CHRISTIANITY TODAY/January 13, 1989
Last January, Christian media workers attending the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention were told a forthcoming movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, would affirm the Christian faith.
So much for predictions.
The reality, of course, is that events sometimes move so fast that it is impossible to predict their outcomes. Consider the recent developments in the Middle East (see p. 57). Who would have guessed the United States would talk directly with the Palestinian Liberation Organization?
Yet certain events often give hints to the future. For example, had the early supporters of The Last Temptation read the original novel, they might have been better prepared to deal with what became a major controversy for Christians. The problem comes in sorting out the clues behind the news, a task for those whose work calls them to follow national and international events. It is in that spirit that CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked five Christian journalists to predict issues evangelicals will face in 1989.
I’d be awfully surprised if any issue rivals abortion in 1989. The election of George Bush makes it all the more likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, or at least substantially curtailed. This may happen without a single Bush appointment to the Court, since Bush’s attorney general, Richard Thornburgh, is already challenging the decision. And Justice Harry Blackmun says there are five anti-Roe votes on the Court now. I hope so. If Roe is tossed out, the issue will revert to the states, and battles over abortion will erupt in every one. If it isn’t overturned in 1989, it will still be on everyone’s mind.
The moral witness of Operation Rescue makes this certain. It is amazing the impact that mass civil disobedience has. It worked against slavery. It worked against segregation. And I think it will work against abortion. I’ve never seen a poll that shows a majority of Americans want abortion banned. But people change their minds. I did on abortion. Operation Rescue, with all the media attention it’s bound to get, will prod folks to see abortion as the overarching moral issue of our time. For most people, when they look at abortion that way, there is only one position—opposition. I think thousands of fresh opponents will turn up in 1989.
By Fred Barnes, a senior editor for The New Republic.
Telling The Truth
The biggest issue facing evangelicals in 1989? Credibility.
In 1983 I interviewed Bob Slosser, former assistant national editor of the New York Times. He told me that because of their “enthusiasm,” Christians have a naive tendency to become hyperbolic, inflating the facts in order to make a good case sound even better. The result—journalists place less and less credence in statements by evangelical or fundamentalist activists.
Christians are even more unbelievable today than they were five years ago when I interviewed Slosser. (And it should be noted that Slosser is no anti-Christian bigot; he is widely respected in charismatic-evangelical circles as an author and executive at the Christian Broadcasting Network.)
The hypocritical shenanigans of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart are the two most blatant examples of Christians who have rendered a body blow to evangelical credibility. But there are other examples: presidential candidate Pat Robertson claiming he was not a television evangelist; a South Dakota newscaster admitting she tries to “sneak” Christianity into her stories; author Edgar Whisenant claiming special knowledge regarding the date of the Rapture.
To be sure, the news media share some of the blame for appearing to pounce only when the stories are sensational, flaky, or both; but let’s face it: Christians are providing plenty of grist for the news mills. It seems to me the biggest challenge facing evangelicals in 1989 is to place more emphasis on pursuing our professions with competence and integrity rather than grinding the Lord’s axe for him.
If I can’t believe you when you say all Christians are going to be raptured on September 13, 1988, why should I believe you when you say Jesus loves me, died for my sins, and is risen from the dead?
By John DeDakis, a writer for the Cable News Network (CNN).
Sexual issues—abortion, AIDS, divorce, homosexuality, and others—will dominate public discussion in 1989. Unfortunately, secular forces have claimed this territory. For most Christians, human sexuality is still a subject too hot to handle in the church. That may change in 1989.
With evangelicals shying away from the subject, serious-minded individuals have turned to other sources, such as Episcopal Bishop John Spong, who would have the church bless unions of homosexual couples, and pre-and extra-marital sex. Or Roman Catholic feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether, who has written covenant rites for lesbians.
For its stands on some of these issues, the Catholic church has been criticized for engaging in “pelvic theology.” Yet an evangelical theology of sex—one that shows the Bible sets guidelines for human sexuality—has not been widely taught in churches. So people invent their own answers.
Sex is the major battleground for men’s and women’s bodies and souls, but Christians have ill-equipped themselves for this war. In 1989, the church will be forced to join the fight.
By Julia Duin, religion writer for the Houston Chronicle.
The New Age
The most important issue facing evangelicals in 1989 will be deciding what is the most important issue, and coalescing around it.
There seem to be few burning causes. The religious broadcasters have already been hit by the lightning bolt of accountability. And though evangelicals helped elect George Bush, no religious group felt completely comfortable ideologically with either candidate.
So what’s left? Staking out and defending the Christian world view—the belief that a right relationship to a personal God lies only through receiving by grace the atoning work of Jesus Christ. In keen competition is the increasingly pervasive Eastern, monistic world view—aided by the burgeoning influx of immigrants whose religious roots derive from Asian traditions—that many pathways all lead to the same “One.”
Evangelicals could well muster against mutant forms of higher self-worship subsumed under the “New Age” label. But at the same time, the “name it and claim it” theology of the health-and-wealth gospelers deserves equal censure; it is the thinly veiled evangelical equivalent of the New Age rubric: “You create your own reality.”
By Russ Chandler, a religion writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Can evangelicalism speak to questions of racial bigotry raised by technology in 1989?
As the United States stands 11 years from the start of the Third Millennium, increased computerization and mechanization have expanded the ranks of the unemployed, discouraged workers among minorities, and helped create a fast-growing, low-paying service industry. Subsequently, increased competition for work and misdirected anger over economic loss have stirred the embers of racial and religious hatred.
Will evangelicalism’s traditional accent on personal belief over social responsibility stymie sincere efforts to integrate congregations racially and confront racist attitudes? Or will such efforts split churches and create the kinds of membership losses experienced in liberal Protestant churches?
The Southern Baptist Convention has planned a national conference on race relations in Nashville, Tennessee, for the January 16–17 Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Those who attend may already accept racism as a serious moral problem. How they, and other denominations, address this problem poses a major challenge to the church.
By Vince Golphin, religion writer for the Syracuse Herald-Journal.
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