Following Christ after culture wars.
By Russell D. Moore
As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I learned my place in American culture through rapture movies. These films—based on a pop-dispensationalist reading of prophecy—pictured a time when the church would be suddenly ripped from the earth, sailing through the air to be with the invisible (to the viewer) Jesus Christ. These films would always then picture the panic of those who were “left behind” and depict the societal chaos that would emerge once the “salt and light” of the culture had disappeared. We never considered that if such a rapture were to happen, American culture might be relieved to be rid of us.
Historian Rick Perlstein notes the “culture wars” that ignited in the 1960s and 1970s were really about dueling secular prophecy charts. “What one side saw as liberation, the other side saw as apocalypse,” and vice-versa, he writes. It’s hard to argue with his thesis. The scenes of LSD-intoxicated college students frolicking nude in the mud of the Woodstock Festival in New York would seem horrifying to the salt-of-the-earth folk in Middle America for whom “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” would seem like a threat. At the same time, Merle Haggard’s counter-revolutionary anthem would have the same effect, in reverse. The words, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” must seem like hell, if you’re in Woodstock.
From Majority to Minority
The problem with American Christianity is that we always assumed there were more of “us” than there were of “them.” And we were sometimes confused about who we meant when we said “us.”
The idea of the church as part of a “moral majority” was not started, or ended, by the political movement by that name. The idea was that most Americans shared common goals with Christianity, at least at the level of morality. This perception was helped along by the fact that it was, at least in some ways, true. Most Americans did identify with Christianity, and the goods of Christianity such as churchgoing and moral self-restraint were approved of by the culture as means toward molding good citizens, the kind who could withstand the ravages of the frontier or the challenges of global Communism. Mainstream American culture did aspire to at least the ideal of many of the things the Christian church talked about: healthy marriages, stable families, and strong communities bound together by prayer.