Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Will the Religious Young Save us From the Religious Right?

I was reading a critique of Marci McDonald's book, The Armageddon Factor, in which she reveals the enormous political clout of the Religious Right, that has entrenched itself in the Harper government, and was surprised by one of the comments at the end.

Someone was actually suggesting that they charge her with hate crimes, as religious persecution. This was rather hypocritical given that the Religious Right want to overturn Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disband the Human Rights Commissions, on the grounds that they inhibit "free speech".

Since the Religious Right made a conscious decision to become involved in the "public square" they have to understand that they leave themselves open to criticism as part of our political discourse. They can't have it both ways. Any group with sway on any government, needs to be discussed and analyzed. McDonald simply opened the door and made it OK to do this from a purely political perspective.

They have affected grants to scientific research, based on the fact that only 'creationism' should be promoted. They were behind the scrapping of a national child care plan, based on the fact that they believe mothers should stay in the home. Cuts to women's groups, social programs and even the religious organization KAIROS, were all implemented because of their influence.

After reading several articles about the horrendous actions of Young Republicans and Young Conservatives at university and college campuses, I began to wonder if it was too late to stop this destructive force.

Then I came across an article in Time magazine, that gave me hope. It was about young evangelicals, who clearly have the right message when it comes to being politically engaged.

For many people, the word Evangelical evokes an image of fire-and-brimstone conservatism. Pat Robertson's suggestion this past winter that Haiti had brought its earthquake on itself through a Satanic pact may have been an extreme example, but it's the kind of pronouncement we've come to expect from a certain generation of Evangelical leaders. Today's young Evangelicals cut an altogether different figure. They are socially conscious, cause-focused and controversy-averse. (1)
It follows the story of a young Christian, Josh Dickson:

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Dickson became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, an international Christian evangelism organization. Before long, Dickson was leading Bible studies in his dorm and recruiting the captain of the football team to talk about his faith at a Campus Crusade event the week of the end-of-season game against rival Ohio State.

By day, however, Dickson was a political science major. In his theory and policy courses, he was learning for the first time about social inequities that he thought had been erased decades earlier. He remembers being shocked to learn that the quality of something as universal as education depended largely on one's zip code. Once blind, he now saw systemic contributors to poverty wherever he looked. (1)

This was his real "spiritual awakening", not a silly notion that if you're poor it's because God wants you to be poor. The Religious Right message, that has now become morphed into a "free market" philosophy, is contradictory when it comes to Christian values. I'm an agnostic but have read the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and he would never buy into this nonsense. And yet they're still flogging it.

Martin E. Marty, wrote a piece on the declining fortunes of mega churches, citing in particular the misfortune of Crystal Cathedral, a mega-church founded in the mid-1950s in California. He notes the unkind responses to the church's plight, but explains why he believes this is:
One has to see a turnabout-is-fair-play attitude in some of the uncharitable responses. The mega-church networks build constituencies in part by attacking denominations, even as these networks then become more-than-virtual, indeed, parallel and competitive “denominations” themselves. (2)
There is a real competition not for souls, but for money. Many mega churches are blaming the economic downturn for their demise but I think it's just that they're burning themselves out. Another problem is when the church itself is built around a charismatic leader who like Ted Haggard, disgraces themselves or passes away, and there is no one with his mass appeal to take over.

But will we see young people steer religion back to it's intended place in society?
Over the past decade, a remarkable cultural shift has taken place among young Evangelicals that has surprised even longtime observers. There is a long history in the Evangelical community of caring for "the least of these," whether as full-time missionaries or through religious entities like World Vision, one of the biggest international relief and development organizations on the planet. Churches often collect special offerings to support aid groups or to focus on local needs through soup kitchens and clothing drives. Evangelical involvement in the pro-life movement is well-known, of course, but at least a century earlier, Evangelicals held leading roles in the effort to abolish slavery. (1)
And despite the fact that Christian Zionists attack us for criticizing Israel, young Jewish people are becoming highly critical of the country's actions, and don't have the same attachment to their perceived "homeland"

