08 March 2015

A Musing on Evangelical Antithesis, CCM and the Christian Right

The Supreme Court decisions regarding Bible reading and prayer in public school no doubt played a part in the unification and resurgence of political Christianity in the 1970's. However, I don't believe these factors are as central and crucial as they're made out to be.

At the time not a few voices will testify that Desegregation and issues like busing were just as important. Over time the cultural narrative shifted. Under Reagan the vision was more forward looking rather than rearward. No more longing for the days of Hoover. Instead it was morning in America. Throughout the 1980s many Christian conservatives realized their previous way of thinking had been wrong, the political narrative shifted more heavily toward issues like abortion and school prayer. The opposition to Civil Rights simply faded away and the record of it disappeared down the memory hole.

Interestingly for Christians growing up during that period (1970's-80's), not formally praying or reading Scripture in school wasn't a big deal. My wife talks about how she growing up in a small town public school she was very conscious of the fact that she was different. She wasn't like the other kids. That was okay, but there wasn't some kind of expectation that the establishment school system was going to accommodate her. It would have seemed strange for them to have offered prayers.

Besides, can someone really 'stop' you from praying?

Having also lived in the same area for many years I now know many of these teachers (quite a few were still around when we got married and moved here in the late 1990s) and we can laugh together at the absurdity of this or that teacher conducting a Bible reading or publically leading a class in prayer. It's pretty silly and just accentuated in a small town when you actually know a lot more about people and their lives.

My wife remembers a definite antithesis. This area is also heavily Roman Catholic and there was no sense (as there is today) that they were somehow fellow Christians in any sense of the word. When studying history my wife and I (in Christian circles on opposite ends of the country) both remember learning about Constantine and the Crusades, and thinking that's all 'Catholic' stuff. It has nothing to do with Christianity. No one in our Fundamentalist circles identified the Middle Ages with Christianity.

She remembers (as do I) when even the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) movement had that sense of antithesis and apocalyptic disengagement.

I was never into the music. She actually found great comfort in it as a teenager. It was an encouragement as she set out each school day to interact with and face the world. I attended Christian schools and many of the kids I went to school with were listening to it. I certainly heard it and knew the names of the bands but I was far more interested in Rush or Iron Maiden than Petra or Amy Grant. Petra even visited my school once and spoke at our weekly chapel. My wife was quite impressed when I told her as were many of the Christian kids and teachers at my school, but I remember at the time I couldn't have cared less.

Revisiting some of that older CCM material it is striking how a lot of the music has that real 'underdog' kind of feel to it. It's you against the system, songs about poor struggling families while the world has it all. One is even reminded of the quasi-Christian Kansas and their great song 'Dust in the Wind'.... a beautiful song that would hardly strike a chord with the modern Dominionist.

Today the Christian music movement has become so broad as to really defy any kind of definitions or parameters. I know the mainstream CCM stuff that they play on the Christian Pop/Adult Contemporary stations is not the same type of music. Not only has the style changed, so has the content. I hear a lot about Jesus empowering me, and how 'I' matter. It's quite different.

I wonder what role the theological shift has played? The Fundamentalist and Evangelical Churches really took on the theology of Dominion throughout the 1980's, but especially throughout the 1990's and ever since. Then you had the whole Rick Warren and Willow Creek type movements really beginning to shape the Evangelical Mainstream with their emphasis on psychology, prosperity and numbers, along with the pro-Catholic emphasis by groups like Focus on the Family and all those surrounding Charles Colson.

The quest for power and fulfillment in success shape the message and even the sub-cultural zeitgeist.

Please understand I don't really care anything about CCM. I just find aspects of this to be interesting.

Even the old CCM coming in part out of the Jesus Movement was a reformist movement trying to question aspects of the conservative status quo. A lot of them were sort of like Christian hippies. As I've said before about the hippies I appreciate many of the questions they were asking and aspects of their movement but largely their answers were terrible and of course in many cases wicked. But just because the secular hippies were wrong it didn't mean the Establishment Nationalism pro-Capitalist pro-War factions were right either.

The Jesus Movement was anti-Establishment. They were trying to break the stiff and reserved powers running the various denominations and institutions. I can't agree with them on their doctrine of worship but I can agree with their criticism of the Church functioning as an institution and as a functional arm of Right-wing politics.

To a certain extent I can respect some of them more than the Falwell types that were also coming to the fore in the 1970's.

That antithesis, even if flawed, seems to be gone now. The counter-culture is now just the culture and has just become a branch of the larger political Right.

One day I was both baffled and disturbed to find a video of John Schlitt of Petra and John Elefante (formerly of Kansas) singing with Jay Sekulow of Pat Robertson's ACLJ on drums.

Sekulow stands for the forces of big business and great financial power. Granted he focuses on a narrow window specifically the concerns of the Christian Right, but that's what the Christian Right in fact stands for! Capitalism, the Military-Industrial Complex, Nationalism... the old Establishment that held unquestioned power before the 1960's. He stands for the lies of the Establishment. He's their creature, a professional propagandist and liar. He's made a career of it. He's the type of fraud that needs to be denounced by the prophets of our day. I've listened to his radio show countless times. He's a manipulator and a deceiver that somehow has convinced himself that it's okay to lie as long as it serves the greater good. He thinks the Kingdom of God is built through the force of law, the threat of the police and waging war and he promotes all these things with great zeal. He's every bit as evil as master Pat Robertson.

Why are these Jesus-rockers (in effect trying to be the prophets of their day) playing with this guy? How does beat the system, become 'the system'? How does the band that sang "Play the Game Tonight" and "Dust in the Wind" become the people who want to support the Military-Industrial Empire?

Why the shift? Was the anti-Establishment prophetic voice all an act, or has something happened?

Recently I looked up an old Fundamentalist preacher I knew from about twenty years ago. Mind you I've never accepted this man as a Christian but at least was quite familiar with the world he inhabited. He's raving about the Crusades and how Christian they were! What happened? When I knew him he would have never done that. He'd blast Bill Clinton and the Crusades. Is it just his hatred of Obama and his recent statements at the prayer breakfast that have led him to such a position?

In the end, it's power. It corrupts and destroys. The Christian Church abandoned its position of being counter-cultural and antithetical to the culture at large and sought political power. In the process it sold out and fundamentally changed its nature. Some might say CCM in trying to mimic the mainstream culture had already sold out, was already in the trap of worldliness. It very well could be. There's an argument to be made there.

But I (and my wife) are just so surprised to see how many things have changed and how many people who are plenty old enough have forgotten how it was just 25 years ago.

People want accolades, they want security and they certainly want money. They want to control the narrative of society and many Christians refuse to accept the wilderness way, the paths of the pilgrim. They want to control the city and so in the end for many the antithesis is not a way of life but a tactic to win the war.

Petra used to sing... we are strangers, we are pilgrims, we are not of this world.

So sue them? Is that the answer? I guess so.

Sadly in their selling out they've won no battle. The just think they have. And in fact they're fighting the wrong war.

While it's not about CCM to be sure, Iain Murray's work 'Evangelicalism Divided' is helpful in understanding the spirit that led Evangelicalism to a compromise with the world, a desire to be accepted and respected. Even though I am not uncritical of Murray, he rightly identifies the spiritual influence behind this. I suspect the same discussion he's having about Christians in academia and vis-à-vis popular culture in general is applicable to what I'm talking about here.