In the 16th century, John Calvin argued on theological grounds that anyone who believed that the earth moved in space was “motivated by a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding; possessed by the devil.” *
In the 17th century, both Catholics and Protestants systematically executed Anabaptists for holding to the “heresy” that a confession of faith should precede baptism.
Here in America, the original Southern Baptist Convention was organized, in part, because Baptists in the South did not want to be told from Baptists in the North that owning slaves was wrong.
In the 60s, many evangelicals used Scripture to support racial segregation.
Oops. Hindsight is 20/20, huh?
I bring up these historical embarrassments, not to shame the Church or criticize the many godly people who supported them, but to pose a question: What’s next? What are the issues facing the Church today that may come back to haunt us in the future?
Every now and then I wonder what convictions I might have held had I lived in my hometown of Dayton, Tennessee just five, ten, or fifteen decades ago. Would I have used Scripture to defend my right to own slaves? Would I have remained silent as the Cherokees stumbled by my house on the Trail of Tears? We Christians must be careful not to imitate the Pharisees, who bragged that had they lived during the time of the prophets they would not have shed the blood of innocent men, but who then proceeded to crucify Jesus and persecute his disciples (Matthew 23:30-34). Our confidence that we are right about everything is often our downfall.
So what will be the hot issues for our generation? What will we be debating over the next five, ten, or twenty years?
I don’t know for sure, but I have some guesses. Let me know what you think.
1) Homosexuality: This week’s California ruling regarding gay marriage is sure to spark another round of arguments between conservative evangelicals and the gay community. It’s too bad. I’m really starting to get weary of all the hateful rhetoric coming from conservative Christians, rhetoric that only serves to alienate gays from the church.
If I were a betting woman, I would put money on the guess that in less than ten years, evangelicals will be blushing at some of James Dobson’s comments regarding homosexuality. I think that as more people come out and as more progress is made in identifying possible genetic influences in sexual orientation, evangelicals will have to back-track a bit. I also anticipate that in the coming years, theologians will re-approach those biblical texts used to condemn homosexuality and perhaps present evangelicals with some optional interpretations.
2) Religious Pluralism: As our world becomes more interconnected, I think young evangelicals in particular will grow hungry for fresh approaches to religious pluralism, and will begin to seek out alternatives to traditional exclusivism. The Catholic Church has taken the lead on this issue with the Second Vatican Council, and I expect evangelicals will follow. It’s hard to foresee any “official” changes in doctrine, considering the complexity of the issue, but I expect the dialog will open up a bit in this area.
3) Evolution: As scientific evidence supporting evolutionary theory continues to become more widely accepted, I think conservative evangelicals will at least have to concede the point that it is possible for a person to believe in both and old earth and a loving God, that “Christian evolutionist” is not an oxymoron. I have a feeling that the evolution debate might be our generation’s Galilean controversy, which is why I am wary of making sweeping pronouncements about God being on one side or the other. I’m hoping that this issue will spark a healthy conversation about whether should treat the Bible as a science textbook or a spiritual guidebook.
So, what do you think? What will be the hot-button issues of our time? In what ways do you expect evangelicals might change their minds?
(I also thought about mentioning the role of women in the church, changes in the political affiliations of young evangelicals, and a renewed interest in humanitarian aide and world poverty. What do you think about those issues?)
Citation:* Sermon No. 8 on 1st Corinthians, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma, Oxford University Press, 1988, A. 72