Book Club Discussion: Are the Culture Wars Over?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I gotta be honest--I’m not really loving our book club selection for the month of November. unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons is filled with a lot of illuminating statistics from The Barna Group regarding young people’s negative perceptions of Christianity, but I feel like the response of the authors, time and time again, is that Christians should continue on the same path...just be a little nicer about it. There’s no attempt to honestly reexamine the priorities and teachings of modern-day Christianity.

For example, after explaining how their research shows that three-quarters of young outsiders and half of young churchgoers describe present-day Christianity as “too involved in politics,” this is what Kinnaman concludes: “To address the deep challenges that are facing people in our nation and around the world, Gabe and I have come to the conclusion that being politically engaged is more important than ever.” (157) “...Based on our research on this subject,” he says, “we must realize that our political activism, if expressed in an unChristian manner, prevents a new generation from seeing Christ.” (155)

They don’t even entertain the notion that, seeing as Jesus wasn’t a political activist, maybe Christians shouldn’t be political activists either.  In fact, they urge their readers to become more involved in politics.

This is a consistent theme throughout the book--(be nicer to the gays whose civil rights you oppose, be nicer when you evangelize relentlessly, be nicer to the sinners you keep at arm’s length)--save for the bonus contributions that appear at the end of each chapter. Written from a variety of perspectives, these little additions are the best part of the book.

So, today I thought I’d focus today on a few that I found particularly interesting.

Wilhite on Hypocrisy/ The Culture Wars

Written by Jud Wilhite, pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, this response to the “Hypocritical” section of the book really caught my eye.

Writes Wilhite: “The problem is not fundamentally hypocrisy. We’re all hypocrites at some level. The problem is the air of moral superiority many of us carry around.  We stop acknowledging imperfections in our lives. We forget where we came from and all God has done in our lives. I don’t see in Jesus’ teaching a call to fake moral superiority. I’m a sinner following him. I don’t have it all together, and that admission is precisely what tweaks the perception of hypocrisy.” (61)

“..The Perception of hypocrisy also emerges when we start fighting the “culture war”—meaning we attack people’s behavior patterns rather than love them as people. Or we lobby to legislate morality. In Las Vegas, where I live, the culture war is over. We lost. Let me repeat: WE LOST. Now our calling is to love and accept people one-on-one, caring for them where they are...We’re joining our community in a different culture war—one that attacks poverty, crime, addiction, and pain. We’re active in helping the homeless, we’ve declare war on child hunger in the Vegas valley, and we are showing our faith by our actions, even if imperfectly.” (61-62)

I love how Wilhite redefines the notion of culture war! Imagine if evangelicals across the country had the same attitude.

In the wake of Obama’s overwhelming victory, Republicans are looking to improve their image and broaden support. There’s been talk of disengaging the Religious Right in order to attract more moderates. Some Republicans have openly suggested dumping this whole culture war thing altogether. Now, wouldn’t that be wonderful for both the Republican Party and evangelicals!?  What do you think? Are the culture wars over? (This may be a longer post for another day.)

McLaren on Politics/ The Religious Right 

I’m so glad that progressives like Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis were allowed to add their voice to the chapter on politics.

McLaren writes: 

“From a vantage point further in the future, I think that ah honest diagnosis will tell the truth about the pivotal role the Religious Right has played in these depressing statistics. In the aftermath of the Religious Right’s ascendancy, it is not an accident that ‘anti-homosexual’ is the number one perception of Christians in America these days, followed closely by ‘judgmental’ and ‘hypocritical’ and ‘insensitive.’ Young people today could, if we had taken a wise past for the last few decades, think ‘anti-poverty,’ or ‘pro-environment’ or ‘pro-fidelity’ or anti-violence’ when they hear ‘Christian’ or ‘evangelical.’ But because of the path influential people have taken over the last thrity years or so, what young people think of the Religious Right is what they think about evangelicals and even Christians in general.” (172)

That’s why some of us believe that leaders in the Religious Right have, in a classic case of gaining the world and losing the soul, successfully gained political clout but helped lose our next generation.”  (172)

McLaren can often be pretty critical. Do you think he is too harsh here? Do you blame the Religious Right for these negative perceptions among young people?

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