Whatever else it was, the election of 2008 was a repudiation of the Christian right, which has played such a prominent role in national politics over the last three decades.
In a generation or two, I think the reign of the Christian right will be remembered much as the Red Scare of the mid-20th century or the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century are: that is, a period of intense fear, which was manipulated — and to a large degree engineered — by certain ruthless political elements.
The demise of the religious right can probably be attributed to several things. America has become weary of the culture wars, the screaming and the name-calling. Young people, in particular, are more secular than any other American demographic, and they are too sophisticated to buy into Christian conservatives’ hysteria over gay rights.
Many evangelicals became disillusioned at the compromises they found themselves making in the name of political expediency. Compromise may be the soul of politics, but the Kingdom of God is absolute and eternal. The two could no longer be reconciled.
Perhaps most importantly, many young evangelicals could no longer tow the line for Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and other Christian right leaders. These young people seemed to respond to a higher calling, a voice that said, “Feed my sheep … Do unto others as you would have them do unto you … It is more blessed to give than to receive.” On Election Day they deserted the Republican Party in droves, signaling the end to the Christian right as a major political force.
Where will these young people land politically? Maybe on the sideline; maybe in the Democratic Party; maybe in some new movement that is yet to materialize. But some of them have come to Metanoia, a faith-based, nonprofit organization operating in the blighted Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood of North Charleston.
Founded six years ago by a group of moderate Baptist churches in South Carolina, Metanoia is led by a husband-and-wife team of ministers, Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliveira. Stanfield seemed loathe to discuss politics when I talked to him in his office last week, but with a little prodding he jumped in.
“What has happened to the religious right is that they put their political influence to work on a fairly narrow range of issues and neglected the broader needs of society,” he said.
In recent years he has seen a number of young evangelicals come to Metanoia to volunteer their time and talents to help the needy. “All they are doing is reading their Bibles,” he said.
Of course, Stanfield reads the Bible too. “What I’m trying to do is be a disciple of Jesus, and the only way I know how to do that is to live by the New Testament,” he said. “It’s a fundamentally dangerous book … There is a lot of scripture about redistribution of wealth. I don’t know whose job that is, the church or government, but there are literally hundreds of passages which express God’s concern for the poor.” This is not the Gospel according to Pat Robertson.
To meet the needs of the poor, Metanoia is in the business of providing housing, youth leadership, and financial development for the neighborhood. Stanfield and his wife and staff provide an after-school leadership program for 50 children throughout the year and a leadership camp for 150 during the summer. So far, Metanoia has built or renovated 12 homes for first-time homebuyers in a one-square-mile area around its Reynolds Avenue headquarters. Much of the muscle behind these projects comes from volunteers.
For those Christians who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, there is still plenty of work to be done in this country. But it does not involve shouting, parading around with signs, and yakking on television. As Bill Stanfield told me, “Jesus never said a thing about homosexuality, but he had plenty to say about how we should treat one another and how we should live together as a society.”
If you are tired of the culture wars but still want to make a difference in America, go to pushingforward.org. Metanoia could have a job for you.
And there are other volunteer opportunities for all tastes and talents. Do you want to fight hunger, build houses, mentor children, visit old people, pick up litter, care for animals, or teach reading, math, or computer skills? If so, there is somebody out there who is eager to sign you up. VolunteerMatch.org offers more than a hundred volunteer opportunities in the Charleston area for either long-term or short-term commitments, in both secular and religious settings. Find one that’s right for you.
See Will Moredock’s blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight