Thirty-five years ago, I was one of a group of evangelicals who issued a call for the movement to become more involved in social action. The 1973 “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” pledged “to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and oppressed,” to “deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism,” and to “challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might—a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence.”
It concluded: “As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world. By this declaration, we endorse no political ideology or party, but call our nation’s leaders and people to that righteousness which exalts a nation.”
Ironically, the major evangelical social action since then has come from the Right. Galvanized by the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, the Right founded a succession of organizations, from Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority to Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. All were characterized by a priority emphasis on two issues—abortion and same-sex marriage—and by a close identification with the Republican Party.
As one result, the church has a serious image problem. A recent book, unChristian, by Barna pollster David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, reveals much about how Millennials, the emerging generation, view Christianity. An overwhelming majority see Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too political in the worst sense of the word. And that image is often particularly true of evangelicals.