The decades-long political polarity between the Left and the Right has fomented a lack of trust so severe that what was once unthinkable (the Capitol breach on January 6th) is now a reality. The United States began to morally decline in the late 19th century when the Protestant Evangelical church started to abandon culture. Instead of engaging the earth, the Church began focusing on escaping it. They could not cope with the complexities present in society. These complexities included: the industrial revolution and its concomitant urban life, the horrific aftermath of the civil war, the challenge to biblical fidelity with the rise of higher criticism, mass immigration from non-protestant nations, and ideologies like Marxism and Darwinism (see more about this in my book, Understanding the Wineskin Of the Kingdom).
Before the civil war, much of the Church’s preaching focused on manifesting the Kingdom of God on earth, similar to the messages of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15, Acts 28:31). By “Kingdom of God,” I am referring to the government of God that emanates from the throne of God. The Church is not the kingdom, but the primary agent of the kingdom. Scripture says that His Kingdom rules over all (Psalm 22:28, Psalm 24, Psalm 103:19, Daniel 4:17).
This was the impetus for much of the societal reform that transpired during the Second Great Awakening, resulting in the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, child labor law reform, and more. (Evangelist Charles Finney continually preached about the Kingdom of God on earth, which inspired abolitionists like Theodore Weld, feminist evangelical leaders like Phoebe Palmer, and others involved in the women’s suffrage movement.)
The horrors of the civil war, which saw approximately 750 thousand men killed in battle, was especially significant as it related to the shift away from propagating the present-day implications of the Kingdom. Consequently, the Church lost faith in its ability to transform the world. Unfortunately, it started focusing on the hyper-premillennial dispensational view propagated by J.N. Darby. This was made popular by the preaching of men like evangelist D.L. Moody and the Scofield bible.
Thus, around the 1880s, Bible prophecy conferences started appearing everywhere. The Church became more and more insular, focusing more on the rapture than societal change. Hence, one generation later, in the 1920s, the Church lost societal influence in higher learning institutions. Educators like John Dewey re-framed a societal, educational view. This resulted in losing all of culture one generation later during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The evangelical abandonment of culture, which was primarily a response dictated by environmental challenges rather than theological exegesis, made the fundamentalist evangelical Church irrelevant to culture. (See more about this in my book, Understanding the Wineskin Of the Kingdom.)
The 1880s gave birth to an expression of evangelicalism called fundamentalism, which was earmarked by a separation from the culture. This movement focused on individual salvation and getting to heaven. As a result, it greatly limited the Church’s cultural influence.
Consequently, the “Great Commission” only obligated conservative evangelicals to win souls. They viewed social engagement as a distraction from the gospel. This appealed primarily to affluent believers who had all they needed in this life (they only lacked heaven). However, it further alienated the Black American church, whose missional focus included economic improvement and improving their dire quality of life.
During the Post Reconstruction and Jim Crow era, the Black American church became the center of their community. This caused them to take the gospel and apply it to every phase of human life (similar to what we read in Isaiah 61:3-4). Furthermore, systemic racism often hindered Blacks from going to biblically conservative bible schools. This led many to get their education from liberal schools like Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As a result, it further exacerbated the Christian divide. Unfortunately, the present-day segregation we see in the Body of Christ has also been in process for many generations. The fundamentalist/evangelical Church’s neglect of a holistic view of the gospel has also contributed to this.
How The Church Can Regain Cultural Influence
“The process of secularization arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.”- Christopher H. Dawson, Religion and World History, A Selection from the Works of Christopher Dawson
Since it took three generations to lose the culture, it will take at least one generation to turn it back to the Judeo/Christian worldview. Without the Church serving as the ground and pillar of society’s truth, cultural ethics will rapidly decline to the default position of human depravity (I Timothy 3:15). (My book, Walk in Generational Blessing, unpacks the generational call of families and churches to influence society.)
