Monday, May 21, 2007

The Changing shape of the Bending Bible

Christianity in the U.S. is evolving.

An early start to the 2008 presidential election and the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell last week brings this evolution into new focus. What does it mean that the leading GOP presidential candidate, Rudy Guiliani, is pro-choice? What does it mean if a large number of Christians are beginning to support a liberal Christian Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama? Will Christianity play a similar role in redefining the Republican platform as Falwell's Moral Majority did in the 80's?

An article today in the New York Times suggests that the baby boomer generation is seizing this moment of transition in the U.S. to shift the Christian focus away from issues such as abortion and same-sex marriages to issues such as global warming and the AIDS epidemic. It is the laid-back style of Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Bill Hybels rather than Pat Robertson and James Dobson who are rousing the social and political energy of Christians.

Young Christian activist such as Gabe Lyons, are not as interested in influencing politics. "I believe politics just isn’t as important to younger evangelicals as it has been for the older generations because we recognize from experience that politics does not shape the morality of a culture,” Lyons told the NYT. “It simply reflects what the larger culture wants.”

With that view in mind, Lyons has founded the Fermi Project, a "broad collective" of Christians collaborating to incrementally shift "the conscious of the culture over time." Fermi's projects include Rwanda Clean Water and Advent Conspiracy, which hopes to alter the way Christmas is celebrated by "resisting the empire when they tell us to buy more and more for ourselves [and] re-distributing our wealth so others can see the greatness of God's gift Giving ourselves relationally just as he gave himself."

In a short essay entitled Influencing Culture: An Opportunity for the Church (PDF), Lyons lays out the "cultural mandate" that Christians have to "restore God's creation." He argues that because the Seven Channels of Cultural Influence (business, government, media, church, arts & entertainment, education and the social sector) produce the ideas that shape the moral fiber of a nation, Christians should claim a stake in every avenue of cultural influence. Just like the "Homosexual Movement" tapped into all channels of cultural influence to shift the cultural perception of homosexuality as "abnormal and abhorrent in society, to being an acceptable and normal alternative life-style" so should Christians utilize all cultural means available.

Lyons' insight are hardly innovative and certainly not new (as a cursory glimpse at the history of Western civilization would quickly prove) but, as the NYT article highlights today, at this moment in U.S. history they feel new.

Unfortunately, Lyons' essay is vague on the details of the cultural shifts he has in mind as though Christians speak with one mind when converting the Bible into an idealistic social model. Any reader of Bible Bending would know that that is hardly the case. Still, the enthusiasm for innovation seems genuine. I for one look forward to watching this evolution. As Matt Drudge would say: Developing...

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