So, what is going to happen as the conservative Christians circle the wagons, establishing a purity cult of right belief? This persecution complex has played out before, over and over. It is in the bones of conservative Christianity. Randall Stephans:
The language of victimization convinced those who were fighting under the conservative banner that they were the true champions of liberty. Other causes paled by comparison. In 1960 Hargis mocked the “social crises” of racism and segregation. It was “one of the most artificial of all such crises, instigated by Communists within America to add racial hatred to class hatred, and thus betray America into communist hands through the betrayal of the American Negro.”** Several years later, as the black freedom struggle grew in strength and momentum, he would tell a reporter, “The persecuted minority in America is not the Negro, but the white folks of the South.”Sound familiar?
What about those bastions of right thought, the evangelical colleges? Richard Flory writes,
In reality, theology functions to set evangelicals apart from any sort of belief, ideology, cultural expression, political movement, etc., that doesn’t fit into the way that evangelical leaders and their constituents want the world to work.
Through their many rules and guidelines, evangelical schools embody the codification of all of the fundamental fears and desires of the evangelical world. Tracking schools’ responses to what they perceive as threats—not only to their evangelical beliefs, but to their understanding of what American culture should be—reveals the history of how evangelicals view themselves and American culture.He goes on to predict,
1) Evangelical schools will continue to find threats that provide a foil against which they can define themselves and their view of Christianity and America. ....
2) Owing to a shrinking pool of “true believers” who can support and attend these schools, many will go out of business over the next 20 years.
3) The reduced number of evangelical colleges and seminaries will retrench and become more aware of policing their cultural/theological boundaries, doubling down on their more restrictive impulses.
4) Because of a general lack of hospitality and care and concern for “the other”— whether theological, gender, class or ethnic—evangelicalism overall will become even more white, straight and politically and religiously reactionary…
5) …which will result, in turn, in even greater numbers of young people defecting from the religion they grew up in. Most will then claim no religious identity (even though they may still believe in God), while a few will move on to other Christian traditions, and fewer still will seek out other religious expressions.Rinse and repeat.
But is there another way? More tomorrow.