The Limited Reaction of the Conservative Evangelical Church
Unfortunately, the evangelical Church’s primary focus has continued to be the proclamation of the gospel without the proclamation of the implications of the Kingdom. Many great leaders are praying for revival, but, as we have seen, revival is not enough to save a nation if it doesn’t shift the worldview of the culture towards a biblical ethos.
For example, England was saved during the First Great awakening (through the preaching of Wesley and Whitfield) because their society already had a biblical foundation in their laws and culture. The Second Great Awakening affected all of American society for the same reason.
However, none of the revivals in the 20th century moved the needle towards Christian influence in culture because the Gospel proclamation was disconnected from the Kingdom, thus failing to penetrate the larger culture (See my book, The Divided Gospel).
Revival may bring people into the Church, but true reformation only comes when Christ-followers are sent into their communities to serve and love their neighbor.
When a segment of the conservative evangelical Church finally woke up and reacted against fundamentalism, they formed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. However, it was too little and too late to fully influence the nation’s elite structures. Furthermore, the conservative movement made the mistake of thinking that mere political engagement was enough. After prayer was removed from public schools in the early 1960s and abortion was legalized in the 1970s, conservative evangelicals started getting engaged again en-masse in politics and policy. The Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the “Moral Majority” in 1979 and numerous national leaders initiated the “Washington For Jesus” Rally in 1980. Some believed that this was the reason Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Around the same time, Dr. Francis Schaeffer published his groundbreaking book, A Christian Manifesto, which called the Church back to cultural engagement. However, the Church made the mistake of thinking that political engagement alone can shift the culture. A top-down approach of merely shifting and advocating for morality in law is not enough to change the heart and sentiments of a nation.
While the conservative Church was focusing on mere politics, the LGBTQ community had a comprehensive plan outlined in the book, “After the Ball,” published in 1989 by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. This small segment of the population has demonstrated how a minority of people can shift culture in just a few decades through the hard work of infiltrating Hollywood (to influence pop culture), getting engaged politically, spending money on lobbying, altering the meaning of keywords, and influencing school boards and education at every level. They didn’t just depend upon “the Stonewall uprising” on July 3, 1969. They were committed to the long-term process that seemed to include three phases. They initially merely pushed for toleration, then for equality before the law, culminating in their leaders’ helping determine the nation’s cultural values, goals, and objectives. This would then impact the family, religion, entertainment, health, business, education, law, and policy.
The Generational Breach of Trust Must be Healed
Finally, it will take decades for the American people to regain trust in the nation’s ideals. Many Black and Brown people have little confidence in law enforcement and the judicial system (which is the catalyst of the Black Lives Matter marches of the past year). Many conservative Trump supporters, and perhaps a majority of people in the Republican party, lost trust because they believe there was massive election fraud. Also, I have observed through the last several decades of political engagement how many elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans,
have been arrested for bribes, corruption, and other misdeeds. Some of them I knew personally. Some form of malfeasance is almost expected because it became part of the ecosystem of politics long ago. Corrupt political systems and ego-driven leaders will eventually bring down the nation if there is not a turnaround.
There are no easy solutions. Although we need divine intervention, the Church should take the lead in facilitating community wide dialogue amongst the police, elected officials, and concerned citizens in order to find common ground, work together, and rebuild a culture of trust. God gave the Church the ministry of reconciliation, which is something we should focus on more than anything else during this season (II Corinthians 5:19). The Church should also prepare their biological and spiritual children to be the future gatekeepers who will serve their communities with integrity and biblical fidelity.
The Church became a sign to the powers in the first century that demonstrated the Lordship of Jesus over all because, unlike every other empire, they were the only entity able to bring cohesion to a diverse group of people (Ephesians 3:10). In this group, there was neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek. Hence, their faith in Messiah transcended their ethnic gender and economic differences (Galatians 3:28). Jesus called the Church the city on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). He said the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18)!
The time of depending upon a president or politics as the primary means to bring peace and harmony to nations is over. May the true Church once again proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and labor for His Kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Image Source: KCIA