"The Religious Right is dead," proclaim political analysts on both the conservative right and liberal left. Phrases like "Post-Christian America" and "Post-Evangelical culture" abound. Yet, a mere two decades ago, these accusations would have gone unspoken. Perhaps it is time to consider if something, indeed, has gone wrong within the Evangelical community.
It is true that a fast-growing separation between the traditional moral values of Evangelicals and their twenty-something kids – the Millennial generation – exists. An Evangelical identity crisis is certainly underway, but that does not mean it is time to write our eulogy just yet.
Evidence pointing to a fast-growing spiritual and moral decline cannot be ignored. Baptists are America's largest Evangelical bloc. Yet, many young Baptists are abandoning their traditional values, largely admitting that they no longer see church as a relevant part of their lives. During his remarks to the 2001 SBC Executive Committee, SBC Vice President at the time, T. C. Pinckney, made an astonishing admission. He stated that research revealed approximately 70 percent of teens involved in a Baptist youth group were leaving the church within their first two years of college.
Even at this past annual March for Life, the disparity between young Evangelicals and young Catholics was obvious. Do not misunderstand me. Tens of thousands of culture warriors avidly marched down the national mall amid frigid temperatures and with numb fingers and toes in protest of abortion. But the high school and college faces were predominately Catholics.
The reason for this Evangelical spiritual decline is not solely due to the influence of a Leftist sitting President or moral-less reality TV culture, as several analysts would say. The problem is not just politics. Nor is it merely secular society. No, I am sorry to say that the causation of the Evangelical identity problem is unraveling within the walls of our own sanctuaries.
Out of fear of being falsely dubbed "intolerant" or "uncompassionate," many young Christians are buying into the theological falsehoods from popular liberal Evangelical writers and preachers. However, their "feel-good" theology sidesteps all Biblical principles that are exclusive or constricting. In order to market their distorted version of Christianity to the masses, liberal Christian elites stress the importance of salvation from poverty, inequality, and oppression rather than forgiveness of sins through Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose Christian convictions against the Nazis cost him his life, called this type of Christian theology "Cheap grace." In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession."
Although this new brand of liberal Evangelicalism deters young Evangelicals from engaging in the contentious culture wars, there is still hope.
Despite what some might tout, the culture wars are not about political partisanship. They are ignited and driven by faith convictions. And faith in Jesus Christ still permeates through the United States - among both the young and old. In the book God is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America, Gallup's Editor in Chief Frank Newport ensures, "Right now, we don't see any signs of an unusual increase in non-Christian religions. Christianity will prevail in the U.S. America will remain very much a Christian nation in the decades ahead, albeit less so than in the past because of an increase in Americans who don't have a religious identity."
Heightened efforts to engage young Evangelicals back into the culture wars are also burgeoning. For example, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund launched a new outreach program to Evangelical groups. Similarly, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) is focusing our attention on strengthening young Evangelicals' social witness. IRD's President, Mark Tooley, recently noted, "This week's March for Life amplified how Evangelicals and Catholics with others are increasingly united in promoting a culture of life." Tooley continued, "Confronted by our current era that is often increasingly hostile to transcendent truths, Evangelicals and Catholics need each other now more than ever in defending the permanent, sacred things of human existence."
The take-away here for Evangelicals, is that America and our churches have rarely - if ever - faced the degree of exodus from traditional values as we see today among young Evangelicals. But that doesn't mean the Religious Right is dead, merely in need of a revival.