In the West, but especially in the United States, a cultural revolution took place in the late 20th century. Their foundations long eaten away, older ways of living have largely collapsed. We see this most obviously in the arena of the family. Abortion, unwed mothering, irresponsible fathering, normalization of cohabitation and fornication, divorce, and now same-sex marriage.
Christians have reacted in multiple ways. The organization by Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority marked the rise of the Christian Right. I’m not sure anyone thinks the Christian Right is very strong anymore. A recent article by Wesley Hill describes a remarkable shift in opinion about same-sex marriage among evangelical Christians. A few years ago only 11% approved, now 24% do.
The Protestant establishment has petered out. Nothing recognizably Christian is left in its place. Although the institutions it created (universities, federal and state governments) remain.
One valuable gift of the late-20th century revolution to Christendom is that believing Christians no longer think that their interests are coterminous with the interests of the dominant culture. A clear indicator of that is the rise of Christian education. When public education was created in the 1850s and strengthened in the 1920s, it was Protestant public education. Catholic schools were started in order to offer a safe haven to people who felt uncomfortable in the public schools. Until pretty recently, public schools felt like safe and more or less competent caregivers for the children of Christian families. No more. The explosion of Christian schools, starting in the 1970s, and the even more significant explosion of homeschooling since the 1980s, demonstrates this.
The challenge now will be for Christians to learn how to live with tension between “us” and “them”. The Christian Right (and for the most part, the Christian school and homeschooling movements) reacted by withdrawing and fighting. The Christian Left – which is ascendant, especially among Millennials – reacts by throwing down the vestiges of difference, and posturing as a kinder, gentler, Jesus-tinted version of the culture it is living within.
Both of these have points to make, but neither is an acceptable way of living in the world in the long run. We must live with difference, with being a counterculture. Yet our counterculture must be a loving and self-sacrificial one. We live, as Jonathan Haidt might have it, as people with a moral matrix centered on divinity, in the context of a culture whose moral matrix is centered on avoidance of harm. Yet our Divinity is one that entered into human life and gave up His life for his enemies.
We have to live the life we should have lived all along. A life in the midst of enemies, who may like us or may turn on us. A life in which we build but don’t cry too hard when our buildings are knocked down. A life in which we plant and don’t stop when our tomatoes are stolen. A life in which we pray for the Shalom of those around us. Not so that they’ll like us and accept us, but because we are patiently awaiting the action of our Sovereign on our behalf.