Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The End of an Era?

There’s an article in last week’s Newsweek on America’s Branding in light of the recent financial crisis that I read in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday. The article itself isn’t necessarily relevant to this blog, but a statement caught my attention that I want to spend some time on.

“Many commentators have noted that the Wall Street meltdown marks the end of the Reagan era. In this they are doubtless right, even if McCain manages to get elected president in November. Big ideas are born in the context of a particular historical era. Few survive when the context changes dramatically, which is why politics tends to shift from left to right and back again in generation-long cycles.” (emphasis mine)

The article then goes on to describe how the Reagan era came about in response to ballooning governments and economies that grew out of Roosevelt’s New Deal and were beginning to collapse under their own weight, as evidenced by the fall of the Soviet Union and the widespread economic failures in Latin America in the 80’s.

I’m not an economist or a political scientist, but the idea of political and social paradigms being shaped by historical context that endures over a generation gets my wheels turning. As a Christian who is only old enough to have voted in the last three presidential elections, it seems to me that we’re at a unique point in our history that I believe could result in a new Christian political movement or at least a revitalization of the Church.

First, some historical perspective. The permeation of nationalism and patriotism in our churches dates back to the Second World War. At that time, faith-based politics were in the middle of the political spectrum, leaning left supporting the social programs that rose out of the New Deal as well as right supporting post-war patriotism and nationalism. Faith-based politics took a left turn in the era of the Kennedys and the Civil Rights Movement, steered more sharply left with the Jesus Movement and Vietnam, but then took a sharp right turn with the rise of the Moral Majority in the Reagan years. I think it’s interesting that this cycle follows the economic-policy cycle noted in the Newsweek article. Faith-based politics then took another sharp right turn with the election of George W Bush and the poorly coined “value voter”.

But backlash from the 2000 and 2004 elections saw a different faith-based politics forming on the Left in the form of Campolos and Wallises to counter the Dobsons and Robertsons on the Right. Over the last couple of years, even before the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, Evangelicalism began to embrace a form of environmentalism based on being good stewards to God’s creation (Barna has an update on this movement here) . Political and religious headlines were dominated a year ago by the issue of illegal immigration, bringing the so-called Social Gospel to the fore. The “homosexual agenda” is also forcing a political fight in our churches with marriage on the front line. All of this puts faith again in a front-row seat in our presidential debate. And now, we’re seeing the collapse of our greed-driven, debt-based economy that is responsible for much of the worldliness we see in our churches today. (See this post from OnFaith that breaks down this false deity.)

Combine all these factors, and I see an end to the Religious Right, just as Newsweek notes this is the end of Reaganomics. Honestly, I could care less about the political consequence of all the above, but I care deeply about the state of the Church. While all these social, economic, and political issues collide, the American Christian Church ™ suffers from lukewarm conviction and commitment as heretical teachings such as the Prosperity Gospel and Black Liberation Theology rise in strength. So I see all of this converging to a paradigm shift in our churches. I only pray that it leads to a revitalization of the Church, de-emphasizing politics and instead “fixing [our] eyes on Jesus”. If so, this could lead to another Great Awakening of sorts, where God will truly be glorified in our churches and in our culture. And prayerfully this influence will last past a generation.

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