I.  Young Adult Attitudes Toward American Christianity

In the aftermath of the Religious Right’s ascendancy, it is not an accident that “antihomosexual” is the number one perception of Christians in America, followed closely by “judgmental” and “hypocritical” and “insensitive.”
Recently I wrote about how young adult “outsiders” – people not involved in churches – think of Christians in this country, based on research overseen by David Kinnaman and reported in his recent book.

[My posts: “They Will Know”, “World’s View”.   Kinnaman’s book is unChristian, based on an extensive research project by The Barna Group. It’s valuable but not pleasant reading.]

At the end of each of his main chapters Kinnaman includes comments from other Christian leaders. Here’s some of what Brian McLaren had to say (p 172). (Here are a few posts on this site that mention McLaren’s writing.)

II.  How We Got There – The Role of the Prophets of the Religious Right

From a vantage point further in the future, I think that an honest diagnosis will tell the truth about the pivotal role the Religious Right has played in these depressing statistics.

He’s referring to Kinnaman’s statistics – like the frequency with which American Christians are seen, especially by young adults, as “judgmental” and “hypocritical”.

In the aftermath of the Religious Right’s ascendancy, it is not an accident that “antihomosexual” is the number one perception of Christians in America, followed closely by “judgmental” and “hypocritical” and “insensitive.”

Yuk! What an unpleasant list.

But these are the characteristics deliberately cultivated by the leaders of the Religious Right; this is the character they wanted in American Christians. They put their vast wealth and power into the effort, and they succeeded at it. And now we are all paying the price.

III.  It Could Have Been So Much More Biblical, and Thus So Much More Holy and Beneficial

McLaren’s point is that it could have been very different if those national level prophets had loved and promoted a more Biblical agenda. It does matter what the prophets have been teaching.

Young people today could, if we had taken a wiser path for the last few decades, think “antipoverty” or “pro-environment” or “pro-fidelity” or “antiviolence” when they hear “Christian” or “evangelical.” But because of the path influential people have taken over the last thirty years or so, what young people think of the Religious Right is what they think about evangelicals and even Christians in general.

Funny. Many of us tend not to think of those things as “Christian” values. We have been well trained – no, not “well” trained, but effectively trained.

For McLaren has listed issues that are much more prominent in Scripture than the things the Religious Right’s prophets have been pushing. These are true Biblical values, while much that we’ve gotten from the RR is just a bunch of ordinary secular values nicely dressed up with church-talk.

Just imagine what good developments we could be seeing by now had they used that great power and wealth in support of more truly Biblical values – McLaren’s list and/or several others – among the Christians of this nation! Ah, what great blessings we have surely missed.

IV.  And Those Prophets Are Responsible

That’s why some of us believe that leaders in the Religious Right have, in a classic case of gaining the world and losing the soul, successfully gained political clout but helped lose our next generation.

That’s a very serious charge – “helped lose the next generation.” The “next generation,” wisely enough, is repelled by hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and blatant power-grabbing.

V.  A Warning from 500 Years Ago – St. John of the Cross

“Perhaps in their zeal these directors err with good will because they do not know any better. Nor for this reason, however, should they be excused for the counsels they give rashly.” -John of the Cross
I rediscovered this quote from St. John of the Cross the other day. He’s talking about those who provide spiritual leadership to others.

Perhaps in their zeal these directors err with good will because they do not know any better. Nor for this reason, however, should they be excused for the counsels they give rashly … and for rudely meddling in something they do not understand.

It is no light matter or fault to cause a person to lose inestimable good and sometimes to do him veritable harm …

Thus he who recklessly errs will not escape a punishment corresponding to the harm he caused, for he was obliged, as is everyone, to perform the duties of his office well and not be mistaken … when there is at stake almost an infinite gain in being right and almost an infinite loss in being wrong.

[quoted in The Fire Within: St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel – on Prayer, Thomas Dubay SM, Ignatius, 1989, p295]

It is indeed “almost an infinite loss.” These false prophets have used their great power and wealth to broadly damage Christian testimony and Christian practice in the most powerful nation on the planet. Who can even imagine how much good could have come to us and to the whole world had they chosen to use their exalted positions to lead and encourage us all into a more Biblical holiness.

We have missed “an almost infinite gain” because they chose to pursue something else, and “we” chose to support them in that.

VI.  So …

Let us recognize false Christian leadership for what it is.

And, as we move forward from this place, let us labor to choose much more wisely what we will love, and what we will promote to ourselves and to our fellow believers. And let us take care to hold our prophets to a much higher standards of Biblical morality, humility, and love.