Over the course of several weeks I have sought to give an overview of the spiritual state of America, particularly the state of the church in America following our November general election. The November 6 national election prompted me to reconsider these deeper concerns and the Spirit has prompted me to write about issues that I believe are central to the future of the church in our ever-changing nation.
Good News, Bad News
By analyzing cultural trends and religious demographics I have shared a bit of bad news. I would like to stress, at least briefly, that there is a lot of good news as well. In fact, this good news gets me up each day to lead a mission that is laser-focused on missional-ecumenism, or relational partnerships committed to the mission of Jesus to make disciples.
Here is some good news:
1. American Christians have pioneered and genuinely supported missions for centuries. Though the number of missionaries might be in decline the presence of schools that teach mission, and qualified seasoned missiologists who mentor many students, is still strong.
2. Every nation on the earth has been impacted in some way by missionaries from the United States. Major American mission partnerships continue to develop and mature. There is great reason for hope in these agencies and missions.
3. In 2010 there were 43,500 foreign missionaries. This is the good news. The bad news is too few churches really support them as they could.
4. There are a growing number of networks and partnerships that support and foster missions, here and abroad.
5. Christian media ministries are becoming more savvy and focused.
6. Christian literature is becoming more winsome and attractive.
7. The use of powerful media resources still produces some real good and the rise of the social media might be the most fruitful development of all. (More on this later.)
So there is a good deal of bad news, as we’ve seen, but there are some genuinely encouraging things we should be thankful for in terms of the spiritual state of our nation and the potential for more fruitful mission. If we are not careful the naysayers will have the last word and the thought that the tide may be out the prospect of renewal looms in the midst of the darkest nighttime of the human spirit. This is, after all, the age of the Holy Spirit’s global witness to Christ!
Engaging with Public Life
One of the areas where we have profoundly failed, and nothing brings this out quite like the data from exit polls after the recent election, is that the way Christians have engaged with public issues has, on the whole, been a major failure.
We have an American Christian history in which biblical activism has borne great fruit. Christians helped to end slavery, to give women the vote and to provide for their overall well-being, to protect children, to build hospitals and provide compassion care for the poor and to support public schools and build Christian schools. A wide spectrum of Christians, from many different backgrounds, still believe it is there responsibility to care for the weakest and the least. This is one reason why so many millennial Christians feel differently about the environment, about fair wages, about universal health insurance, etc. You may disagree with their way of seeking for these changes but the fact that they care deeply is a healthy reflection of their faith in Christ.
The recent election, as is always the case, pitted Christian against Christian. What might have been different was the very stark difference between white Christians and those of color and younger millennials. There was a sharp divide here in the culture in general and everyone is now analyzing this divide. It runs right through the church! It would be easy to deny it, or even worse to say these other Christians will hopefully grow up. It would be far better if we listened and conversed with respect. What we need is wisdom and balance. While I work for keeping markets free and vigorous I also recognize the problems of greed and consumerism. If I am to teach younger Christians about the importance of freedom in their personal life and in their business and economic life then I am aware I will need to engage with them in a different way.