The conservative reaction to progressive life and politics has not yet reached its zenith.
In multiple places around the world and in the United States, conservative pushback is still gaining steam. It will be this way for years to come, perhaps decades.
It began in the 1960s when (in our country) Civil Rights, Vietnam, Rock and Roll, and the Pill set in motion dramatic changes in American culture. A second wave of transformation came a generation later when the Internet, iPhones, the World Wide Web, and Social Media took over the world.
All of this disrupted the ideal we still attached to the 1950s: the nuclear family with a long-running marriage and 2-3 children; the dominate pattern best described by the nursey rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Betty with a baby carriage;” and Sunday School, Little League, and the PTA as constituent elements of the American Dream, along with the three (and only three) television networks.
My, how things have changed!
The feds stepped in and told white people they had to go to school with black people; then their judges told whites and blacks they could marry. These were revolutionary enough, but when they said school officials could not force students to listen to Bible readings and prayers, the whole world caved in. Or so we have been told.
The pushback began with the airwaves. Preachers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Joyce Meyer launched entire networks of religious rhetoric, denouncing everything and calling for Americans to go “Back to the Bible.”
Then they took over denominations, like the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention. Assemblies of God and their multiple Pentecostal kin reproduced like rabbits.
The next front in the Culture War was politics. These Bible-thumping, flag-waving crusades promptly took over the Republican Party. Which they then used to effect wave upon wave of campaign victories: Contract with America in the 1990s and Tea Party fifteen years later.
Finally, Donald Trump, Make America Great Again, and the Supreme Court. The Presidency did not last long, but the Court is here for a generation, using their considerable power to push back against the modern world.
Yes, Trump lost his re-election bid, but his people (and many more) have taken their conservative, push-back case to libraries, school boards, and state legislatures in the American South and Midwest.
What is it that they want?
They are campaigning against two things that emerged sixty years ago, things that sparked the Big Bang of cultural conflict: (1) a powerful federal government with its extensive network of agencies and institutions, and (2) a sexual freedom that has popularized contraception, interracial marriage, abortion, gay rights, and drag queens.
These five sex-oriented issues (plus trafficking) constitute the index of moral outrage in this conservative universe. The rest of us, by contrast, are more likely to name climate danger, war and peace, racism, poverty, migration, and authoritarian regimes as the top ethical issues of our day.
Regardless, it is necessary to place this American movement in the context of world affairs. Not only here, but on all continents, conservative pushback against modern forms and freedoms is apparent. There are Christian versions of this resolve as well as Muslim and Jewish. The religion-inspired nationalism in Israel commands front page coverage now, but there are examples in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Here is America, we are a long way from the crest of this wave. Yes, they have defeats now and again, but the trajectory is unmistakable … and frightening. Some observers have warned about the threats to our democracy, and we should pay attention. Others are writing about the distortions of our religion.
Which raises this issue: is there a version of (Protestant) Christianity that is strong enough, organized enough, and fearless enough to offer a viable alternative to the Conservative/Evangelical/Pentecostal expression of Christian Nationalism that has been expanding for sixty years?
Will there be a Christianity true enough to Jesus and kind enough to the world to make it a place where you and I can call home?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but it may be the most important issue facing the global Christian community, with more lasting impact than anything related to doctrine, ethics, liturgy, or tradition.
Follow me, Jesus said, and two millennia later, we are still trying, muttering to ourselves some version of the words of those first disciples, “We do not know where Jesus is going. How can we know the way?”
Dwight A. Moody