The Spiritual State of the Nation (5)

John ArmstrongAmerica and Americanism, Culture, Current Affairs, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Politics, The Church, The Future

The recent federal election reveals that the social, religious and political landscape of America invites new coalitions that are broader than any one church, community or tribal faction. If only one party benefits, and that by the force of raw will, then large numbers of people in this increasingly diverse nation will continue to resist the ideas being proposed. The reason for this is quite simple–common purpose requires cooperation.

The Defeat of One Terrible Death Proposal

In the recent election a number of social and moral items were accepted by large numbers of voters, alarming many Christians. What might have been missed in this “new normal” context was a vote on legalizing euthanasia in Massachusetts. You would have thought that if any state (besides Oregon and Washington who have already passed such a law) adopted legal euthanasia it would have been Massachusetts, but such was not the case. Why?

I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who did not know the church opposes assisted suicide, or legal euthanasia. But in Massachusetts something different happened that I think models the way forward in the public square. Instead of screaming at and scolding the wider culture for embracing death, the church–Catholic and Evangelical, enlisted some of its most articulate lay voices to make a case against the measure. Quietly, without getting in people’s face, these voices organized coalitions at the “grass roots” and persuaded enough voters to overturn the measure.

This is a model for us, one that works politically and socially. It is also one that I believe works in terms of our gospel mission.

An Opportunity for Unity and Healing

The church is plainly called to minister to a divided culture with the good news of Christ’s gracious reign. But how can she do that in the “new” America, the divided and changing landscape that was revealed even more clearly on November 6?

We have several options. We can continue to “shout” at the culture, and in turn sinners, that they are destroying Christian America. Or we could continue to organize with voter guides and outmoded “ground games” to get our voters to the polls. Sadly, many on the Christian Right are likely to pursue this course for several more election cycles before they finally realize the game is over, at least politically. Their message will remain clear–America is being judged and the only way to turn back God’s wrath is by changing the political and social makeup of our communities.

But is this analysis of God’s “unknown” purpose for a nation like the United States so clear that we should embrace it as “gospel” truth? I think not.

The New Normal

In defeat on November 6, evangelicals–especially white evangelicals, still spoke with what amounts to “one voice.” Take Indiana as an example. Exit polls highlighted how the voters shifted. In 2008 only 69% of evangelicals voted for John McCain. In 2012 79% backed Romney. (I still remain curious about how much Romney’s Mormonism impacted the vote for some evangelicals who may have stayed home!) In Indiana we do know that exit polling said evangelicals only made up 35% of the state’s electorate while in 2008 the figure was 41%.

I cite Indiana because it is a conservative state with a high percentage of Christians and still represents the moral values of what we once called “mainstream” America. Further, it is not, at least geographically, a “Bible-belt” state. Indiana is a kind of snapshot of what I believe is happening across America. Traditionally conservative evangelical voters are decreasing in number precisely as they are decreasing in their total percentage of the population, even in a Midwestern conservative state like Indiana.

The new normal included more than the evidence of smaller numbers of conservative religious voters. It also included three states approving same-sex marriage for the first time: Maryland, Maine and Washington. Previously, only courts and legislatures had approved same-sex marriage. I can still remember sitting in a meeting with conservative Christians in D.C. about a decade ago and hearing us being told that there was no way same-sex marriage would ever be approved by the people! So much for promises about the future. At the time I doubted this claim, but I questioned even more deeply the hubris that attended it.