A recent report on NPR began by noting that the arguments of many “conservative Christians” are “being challenged by changing views in society.” I wondered: Is there someone alive who doesn’t know that already? The story went on to explain that some “evangelicals” are embracing liberal social views and some aren’t — an observation made at least a thousand times before, and one entirely dependent on the nebulous descriptor “evangelical.”
One line in the story, though, stood out. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, remarked to the reporter: “We are on the losing side of a massive change that’s not going to be reversed, in all likelihood, in our lifetimes.” In Mohler’s view, the report went on, “Christians must adapt to the changed cultural circumstances by finding a way ‘to live faithfully in a world in which we’re going to be a moral exception.’ ”
Hold on. A high-profile Southern Baptist just conceded that his side lost the culture war. If I had been the reporter, that would have been the story. Yes, Mohler is still enunciating traditionalist views on marriage and sexual morality, views that many on the other side find anachronistic and thus repugnant. But he’s openly conceding that the cultural changes he laments won’t be reversed by some fictional silent majority.
Nor is Mohler alone. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has frequently made the same sort of cheerful concession. After the Supreme Court’s decision last year guaranteeing the right of same-sex couples to marry, Moore warned his co-religionists not to panic. Christianity “doesn’t need ‘family values’ to flourish,” he wrote in The Post. “In fact, the church often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it.”
That’s not what Jerry Falwell or James Dobson would have said. Absent is any vow to return the nation to its Judeo-Christian heritage or to “take America back.”
Hardened secularists, I imagine, will see only a rhetorical pivot in these and similar statements from religious conservatives. Mohler and Moore may now claim to relish the virtues of pluralism (so their critics may reason), but their rhetoric merely repackages the Moral Majoritarianism of 30 years ago.
I don’t think so. Ideological lines in U.S. politics are shifting and blurring rapidly: The rise of Donald Trump, the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the resurgence of libertarianism prove at least that much. It’s reasonable to assume that religious conservatives, too, are rethinking their role in American society and politics.
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