In the past, I have taken issue with the conventional wisdom that there is some sort of “new breed” of evangelicals emerging on the political scene led by figures such as Mike Huckabee or Rick Warren. As we’ve tried to point out repeatedly, just because there might be a new batch of conservative religious leaders on the scene who talk about issues like poverty or human rights, that doesn’t mean that they are any less opposed to equality or reproductive rights.
As such, I have tended to dismiss such stories and will continue to do so until there emerges a bona fide movement or organization that can demonstrate an ability to get a significant number of traditionally conservative sectors of the electorate to start embracing more moderate positions on contentious political issues.
I don’t have much faith that this is anything we are going to be seeing any time soon … but then again, I don’t work with traditionally conservative students on a daily basis, whereas Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary most certainly does. And in this discussion with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Mohler seems downright scared that the Religious Right is on the verge of losing the next generation of evangelicals and, along with it, the culture war:
AM: I’ll tell you, the older Evangelical leadership is in danger right now of looking really old, and old not just in chronological terms, but more or less, kind of acting as if the game hasn’t changed, as if we’re not looking at a brand new cultural challenge, and a new political reality. And so I would say that the younger Evangelicals that I look at every single day, and they are so deeply committed, so convictional, they’re basically wondering if a lot of the older Evangelical leaders are really looking to the future, or are really just kind of living in the 80s while the 80s are long gone. So I think there’s a crucial credibility issue there.
HH: Okay, now having…I want to skip back again, focusing on this younger generation of Evangelical leaders. Do they esteem the old leadership, and by esteem, I don’t mean merely honor, but listen to them? And in this regard, well, there are usual suspects. I’m not going to run down them, we all know who they are. Do they still listen?
AM: You know, I think the honest answer to that is they listen occasionally. And you know, when you look at some of the older names, it’s just amazing what kind of generational transition we’re looking at now. Jerry Falwell has now been dead for as long as some of these people have been adults. It happens so quickly. And then you start looking at some of the other big names, they love so many of the big names. They love John McArthur and John Piper and so many others. But when it comes to many of the people who have been deeply involved in the issues that you and I are talking about, the reality is that they are not listening to them in the same way.
HH: Do they care about them? Do they care about abortion?
AM: They care deeply about abortion. And looking at the students on my campus, they are passionately concerned about abortion. They’re not just concerned about not having abortions, they’re concerned about having babies. This is a generation ready to have a much larger family than the average Evangelical family of the last twenty or thirty years. They’re pretty comprehensively pro-life. They’re afraid, however, that just being anti-abortion sends a signal that’s just not enough. And so I’m glad to say that they’re very, very pro-life, and I must give a word of warning, that among some younger Evangelicals, that’s just not true. So the ones who come here, they know where we stand on these issues. But the reality is that especially on the issue of homosexuality, even more than the issue of abortion, this is a generation that is thinking in different terms. Not necessarily about the theological or Biblical status of homosexuality, but about how we should respond to it in the culture.
HH: Well, I’ve had that said to me many, many times at the Prop 8 referendum in California, may have been the last victory for a pro-marriage agenda, because the rising age cohort just doesn’t care. Are you confirming that, Albert Mohler?
AM: I’m definitely confirming that, but not…I wouldn’t put it in the fact they don’t care. I wouldn’t say that. I would say that what you have is a group of younger Evangelicals, and I disagree with them on this, Hugh, and they know it, a group of younger Evangelicals, many of whom simply don’t think that’s the right fight to fight.
I don’t know how much of this is real and how much is just your typical right-wing “the sky is falling” rhetoric, but I am inclined to believe Mohler when he says they are losing many of these battles, especially as it pertains to homosexuality.
Granted, there could be a myriad of explanations, caveats, and rebuttals to Mohler’s assessment of what sort of transformation is taking place, if any at all. But Hewitt and Mohler don’t seem to have any idea why this is happening, as evidenced by the fact that “they kids today are expecting the End Times and so they don’t care” is the best explanation they could come up with:
HH: Let me ask you about a pretty controversial proposition. I’m not sure if I believe it or not. Dispensationalism, in other words, End Times theory, for those who are not in this world. Do you think that’s sapped some of the energy and purposefulness out of the commitment of Christians to politics in the here and now?
AM: Well, I think it’s part of it. I don’t think that’s a ridiculous argument at all. I think if you are focuses on the fact that you are absolutely certain that the Lord’s going to be coming imminently, very soon, and that this age is going to come to a conclusion very soon, then you’re not going to give much to investment in building a culture for the future. And I really think that is a matter of Evangelical concern.
Actually, I suspect that it is exactly that sort of answer that is leading the current generation to ignore the “old leadership.”