Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fault Line: More of a Generational Shift than a Culture War

I don't usually write about politics and religion on the internet.


Because the intersection of the two topics is a quagmire section of the information superhighway frequented by those who want to shout their opinions and those who want to read their own opinions written by other people. It's most frustrating because authors continually posit themselves as experts in fields in which they have no formal training. I am all for voicing one's opinion, especially if that is a deeply-held conviction or moral. But what we're often shown are ill-constructed, poorly-written articles disguised with political jargon, semi-academic wording, or religious underpinnings ripped from their contexts.

Finding articles that espouse a well-thought-out, researched, and logical argument regarding the cross-roads of politics and religion is... well... difficult. However, when Rachel Held Evans' How to win a Culture War and Lose a Generation was pointed out to me, I had to take note.

Apparently, I wasn't alone.

Evans' article has caused all sort of backlash. From scathing criticism, to not-so-scathing criticism, to criticism veiled as rising above itself. To be frank, these articles all miss the point.

Andrew Haines' "Integral Ethics: Why 'Social Issues' are the Only Sort that Matter" is a case study in problematic internet expertise (despite the fact that he's getting said formal training). While Haines tries to  hide behind his verbosity, his inability to see how contradictory his statements are (see: cognitive dissonance) isn't lost on John "Fitz" Fitzgerald, who rightly calls Haines on the carpet.

The problem that all three response articles suffer from is that they all speak as though they represent the entirety of Christianity. They pretend that there is one voice on the issue of LGBT rights with which every sect of Christianity agrees. I know quite a few Episcopalians and Anglicans who would take issue with this idea. Which leaves Haines et al with the uneasy prospect of declaring other Christians to be not just wrongly convinced on an issue, but unChristian altogether. Fitzgerald sees this, and his closing paragraphs nail it.

The flip-side of this problem is what Evans gets right. She doesn't once state that she's speaking on behalf of one denominational sect of Christianity, let alone the whole of the Christian world. Evans is voicing what her (and my) generation are saying. The evangelical youth are surprisingly vocal about LGBT issues - and they're speaking out in contrast to what they're parents' generation is saying.

Haines snidely asks:
"As an aside: where on earth is Evans meeting young Christians that 'all' of them say these sorts of things?"
While every single one might not be saying this, I know exactly where Evans is meeting these young Christians. She's meeting them on the campuses of the top Christian colleges across America.

She's meeting them here, and here, and here, and here. And those are just four examples of a growing list of LGBT organizations at Christian colleges, which are gaining courage to speak, and momentum with their peers.

Even if we take David Sessions' smart advice to question the idea of "Culture Wars", and eliminate the idea of this being a culture war from our thinking, we are left with something monumental. We are left with a striking generational shift. We are left with, as Evans puts it "Christians over 40...celebrating. Christians under 40...mourning" when political happenings such as Amendment One occur. This generational shift has immense potential.

Potential to either reform Evangelical Protestant America, or potential to rip the American church in two - cleft right down the generational tectonic fault line.

Sessions is right - Christians should ditch the culture war paradigm. But before Christians begin to talk about some sort of "united stance" on LGBT issues, Generations V and W should figure out how they are going to deal with Generations X and Y. Because pretending like there is one solid and universal Christian view on this topic is farcical.

It is no longer acceptable - in fact, it's no longer the norm - for Christian communities to suggest that Christians feel one way about LGBT rights. It should never have been acceptable for Christianity to become equated with "anti-homosexuality" to the vast majority of American youth (as quoted by Evans). This stereotype, and the reality it is based in, need to change.

It's shaping up to look like young Christians want to change this stereotype. The question now is whether this generational shift will become accepted and embraced by "Christians over 40", or whether that generational fault line will start cracking.

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