A fascinating article (free sub. req.) in the New York Times today about young evangelicals. The thrust is that the under-35 crowd in evangelicalism (at least those among the young urban professional class) remains fairly conservative socioculturally and politically but is nevertheless consciously separating itself from what one source in the article called the “suit and tie power brokers of the evangelical right.” The article is worth the time on its own terms, but it occurred to me while reading it that the backlash against the Falwell-Robertson-Dobson approach to politicized Christianism, as it’s been called, may well be part of what’s contributing to the decline of Christian retail and other aspects of religious culture that rely, as I was trying to say in an earlier post, on Christians’ wanting to separate themselves from the wider world.
The older generation, the congregants said, had drifted away from Jesus’s example.
“What the church has done wrong is that it has created these ‘holy huddles’ of Christian magazines, music and schools that have set them apart from the world because the world is bad,” said Mr. Beckemeier, who grew up in an evangelical family. “Instead of doing what Christ did, and bring light to the world, they retreat from it.”
This is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I wrote the other day about the ethos of contemporary evangelicalism having gone from “be like us,” to “we’re like you.”
Beckmemeier is a 30-year-old member of a stealth Baptist church called the Journey in St. Louis. I say stealth because in a lot of ways I got the impression reading the article that the church and its members really can’t do enough to distance themselves optically from the Southern Baptist brand, starting with the church’s name.
For instance, Beckemeier’s comment came from a weekly discussion group for other young church members that meets in the back of a local brew pub and restaurant (Schlafly Bottleworks, which is a great place … a lot of local graduate students hung out there when I was in graduate school, and it’s exactly the kind of just-hip-enough-but-not-too-much local place one might go if one were a young Christian trying to shed the image of the conventional Baptist but without crossing over to the dark side of a full-blown cocktail lounge). That has prompted the Missouri Baptist Convention to … wait for it … cut off funding for new churches like the Journey because gatherings of Baptists at a restaurant where alcohol is served start people down the path to sin.
I don’t know about that. But I do seem to recall Missouri Baptists like a lot of other SBC types back in the 80s claiming that anyone who shopped where newly legalized lottery tickets were sold was headed down the path to sin, until lottery tickets became so ubiquitous that a path-to-sin boycott would mean no groceries or gas. So we stopped hearing a lot about that. Next it was buying groceries at stores where beer was sold. Path to sin! That is, until Wal-Mart added full beer selections to their grocery stores. So we stopped hearing a lot about that, too. This kind of selective, and somewhat self-serving, sanctimony has been the norm from the holy-huddler leadership of mainstream evangelicalism as long as we 30-somethings can remember, whether we lived it from the inside or watched it from the outside. And now these Journey folks are on the receiving end of holy huddleism.
So we shouldn’t be terribly surprised if no one from this 2,000-member church bothers to shop at the local Lifeway store any time soon. And even if they did, I wouldn’t expect many of these young people to pick up any southern gospel. It’s not because they might not like it (I’m sure some would) but because no matter how many sg groups update their wardrobe to bidness-casual, the sg brand is still deeply aligned with the suit-and-tie evangelical establishment (Charles Stanley, John Hagee, TBN, Rod Parsley etc). In cultivating explicit relationships with these rearguard figures and institutions, much of the industry continues to act like the future of the music is in making gospel the soundtrack for the kind of “holy huddle” evangelicalism that can’t countenance a group of church friends socializing in the back of a restaurant that sells beer.Email this Post