happening down the street.
Some conservatives seem to be picking up on trying to leverage politics and are refocusing on establishing roots to shape a culture. Taking a page from E.F. Schumacher, Hillarie Belloc and G. K. Chesterton the Southern Agrarians, prominent group of paleo-cons formed a new blog arguing that Christian lives have greater meaning at the local scale.
There is no doubt evangelicals would find more success in local campaigns than they would waiting for Republicans to deliver for them at the federal level. But this would mean the collapse of American conservatism as we currently know it. Front Porch conservatives recognize that capitalism undermines a great deal of their traditional values and point to everything from processed foods to a sensationalized media as proof. There is also the matter of the distribution of property. While opposed to government control of property, Front Porch conservatives remain skeptical of property remaining in the hands companies and conglomerates. As Chesterton put it, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”
As the Front Porch conservatives cheerfully recognize, this middle ground between capitalism and collectivism where moral factors outweigh the needs of the individual, the corporation and the state has been staked out for quite some time. It’s one of the bedrocks of Catholic social doctrine since Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum back in 1891. While Chesterton and Belloc remain in print, one has to concede they don’t have much of a market despite the best efforts of their adherents.
If evangelicals are serious about avoiding the collapse Spencer predicts, they may have to abandon their national political activities and their economic conservatism and embrace theories of Catholic social thinkers. If this happens, American conservatism could be in for a major shake up.