Young Evangelicals, Common Ground, and the New Social Witness

Are millennials the reliable “moral majority” of their parents’ generation? Or have they called a truce on the culture wars?

On October 16, I joined a panel of seven young Evangelicals behind the microphones of the National Press Club. We hailed from a diverse set of policy organizations and came, in part, to answer that very question. What are the political priorities for today’s young Evangelicals?

More specifically, we discussed the results of a recent survey, conducted by Sojourners—a Christian advocacy organization dedicated to promoting social justice, often in collaboration with progressive political means. The Sojourners’ blog post suggested that we all had agreed to call a truce on cultural warfare and settled on a new common ground. But are the culture wars over?

On August 15, an armed gunman entered my workplace. He confronted my colleague, announced his profound disagreement with my organization’s politics, and proceeded to fire his weapon three times. Thankfully, he only wounded my colleague in the arm. The suspect was carrying Chick-fil-A sandwiches and 50 rounds of ammunition. He has since been arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill and committing an act of terrorism while armed.

If these are the culture wars, I sincerely hope they are over. That said, I and other young Evangelicals must face the uncomfortable and undeniable reality: our nation remains deeply divided on our social ethics. And some of us young Evangelicals have accepted the uncomfortable but compelling call to advocate for the most vulnerable human lives, promote a biblical and natural view of marriage, and use the freedoms given by God and articulated within the Constitution.

Even the numbers within the Sojourner’s study suggest that a majority of young Evangelical millennials have not abandoned the principles championed by their parents. My fellow panelist, and Executive Director for the Manhattan Declaration, Eric Teetsel has already written to this point. His blog post titled, “Evangelicals on Common Ground” is well worth the read.

I personally dislike the label of “culture warrior.” If my aversion is naïve and semantic, age and faithful, hard work will cure me and I’ll carry the badge. But I suggest that there is a growing cohort of cheerful young Evangelical advocates. We may, perhaps, have a gentler tone than the cartoon version of our parents’ advocacy. But many of us promote and prioritize the principles that our parents did.

This may be the “common ground” that Sojourners celebrates. If it truly is common ground, I suggest that (like any common room in my living experience) it requires upkeep. If we have truly entered such a cultural moment, I offer the following guiding principles:

An unconfused civility:

I invite us to show greater grace and civility in our public conversations. Such civility would steer us away from assuming each other’s motives. It would keep conservatives from assuming that progressives intend to bankrupt the nation and shred the Constitution. In turn, progressives might refrain from suggesting that conservatives hate the poor and relish the thought of perpetual warfare.

Such civility might slow us down a bit, restore our respect for each other’s humanity and motivations, and lend itself to more intelligent collaboration on specific issues. In the absence of such all-or-nothing advocacy and bombast, a politically diverse group of young Christians might begin to make authentic progress on specific concerns such as welfare reform, education reform, and human trafficking. It may not be the most effective fundraising technique for individual advocacy organizations. It may move us toward more authentic reform.

Clarity on our “-ologies:”

Even under a shared umbrella of Evangelical commitment, we would be wise to address how our theology, anthropology, and eschatology inform our social agenda.  Volumes could and have been written on each “-ology” and its implications for public service. But just a quick glance at what this might mean for today’s Evangelicals.

Left, right, or center—are we more concerned about having God in our political camp, rather than being on his side? In contrast, will we refuse to cherry-pick bible verses for our own political agendas—to the exclusion of other calls to holiness, humility, and compassion? Our theology inevitably shapes our priorities.

A biblically informed anthropology encourages us to protect all humans as image-bearers of the living God—cradle-to-grave. But progressive/conservative disagreements regarding social and economic policies often stem from our different theological understanding of brokenness and evil. I believe that my progressive friends more readily locate the problem of evil primarily in situational variables, rather than in personal responsibility. But when we fail to dignify the needy by holding them accountable, our good intentions may serve to exacerbate the need. However, my conservative and libertarian friends run the risk of ignoring the social contexts into which so many are born. When we ignore the devastating implications of victimization, (fatherlessness, abuse, a failed educational system, etc) we similarly fail to offer authentic hope and suggest that the Christianity is a graceless thing.

We are, indeed, called to be “Matthew 25 Christians.” In addition to caring for the poor, imprisoned, and persecuted (Matt. 25:40), we usher in the kingdom of God through small faithfulness like investing the master’s money (Matt. 25:14-30), and waiting with our lamps full (Matt. 25:1-30). I caution Christian friends of all political stripes to be avoid “immanentizing the eschaton”—or confusing one’s role as Christ’s hands and feet, with bearing the weight of ushering in the kingdom of God.

Knowing the length of your arm:

We are the Facebook generation—trying to be faithful and relevant amidst the clutter of an active Twitter feed and 24/7 news cycle. We may know more about the world’s events and needs than did our parents at our age. But I suggest that we are also more distracted and fragmented. In this dizzying swirl of information and “friendships” we run the risk of detaching ourselves from authentic—in-the-flesh communities. We are tempted to find our own churches, families, and neighborhoods too small for our grand ideas. I suggest that the rising generation of Christians, regardless of political affiliation, should place a higher priority on individual relationships, hidden faithfulness, and commitment to a local body of believers.

God has used his people—like William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King—to organize great social resistance to social evils. But it is the paradox of the Christian life: God often uses individuals who are prepared to be small, hidden, faithful, and accountable to other believers. We may be called to wrestle with monumental injustice, but we will be most effective when we remain attentive to the challenges at our doorstep and the efforts already being made to alleviate such problems.

A “new social witness:”

Has the rising generation abandoned the culture wars? I hardly know. I, personally, am prepared to cross partisan lines to address genuine human need and offer authentic freedom. But more fundamentally, I aim to follow Christ’s call to follow him both in private and in public life. In a recent lecture, Dr. Owen Strachan called upon today’s Christian leaders to a disciplined vitality and a “new social witness.” I close with his words:

This movement… refuses to be seen as the religious wing of a given party.  It is, however, grounded in the public witness of Christians offered in the past 30-40 years, and it is grateful for the sacrifices made by those who have gone before.  This movement does not consider the church a PAC, nor America the new Israel.  Its tone is charitable and courageous, because this movement derives ultimate confidence and identity not from the city of man, but from the city of God.

Let’s bring that new social witness to our churches, our families, our jobs, and our polls.


Jessica Prol is a communications specialist on Capitol Hill. This piece was originally published by the Family Research Council on November 12 2012.

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