10 Predictions for #PostEvangelical America...
I strongly believe that it will be difficult to quantify in the next few years the degree to which the divided though largely active support of Donald Trump's bid for the presidency among conservative Christians and Evangelicals will accelerate the post-Christian reality of the US. This includes the emergence and expansion of the "nones" and the "dones."
The unhealthy and unholy allegiance of conservative Christianity with conservative political parties and institutions has done great harm to the church and to our society. Whether we look to the emergence of this unholy alliance and its (not so subtle) racist overtones, or the ways in which this alliance has too often had negative affects on the poor and vulnerable.
DISCLAIMER: I of course recognize that this is by no means a fair portrait of many who still choose to identify as Conservative or Evangelical. While that may be the case, and a number of these people are my friends, I am suggesting that the people whom our culture identifies with this ideology and movement will experience the fallout that I am articulating in these predictions.
So here are my ten predictions about #PostEvangelical America and the state of Conservative Christianity (and the Church more generally) moving forward after this presidential election...
The loss of political power by domination or alienation will hasten the speed with which the United States becomes a post-Christian culture.
There are plenty of voices that are clearly reminding us that this is true. Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America is certainly one of the most talked-about articulations of this reality. But this can also be seen in the ways in which the demographics of conservative/evangelical communities are rapidly. The divisiveness (even within traditional stalwarts of theological conservativism) that has been on display will only accelerate this already inevitable trend.
Those who find themselves no longer able to align themselves with the angrier, more exclusive version of Evangelicalism will shift quickly.
The last decade has shown unprecedented decline in denominational loyalty, particularly among younger people. The ethical and political orientations, particularly of millenials, will not insulate congregations and traditions from this impending ideological exodus.
The recovery of postures of generosity and diversity will continue to become less and less viable. Evangelicals will devour their own.
This can be seen in the ways that evangelicals have dealt with the candidacy of Donald Trump or more culturally-oriented events like the recent comments of Jen Hatmaker about same-sex marriage and the attenuating categorical black-listing fallout. With no space for diversity or generosity towards difference the only remaining postures are rabid defense and destruction of the Other.
People (particularly Millenials) of faith (the #PostEvangelical kind) will either find or create new Christian communities together, or leave Christian community entirely.
This is seen most clearly in the emergence and rapid expansion of the "Dones." But research has consistently shown that while faith is important to millenials, it is the church that is struggling to find its place in their lives. It seems to me that we can expect both of these trends to accelerate moving forward.
This means that the (long-term) future of the church in the US will be much more communal, less institutional, and more progressive.
This shift will occur for a number of reasons: (1) Millenials (now the largest generation on the planet) have a general suspicion of institutions, including religious ones. (2) Millenials crave (and seek to cultivate) real, meaningful community. (3) Our society is becoming more progressive, and (4) This is the general trajectory of theological reflection towards greater diversity, inclusion, and concern for questions and systems of justice in light of oppression and injustice (e.g., Liberation Theology, Postcolonial Theology, Queer Theology, etc.).
Churches who remain in the Evangelical camp will feel forced to double down on theological positions with vigor (or venom) to stem their own decline.
While this is not true across the board (there are some notable exceptions in sometimes surprising places), it seems to me that this is inevitable. With the shrinking demographics of conservative Christianity (particularly the fundamentalist and evangelical varieties, which are not always distinguishable), one of the primary mechanisms of institutional perpetuation is to begin to assume an isolationist position that focuses on the maintenance of current adherents and their families. This has been an important pattern for sometime, and will only accelerate as we move further into the post-Christian culture.
This doubling-down will result in their eventual demise (even if they continue to exist), because they are losing their children (and have been for some time).
This trend has been measured for some time now, and shows no signs of slowing down. But it is also demonstrated in the ways in which those (particularly millenials) within evangelicalism are embracing more progressive positions despite their ecclesial settings.
For the church as a liberating, inclusive community of people from all walks of life, this imposed exile will be a generative reality.
While in the short-term this kind of expulsion/exclusion will be painful, it is my contention that those who leave and/or are pushed out will find that the new spaciousness provided by their new ecclesial location will be freeing and beautiful. This is already the kind of world that millenials are actively working towards, and if they can do so within Christian communities, it seems likely to me that they will do just that.
The Christianity that will remain in the next generation (though smaller) will be more generous, more active in its pursuits of justice, and more inclusive.
This can be seen even within the evangelical tradition itself, though I think that this kind of posture will find more momentum and energy in traditions outside of conservative/evangelical faith going forward.
The reality and the accelerated emergence of the #PostEvangelical world in the US is actually Good News for the church and for the world.
My experience has been that the church of the future will be radically different, but that it will be better for having lost its place of (economic and political) power and privilege. It will be liberated to be itself, a liberating, revolutionary force of love, that embodies mercy, justice, and inclusion in a world that so desperately needs it.