Marketing over conviction?

The Public Religion Research Institute has released a survey which indicates that younger religious folks are more “progressive” (liberal) than their elders. This appears to be more than the normal differences between old and young; the trend is going against Christian conservatives.

That trend is important but maybe less significant than it sounds. That doesn’t mean that liberal denominations are flourishing or will in the future. Believing nearly nothing (or almost everything) is no more appealing to younger church attenders than to their parents, although I suspect that churchless people who call themselves both progressive and religious will say nice things about liberal mainline denominations they know nothing of. It probably does mean that fewer people will gravitate toward Bible-believing churches without having been born again. To the degree that we can trust surveys like this we can observe that people who self-identify as “religious” aren’t necessarily bought in to the practice of any religion. They are the undecideds, the “nones,” who are spiritual but not in fellowship with any religious body.

Fun as such data is (and it is to me), the rub comes at the point of meaning. What should we do as a result of these facts? Those who disdain conservatives are quick to suggest that we should become less conservative if we want to attract a future support base. It’s hard to describe how condescending that suggestion sounds. Are the positions taken by more liberal people simply marketing postures? I don’t think they are but they seem to think that our beliefs are very adaptable to the needs of the moment. What would a person who is biblically convicted that abortion ends a precious human life do to attract someone who does not into his biblical fellowship? Attracting numbers or even maintaining a critical mass for the survival of your organization cannot be held more precious than the principles that justify its existence. One columnist has suggested that conservatives will need to learn to “sing harmony.” Another says that conservatives will need to “dampen” their identification with conservative causes. That’s silly. Conservatives will not prevail by becoming liberals.

Conservative Christians, as well those less so, must be careful to avoid pointless and divisive diversions. But don’t mistake the advice of counselors who don’t wish us well, or even pundits more focused on winning than on being right; they are not agreeing with us about what is pointless and divisive. The issues that separate us from more liberal Americans flow from the nature of Scripture. Sure, some of those are political social issues as well but nothing in Scripture and nothing we say is more offensive than the message that Jesus lives and he is lord. Until we’re willing to compromise that word, we’ll not really win the affection of this generation or any to come. 

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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