In the wake of the 2012 presidential elections, some Evangelical leaders declared the election results a "catastrophe" and a "disaster." Followed soon after by the United States Supreme Court's dismal decisions on same-sex unions and the Boy Scouts' pathetic surrender of their founding beliefs, even more voices were raised in both the Evangelical and wider conservative Christian community, declaring defeat in the "culture wars." Many even perceived a dark, looming secular age of persecution directed against people of orthodox, historic Christian faith and witness.
Certainly there is a growing mountain, some would say a mountain range, of circumstantial evidence that a gathering storm of secular hostility may be preparing to unleash itself on people and institutions of traditional Christian faith.
It should be remembered, however, that a cultural "moment" is just that, a snapshot of a particular moment in a culture's life experience, not necessarily a harbinger of a new cultural epoch. It is a quite radical "leap of faith" to extrapolate from the milieu of this, or any other moment, and to declare a historic shift from a culture where a Judeo-Christian worldview has played a significant (albeit always less than complete) role in shaping America's social and cultural mores, to a society where Christians will face persecution similar to their fellow Christians in the first centuries of the faith.
It may be that such dire predictions and premonitions will come true. If so, true Christians will continue to bear witness to their faith as they have always done in such hostile circumstances, suffering persecution with triumphant courage and equanimity. The church faithful have always understood that the powers of this world will wax and wane, but the Kingdom of the Savior is forever and ever.
However, what if the declaration of defeat and prognostications of persecution are wrong? Worse, what if they have the unintended impact of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, causing many people of faith to yield to the siren song of the deep pietistic strain (always present in American Christianity) and to withdraw prematurely from a war not yet lost?
Americans who came of age in the 1960s have seen many neck-snapping, head-jerking mood swings in American society. We have gone from the Traditional '50s, to the Radical '60s, to the Confused '70s, to the Reagan '80s, to the Clinton '90s, to the zig-zagging of George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the 21st century, with no braking for turns the entire way.
What if American Christians are in a situation analogous to Great Britain in May 1940? With breathtaking speed and power, Hitler had swept across Continental Europe, France had fallen, and the British Army had been forced to ignominiously withdraw, leaving behind almost all their equipment at Dunkirk. Hitler issued an ultimatum to England: "Agree to a peace that acknowledges my mastery of Europe, or I will invade and defeat you." Britain had turned in desperation to Winston Churchill as war-time Prime Minister just that month of May. His government cabinet was evenly split between continuing to fight or accepting Hitler's terms. Churchill's opposition said the war was already lost, and it was best to acknowledge it rather than be invaded.
Churchill thought differently. He knew Britain was losing, but she had not yet lost. On June 4, 1940, Churchill addressed the House of Commons and stepped onto the front pages of history by declaring:
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the
fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if,
which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated or
starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might,
steps forward to the rescue and liberation of the old.
Stirring words, but more than words. Churchill had faith in his people and more importantly, faith in his God.
Could it be that American Christians are losing, but have not lost the war for our country's heart and soul? Could it be that the analogous event to the American entry into the conflict that Churchill foresaw "in God's good time" could be another "Great Awakening" that would transform the spiritual landscape of America as thoroughly as the 18th century's Great Awakening transformed Colonial America? We don't know.
For me and my house, we will keep fighting for a society that is less unjust, less pagan, and where people are welcomed and protected by law from conception until natural death and everywhere in between their entry into, and exit from, this life and where the freedom to practice and live one's faith is recognized and protected in law.
How do we conduct ourselves in this contest for the nation's heart and soul? What are the rules of engagement? Stay tuned for Part II.