The phrase “post-Christian” implies that there was an earlier era when this country was Christian. It is one thing to acknowledge that Western political theory and jurisprudence are heavily informed by Christian thought, or that many of America’s founders were themselves Christians. But those are far different claims than suggesting that the United States was ever a “Christian nation.”
The land of the free obliterated Native Americans, enslaved African Americans, and imprisoned Japanese Americans. The home of the brave bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and waterboarded its captives. There is much to commend about this country, but there is also much to lament. Too many popular evangelical narratives omit indispensable parts of our story. And the stories we tell about our history shape how we see ourselves and how we engage with the world around us.
Consider the belief that Christians are the “new minority.” This claim only works by ignoring much smaller minority demographics. Recent polls suggest that white evangelicals comprise roughly a quarter of the population. By comparison, 2 percent of the country is Jewish, and 1 percent is Muslim. Second, even if white evangelicals continue to decrease in number, this does not make them minorities in the same way as historically disadvantaged groups. Generations of systemic advantages in housing, education, and employment mean that it will be a long time before a minority of white evangelicals—or white Americans more generally—confronts challenges similar to those faced by racial minorities, sexual minorities, and other maligned groups.
The insular language of white evangelicals is exacerbated by a heightened aversion to terms that almost everyone else in the country does recognize and understand. The term “sexual minorities” in the last paragraph is one of them. Other examples include “social justice” and “structural racism.”
White evangelicals who embrace labels like “post-Christian” and the “new minority” while being suspicious of terms like “social justice” and “structural racism” will continue to alienate themselves from much of the rest of society—including fellow conservative believers, like black Christians, Catholics (especially nonwhite Catholics), Mormons, conservative Muslims, and Orthodox Jews. Ideas like “social justice” may sound off-putting as sound bites on Fox News, but they flow out of important and careful arguments like those found in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, and Tim Keller’s Generous Justice.
The white evangelical echo chamber is further hardened by conservative media. Too often, stories in evangelical circles suffer from the same kinds of caricatures, fearmongering, and lack of charity that Christians are quick to call out in the “liberal media.” At their worst, these stories perpetuate harmful distortions about Muslims, immigrants, and others. And the same algorithms and clickbait driving partisanship outside of the church are shaping hearts and minds inside of its walls with every retweet, Instagram like, and Facebook share.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I have spent the past few years speaking across the country to groups of people of all faiths and no faith. And I have encountered kind and hopeful people in all of these places. Some of these hopeful people are Christians, especially younger Christians. But too often, the white evangelical narrative I encounter is driven more by fear and anxiety than by the hope and confidence of the gospel. And the world is watching. What can you do if you find yourself surrounded more by anxiety than hope? Let me offer three suggestions.
First, pay more attention to your words. Stop saying you’re living in a “post-Christian” country or that you are the “new minority.” These assertions generate antagonism rather than empathy. Similarly, take care in how you describe others. Invoking tropes like “social justice warriors” or “the gay agenda” assumes the same kinds of stereotypes that you don’t want people using against you. And invoking these tropes ignores the commandment to love others and treat them as individual image-bearers. By all means, speak truth and critique bad arguments and unjust policies. But don’t settle for lazy generalities and ad hominem attacks.
Second, diversify your personal networks. This won’t always be easy or obvious everywhere, but if you look closely, you’ll find people who, at the very least, think differently than you do. Some of you will need to risk finding your first cross-racial friendship. That might mean going to nonwhite spaces and institutions to learn and to experience the discomfort of a cultural baseline that is not your own. You should also diversify the leadership of your institutions. Who is in the room determines which questions get asked, and white evangelical institutions will not escape their insularity without greater racial diversity in circles of power.
Third, show up and take risks. If you want to be known as a pro-life people, advocate for all stages of life. Speak out about dehumanizing and family-separating policies like immigration detention centers and mass incarceration with the same fervor you have for religious freedom and opposition to abortion. Risk uncertain and messy relationships with your neighbors to help repair the social fabric. Step outside of your comfort zones and partner in common-ground causes with progressive and mainline Christians, with people of other faiths, and with nonbelievers.
Defend the rights of Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and Americans of no faith. Stand up against bullying of LGBT people. Look for opportunities to seek counsel from and promote women rather than avoiding them because of the Billy Graham Rule or the Mike Pence Rule. None of these opportunities threatens your faith. But they all require rethinking the assumptions that come from cultural, racial, and relational insularity.
Will these suggestions win you political favor? Maybe not. But, frankly, political expediency matters far less than the faithful witness of the church. And these suggestions will help you toward a more faithful witness by lessening your insularity. They will lead to less fear and more hope. ｗAnd that seems worth doing regardless of what is to come in this world—because it is what the gospel asks of those whose citizenship lies in heaven and who believe that he who conquered death will prevail over all other earthly challenges as well.