... recent research shows that young Jews believe a connection to the State of Israel is not among the primary factors in determining the collective Jewish identity. (3)

American Jews’ connection to Israel drops off with each subsequent generation, a new study suggests. The authors of the study, sociologists Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman, found a consistent increase in alienation in each younger generation, with middle-aged Jews less attached to Israel than older Jews, and younger Jews less attached than middle-aged Jews. “Every measure indicates a decline of attachment to Israel” from one generation to the next, Kelman, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, told the Forward. (4)

The following is a video of Father Carapi, an Orthodox Catholic leader, lambasting Notre Dame for giving President Obama an honorary degree. He calls Obama anti-Christian. It's people like him who would drive people away from church more than the lure of sin.
While their grandparents might have considered political and social engagement inappropriate and their parents may have spent their energies on culture-war issues such as abortion and school prayer, the members of the newest generation of Evangelicals are less interested in choosing sides. They focus on nonideological causes like fighting for clean water and poverty relief and fighting against sex trafficking. The issues lend themselves to what the late Evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer called "co-belligerents," the idea that people who disagree on other issues can work together for a common cause. No one is pro-malaria, so everyone is a potential ally to fight malaria. (1)

The Religious Right movement is exclusionary. Only they hold the "truth" so the rest of us are arrogantly dismissed as "sinners" These young Evangelicals are "pro-life" in the true sense of the word, so despite the fact that I'm pro-choice, I would respect their beliefs because they also oppose war.

Many younger Evangelicals have also dispensed with the idea — once considered gospel truth by older generations — that only private institutions like churches and charities should care for the needy. "Young Evangelicals are not constrained by the sacred-secular dichotomy their parents had," says Cromartie. "They see the whole world as their neighborhood."

Like many of their secular peers, young Evangelicals have also been influenced by globalization. Their parents would have heard about third-world poverty once a year via slide shows from visiting missionaries at a Sunday-night church service. Younger Evangelicals' exposure, on the other hand, is more direct and sustained. They download videos about child soldiers in Uganda and hear their favorite Christian musicians talk about building orphanages in Haiti.

Perhaps the most significant change shaping the Evangelical community today is the growing generation gap in political attitudes and positions. On a wide array of issues, you can get completely different responses from Evangelicals over 35 and those under 35. An October 2008 poll by Public Religion Research showed that by a margin of 21 points, young Evangelicals were more likely than older ones to favor expanding government to provide more social services. While they remain staunchly antiabortion, young Evangelicals are twice as likely as their parents to support same-sex civil unions. And 56% (vs. 44% of older Evangelicals) believe that diplomacy is a better road to peace than military strength. (1)

And young Muslims are also looking for new direction:

As a consequence of these and other factors, many young people are becoming disenchanted with the Brotherhood, and the movement as a whole appears to be losing its ability to inspire its youth and to claim their loyalties. This has generated a crisis within the Brotherhood, with a growing number of reform-minded young people seeking a new pathway forward.

... young people have a well developed political consciousness as well: no longer focusing simply on jobs or adequate education, they increasingly make more expressly political demands, calling for increased political participation, respect for human rights, and greater personal liberties. At the same time, the information revolution has given youth the opportunity to participate in politics directly and cheaply, and to join in the global discussion on freedom, human rights, and democratization. (5)

If this momentum continues, future generations will be compassionate and progressive, understanding what it really means to live in a global community, that can only be secular if there is any chance for survival.


1. Young Evangelicals: Expanding Their Mission, Time Magazine, By Amy Sullivan, June 01, 2010

2. Decline in the US mega-churches, By Martin E. Marty, June 7, 2010

3. 'Criticism of Israel by young American Jews is a good sign', Jewish World, April 14, 2010

4. Attachment to Israel Declining Among Young American Jews, By Anthony Weiss, Jewish Daily, September 05, 2007

5. The Young Brotherhood in Search of a New Path, by Khalil Al-AnaniPublished on Monday, October 05, 2009

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