I have seen a lot on social media about how 2020 is the year that changed everything. And there’s some truth to that assertion. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic upended everyday life in a way no felt since World War II. The #BlackLivesMatter movement moved into the mainstream and now commands the support of major sports franchises, global corporations, and cultural elites.
A lot has changed, but 2020 is only the end of the beginning.
In his essay “The Lost World of American Evangelicalism” Aaron Renn makes the case that we entered a new cultural moment at or around 2014.
According to Renn, in 2014 we moved from a cultural neutrality toward traditional Christianity to antipathy.
Here’s how he sketches the cultural development from 1994 to the present:
Positive World (Pre-1994) – To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms is a social positive. Christianity is a status enhancer. In some cases failure to embrace those norms hurt you.
Neutral World (1994-2014) – Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person is not a knock either. It’s more like a personal affectation or hobby. Traditional norms of behavior retain residual force.
Negative World (2014-) – In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways as seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.
He continues by offering some concrete examples:
Positive World – In 1987 the Miami Herald reported that Sen. Gary Hart had been having an affair, and cavorting with the woman in question on his yacht. He was forced to drop out of the presidential race as a result.
Neutral World – In 1998 the Drudge Report broke the story that Bill Clinton had been having an affair with intern Monica Lewinksy, including sex acts in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was badly damaged by the scandal but
survived it as the Democratic Party rallied around him and the public decided his private behavior was not relevant to the job.
Negative World: In 2016 Donald Trump, a many whose entire persona (sexual antics, excess consumption, boastfulness, etc.) is antithetical to traditional Christianity, is elected president. The Access Hollywood tape, for
example, had no effect on voter decisions about him.
Renn’s analysis makes sense to me, but the point of this post isn’t to defend it or critique it. Regardless of the details, we’re in a remarkably different place culturally in 2020 than we were in 1987.
Most of us can agree on that. In light of that, how can the church respond?
If being a traditional Christian is seen as a social negative, the way that we live out our faith will need to adapt. After all, it’s been a long time since the last time Christianity was thought of as a strange and dangerous culture.