Look Back in Anger: The 1960s and Evangelical Conservatives

Paul Harvey

I meant earlier (but neglected to) call your attention to this piece by my fellow blogmeister Randall Stephens: "Look Back in Anger: The 1960s and Evangelical Conservatives," posted over at the blog of the Historical Society. Head over and check it out; here's a short bit:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christianity Today, the chief magazine of American evangelicalism, published article after article on the terrors of the Left and the end of Christian civilization. Their world, so it seemed, was crumbling around them. (See Darren Dochuk's From Bible Belt to Sunbelt and Dan Williams recent God's Own Party for excellent insight into these and earlier developments.) The 1970s bestselling work of nonfiction, Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth, wove an evangelical end-times drama out of the explosive issues of the age. (Though Jesus People wore beads and Roman sandals and grew their hair "all long and shaggy," as Merle Haggard put it. . . ).

Continue reading here.


Tom Van Dyke said…
Acid, amnesty and abortion, as they put it back then.

Until then, the Christian cognoscenti took care of politics for the family---the academic, the erudite, the articulate. The evangelical, "enthusiastic" types were happily disengaged from this world, their eyes focused on the next.

Someday, instead of studying the Religious Right like bugs in a bottle, someone will write about the other half of the continuum, the Christian cognoscenti who folded before [or into] the counterculture and left the traditional Christian "worldview" without a coherent voice in the polity.

Yes, there were good reasons to not offend their political allies of the left, Great Society "social justice" and of course Vietnam. Still, the end result has been that there's not an ounce of daylight between the Christian and secular cognoscenti.

This left the job of articulating the Christian "worldview" to the previously politically apathetic evangelicals. Politics is one thing, but the cultural assault on society via politics was something else entirely.

As Peter Wehner points out, unfortunately, they used their evangelical language, which sounded harsh, judgmental and even apocalyptic [Hal Lindsey!] to mainstream ears.

As a result, the Christian cognoscenti were appalled and embarrassed to be associated with their more "enthusiastic" Christian brethren, so much so that signalling agreement with them on sexuality, dope, the family, or even anti-communism was not something they, to borrow Chesterton, would be specially anxious to touch with a barge-pole.

And so, here we are. I wasn't initially particularly taken with Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner's thesis, but in the context of this good blog and others like it, it makes better sense to me now.

Where the Religious Left [and they didn't call it that; there was no Religious Right] once was the public voice for Christianity in the polity, today there is little that is distinct from mere humanism---except what's directed unappreciatively at the Religious Right, it seems to me. And the formerly silent evangelical wing is now the loudest, for ill or good. [Ill and good, by my reckoning.]

Gerson and Wehner suggest that a gentler, more "Christian" tone is necessary, and is indeed in process, as the old lions of the Religious Right like D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell die, or like Robertson and Dobson, head out to pasture. Further talk of America being punished by hurricanes for its wickedness is not on the menu.

It's the relevance of the Christian cognoscenti I wonder about. The academics will continue to speak to each other and write for each other and hold conferences with each other, but the world---and the Christian world---continues to spin 'round more without them than around them.

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