I’m almost finished with the book Unchristian (some of you will be glad), but I wanted to share a quote from the chapter called “Too Political.” According to co-authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons 75% of young adults outside the faith think that Christians are “overly motivated by a political agenda, that we pomote and represent politically conservative interests and issues, [and that] Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers” (p. 30). Again, this may not be true of you or your church, but it’s the way 75% of young adults outside the faith perceive us.
Do perceptions matter? You bet they do. And so, at the close of each chapter in the book, Kinnaman and Lyons have asked some well-known Christians to offer suggestions for how we might change the perceptions of young adults. I was shocked by what Jim Wallis had to say:
Christians should be involved in politics. The question isn’t “should we engage?” but “how?” The conservative religious movement in America today has been corrupted. Evangelicalism has been hijacked and usurped by partisan political forces. Conservative religion is now being driven and dictated by secular, right-wing political forces. So basically the conservative religious movement—or at least parts of it, the politicized part of it—has sold its soul to partisan politics (p. 179).
These are strong words, something Wallis (founder and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal) has never shied away from. But I have found myself thinking about them over the last 24 hours and wondering if he is right. Did some political strategist do the math and realize that if he could get all the Christians in America to vote for his candidate he would win? And then did he sit around wondering which issue would have the most potential for bringing Christians over to his side? And then did he start telling us that his candidate was against abortion, which made us sympathetic (because, really, what Christian is going to be for abortion?). And have politicians been using Christians to win elections ever since, by finding out what we are for or against and convincing us that their candidates are for or against the same things? Wallis goes on to say:
Many young evangelicals see that this is just Republican politics masquerading as conservative religion. When they observe this, they don’t like it. And they are concerned that it could happen on the Left too—exactly what happened on the Right—the politiczing and corrupting of religion for the sake of political power. That’s not what they want.
The young people I meet don’t want to go Left or Right. They reject these narrow political orthodoxies. They’re not happy with Christianity being either a list of things you shouldn’t do, or just about being nice. They want to go deeper. Young evangelicals really want their faith and lives to count for something. They want their faith to somehow connect with changing the world…
“They want to go deeper,” Wallis says, which is what I would want for them and what I think Jesus would want, too. When he taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven he invited his disciples to join him in changing the world from what it was to what God had always dreamed it could be. He is still inviting his disciples to do that. How tragic would it be to confuse that vision of heaven on earth with only what can be achieved through the political processes of a fallen society?
These young people may be on to something…