Saturday, December 23, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Ross Douthat (1st of 3 about Christian evangelical tribalism)

“The question is whether this resilience will survive the age of Trump. Some evangelical voices think not: Whether the subject is the debauched pagan in the White House, the mall-haunted candidacy of Roy Moore or the larger question of how to engage with secular culture, there is talk of an intergenerational crisis within evangelical churches, a widening disillusionment with a Trump-endorsing old guard, a feeling that a crackup must loom ahead. …

“If this is right, then the alienation of younger evangelical writers from Trumpism’s court pastors could indeed be a signifier of a coming evangelical crackup. In this scenario the label itself would become contested, with the kind of winsome and multiethnic evangelicalism envisioned by the anti-Trump Southern Baptist Russell Moore pitted against the nationalist evangelicalism of a Jerry Falwell Jr. or Robert Jeffress, and churches along the fault line internally embattled and dividing.

“But it’s also possible that evangelical intellectuals and writers, and their friends in other Christian traditions, have overestimated how much a serious theology has ever mattered to evangelicalism’s sociological success. It could be that the Trump-era crisis of the evangelical mind is a parochial phenomenon, confined to theologians and academics and pundits and a few outlier congregations — and that it is this group, not the cultural Christians who voted enthusiastically for Trump, who represent the real evangelical penumbra, which could float away and leave evangelicalism less intellectual, more partisan, more racially segregated ... but as a cultural phenomenon, not all that greatly changed.

“If so, then this would imply that white Christian tribalism and a very American sort of heresy, not a commitment to scripture and tradition, has kept evangelical churches thriving all these years. And if the God-and-country, pray-and-grow-rich tendencies sweep aside orthodox resistance, the evangelicalism that emerges might be more coherent and sociologically resilient, in the short run, for being rid of hand-wringers who don’t think Baptist choirs should set “Make America Great Again” to music.

“This is a sobering idea, and one I hope is wrong.

“But it is a paradox of this strange time that serious evangelicals should probably be rooting for a real post-Trump crisis in their churches — because its absence will tell them something depressing about where their movement’s strength lay all along.”

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