In the late 1970s, Jerry Falwell Sr. mobilized the Christian right of American with the founding of the Moral Majority. His slogan at the rallies was “I love America,” and the goal was to provide a vehicle to address cultural and moral issues and combat legislation that would take America away from its Judeo-Christian ethic.
Falwell saw this as the culmination of the Fundamentalist Movement.
The development and growth of Fundamentalism in America in the mid-century is a fascinating study, the vigorous evangelism, the planting and growth of churches, hundreds of fundamentalist colleges, Bible schools and universities, radio ministries, and periodicals.
This certainly had an impact on American Culture. In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected president and his two-term administration would dominate the 80s. Falwell had helped get him to the White House, and with this election victory, Falwell began the decade with gargantuan optimism; Fundamentalism had come of age, they were “the greatest days of the twentieth century,” and the 1980s was “the decade of destiny.”
In 1981 he published “The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: The Resurgence of Conservative Christianity.” With this matured fundamentalism, the majority of Americans (the religious right) would “rebuild America to the greatness it once had as a leader among leaders in the world.” But Falwell’s book really betrays his confusion of two kingdoms and his misunderstanding of the nature of the earlier fundamentalist struggle (theological Fundamentalism was not essentially a cultural struggle, although the Scopes Trial brought it to the cultural foreground). Falwell did a retake of the Baptist principle of Separation of Church and State, to accommodate his political activism.
The Moral Majority was not a good thing for the Church. It was a pluralistic political organisation made up of evangelical pastors, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, and Mormon leaders. It was an attempt to Christianise America which in reality detracted from the Church, its focus and its purpose.
The “Trumpian Revolution” of the last four years is an echo of Falwell’s Moral Majority; an attempt to make America great again, as Falwell had hoped the Moral Majority would do. But like its predecessor, Trumpism has not been good for the Church either.
A look at the recent election map with the red states of middle-America flanked by the blue states on the West Coast and northern East Coast shows that conservative America still exists, but the election results show that it is no longer the majority.
The time has come to recognise that America is “Post-Christian.”
In the past twenty years, I’ve lived in North America, two of those years in the States, and I’ve recently returned to Northern Ireland. It is clear that the same culture-shift has occurred also in Canada and in Britain, and in Northern Ireland also, once dubbed by Ian Paisley, “the last bastion of Protestantism [in Europe].”
Western Evangelicalism, if it is going to be salt and light, has a moral obligation to rethink its place in the world. We need to stop the defeatist thinking that the Church is under siege. The Church is not under siege, it is marching forward and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, as Christ, the Head of His Church has promised (Matthew 16:18).
Furthermore, we need to stop mixing up the Church and the culture—they are not one. We need to stop reading the Old Testament as though we were ancient Israel seeking a national blessing. Who is “my people” in 2 Chronicles 7:14?
In short, we need to stop de-Christianising the Church in an attempt to Christianise the culture.
In his excellent book (B&H Publishers, 2015), “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel,” Russell Moore makes some very stark statements about Christian America. So much of it is quotable, but I’ll stick to the introduction in the interest of brevity.
In the Introduction, Moore argues that America (think of Western Christianity in general) is undergoing a cultural shake-up. He goes on to say, however, that,
“The shaking up of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. We must remember that even Israel’s slavery in Egypt was a sign of God’s mercy.”
Speaking of the Bible Belt particularly, Moore states at the end of a paragraph, “The Bible Belt is teetering towards collapse, and I say let it fall.” He leaves that statement hanging there for another two pages before he concludes; “The loss of the Bible Belt may be bad news for America. But it can be good news for the Church.”
As I work to help the Chuch in Africa, I have to examine my own motives and methods. Our efforts are not to preserve British conservatism in East Africa, but to help the Church be biblical and effective in an increasingly secular (and pagan) culture.
Lord, give your Church wisdom, grace and patience.