Did the Religious Right Go Wrong?

It's a gloomy day for evangelicalism. Many evangelicals see the election of Bill Clinton as a crushing defeat for Christian social values. Our attempts to bring Christian values to bear in the political arena seem to have backfired. Our hopes for changing the moral values of our culture are withering. We thought the problem was the politicians: We thought the American people shared our values. But the Baby Boomer generation has come of age, and they're voting the 60s social agenda: whatever feels good and do your own thing. The underlying attitudes are reflected in a Gallup poll showing that over two-thirds of Americans reject moral absolutes: They believe right and wrong vary from situation to situation. Only one third believe the Bible is the Word of God. There's no doubt we have become a post-Christian culture. Why has the evangelical message fallen on deaf ears? Why haven't we changed more minds? Looking back over the past decade, I think we can see several reasons. One is that many Christians became politicized. Instead of acting as the church, we often acted as just another political lobby. Instead of playing the role of the prophet, we took on the part of a special interest group. Instead of appealing to Scripture, we promoted generic "traditional values." Our message received another blow from the well-publicized fall of several prominent leaders. All it takes is a single televangelist to be corrupted and we're all painted with the same brush. The image of evangelicalism has been badly tarnished. But the most important reason we've failed to influence our society is our casual view of the church. The church is the one institution God has ordained to proclaim His truth. The one institution He has called to be light in a dark world. The one institution He has supernaturally empowered to be His witness. As theologian Richard John Neuhaus writes, "There is no Christianity apart from the historical community that bears its truth." Today we have learned the painful lesson that it isn't wise to put our hope in politics or in charismatic leaders. As sociologist Max Weber once said, charisma doesn't last, institutions do. And there's only one institution God promises will last to eternity—His church. Society is becoming increasingly hostile to Christian values, and the only place where Christians can be trained and equipped for the battle is the church. When the shells start lobbing about our heads, remember that the only bunker in the battle guaranteed by the commander-in-chief Himself is the church. We have Jesus' promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. So even though we have suffered a political loss, we should not give up hope. We should not wring our hands and retreat from the public square. Instead, we ought to recommit ourselves to a profound biblical truth: that the power to change culture can only come from the Christian community—from a living and active church. Cultural battles aren't won by changing generals at the ballot box. They are won when individual believers faithfully live out God's truth, day in and day out. The church is on the front lines. Over the next five days, join me as I explore what the Bible teaches about the church.


Chuck Colson


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