News of white evangelicals retreating from political engagement, or shifting to a Democrat-friendly agenda, gets the attention of establishment news outlets. For example, writing for The Atlantic, Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama administration and for his 2012 campaign, claims that the partisan evangelical political battle waged in the past few decades has soured people against the faith and moved them into religious non-affiliation. As a consequence, younger evangelicals are disentangling from politics and accentuating the positive, “their corrective response to the more strident, oppositional faith of the previous generation.”
But this does injustice to both the past and the present.
Articles about young evangelicals abandoning their parents’ moral and political convictions are often as much an attempt to influence as report. For example, the new generation is more conservative on abortion than its older counterparts. A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute survey of college-age Millennials found that “nearly 9-in-10 (88%) white evangelical Protestant Millennials … believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.” Ten years of overwhelming gay soft sell has turned poll numbers in the direction of acceptance. Nonetheless, that same study found that only “27% of white evangelical Protestant Millennials favor same-sex marriage,” compared to 59 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds.
And what about that “previous generation?” Evangelical political activism from the Reagan era through George W. Bush produced little by way of results. Cal Thomas noted in Blinded by Might that evangelicals lost on every cultural battlefront. In the process, it is plausible that many non-believers and nominal Christians soured toward the gospel on account of that intense political involvement.
But this “oppositional faith” was faith taking a stand in opposition to a broad push from the secular left to advance a morally destructive and spiritually appalling agenda on an unsuspecting, largely Christian populace—from gay lib to gay marriage and from abortion to infanticide. God’s people have always spoken prophetically against injustice and abominations for which the Lord holds nations accountable. Neither Jeremiah nor John the Baptizer was concerned about offending neighbors who were leading Israel into corruption.
God told the Israelites in their Babylonian exile to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Strong families and a culture of life are fundamental to America’s welfare. Augustine said that citizens of the City of God share a community with the City of Man. Though the two cities have different loves and different ends, we can share a civic life because we seek common goods: clean water, safe streets, liberty, decency. So Christians can be active citizens alongside their pagan neighbors.
Until Christ’s return, Christian citizens in a free republic have an obligation to address their neighbors and the seats of power over national sins and the pollution of our moral environment. Love for God and neighbor require nothing less.