In First Things, Carl Truman comments on the recent controversy in which David French endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act. Truman, who opposes the bill, sees the controversy as a forerunner of American evangelicalism. Truman seems to be saying that American Protestants were slow to recognize the post-Christian conversion in the United States. But the facts mount up. Excerpts:
When Protestants wake up to the fact that they don’t own the country, two things will happen.
First, as the terms of membership in the officer class of society change, those who value their social status are likely to change as well. I predict that the standard “personal but publicly supportive opposition” argument that has served Catholic elites so well for many years will become a standard part of the elite’s Protestant playbook, replacing the current penchant for specious “third ways.” Of course, it would only be applied selectively as necessary to eliminate the practical effects of embarrassing points of doctrine—such as those relating to sex—that might interfere with club membership. Never expect the power of forgiveness to extend to those who voted for Trump or who reject critical race theory.
Secondly, the Protestant leadership will pass very quickly to a new generation. The older generation that had matured in the shadow of the battle for the Bible assumed that the Christian faith — belief in the incarnation, resurrection, and miracles — would be the fault line within churches and the reason the outside world would renounce Christianity. And so that generation lived in a world in which such things played no part in actual membership in the wider society. They may make Christians look foolish, but they never make us look evil. And in this world, Christians can make up for their perceived folly by combining Christian orthodoxy with a certain cultural intelligence and shrewdness. But those days are over and that leadership is not prepared for what is happening now. Being ridiculed for believing in miracles is much easier to handle than being hated as a fanatic. It is now clear that the Christian attitude to the major issues of membership in society today – those of sexual identity, gender, and abortion – cannot but embroil one in public debates and deserve the epithet of intolerance. Being educated and polite, being able to mix a good Vesper martini—things like that simply won’t make up for rejecting any identity, action, or whatever right progressive society then decides is non-negotiable. And now we need church leaders and thinkers who understand this and are prepared for the social consequences. If leaders don’t lead by truth, why do people take a stand for truth?
This is an important point, and what Truman says here applies to all Christians. It’s funny that I read this after I went to Thanksgiving dinner last night in Budapest with some friends, one of whom is a brilliant, polite, and intelligent Hungarian Catholic who takes her faith very seriously. We have talked about the future of Christianity in Europe, and she firmly believes that I am very pessimistic and defensive of my idea of Benedict Option, and my interest in Living is not lying, in the young Orthodox Christians who form Kolakovic groups and networks, to help churches survive the coming persecution, whether soft or hard. She believes that things are going well now, and that Christianity will remain here as it always has. After all, if he came through communism, what could he not bear? She argues that Christians need to be open-minded and optimistic, and focus on building influence with those in power — an attractive philosophy in a country like Hungary, whose government is openly Christian.
But the data is not optimistic. For example, in this 2017 Pew report, only nine percent of Hungarians go to church weekly. (Hungary is predominantly Catholic, but has a sizable Calvinist minority; they include the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and its president, Katalin Novak.) The number is higher for monthly attendance (26%), but still 64% of Hungarians say they rarely or never attend church. Hungary is not far in the area. Poland, but as you mentioned here, this is changing dramatically for the worse. Less than 25 percent of young people in Poland practice their faith today, a staggering drop since the early 1990s, immediately after the fall of communism. As I have been saying here, anecdotally, young practicing Catholics in Poland have been telling me since I first started going there in 2019 that they expect their country to follow the path of Ireland, embracing secularization. Mind you, for most of us, even a low level of religious practice in Poland would be a blessing! But the trends only go one way, all over the West.
Here in Hungary, there is still a lot of cultural Christianity left in the sense that people don’t go to church, but they still consider themselves Christians. On the most important dividing line between American Christian churches – sexuality – Hungarians still hold traditional views of homosexuality. But this, too, is changing, and besides, a country where 44 percent of people born out of wedlock are Christian cannot be said to be particularly Christian when it comes to sex in general. A few years ago, when I first started visiting Central and Eastern Europe, it was inevitable that the audience would ask me about my “gender ideology”—mostly transgender. People in this part of the world simply could not believe that Americans were accepting of that. I mean, they clearly saw us doing it, but they couldn’t imagine why. I’d like to tell them that it wasn’t that long ago that most Americans saw things exactly the way they did – but that they changed almost overnight. Don’t be complacent! I’d like to warn.
In our conversation last night, I told my friend that the influence of the Internet, and especially social media, is helping to wash away Christian practices and commitment like acid. And I theorized that all Christians in our country would eventually be faced with a choice between professional and social success, and devotion to Christ. I explained how there are entire professions in the United States—law and medicine, for example—that make it impossible for observant traditional Christians to join. I can say that she could not have imagined this ever happening in Hungary. Well, I hope you’re right, but I’m not going to share my future with that. Right now, the EU is withholding huge amounts of money from Hungary — Covid relief money — in part because Orbán’s government has passed a law banning gay education of minors, and things like Drag Queen Story Hour. Hungary is not a rich country, and it desperately needs that money. This is a clear example of the kinds of great prices those who adhere to Christian orthodoxy will pay. Do not forget that under communism, people were guaranteed the right to go to church – a right that does not make sense, since the only thing they are allowed to do as Christians is worship. Remember, too, that Hillary Clinton (to name just one liberal elite) interprets “religious freedom” as the “right to worship.”
in Living is not lyingTime and again, the Christian dissidents who remained under communism emphasized the radical importance of the ability and willingness to suffer for the faith. Those who do not have it will not be able to get past what comes to us with strength and speed. This is what Truman wants. And you don’t develop this ability overnight. If you do not work Immediately To build this ability within yourself, your family, and your church community, you will be in for a world of trouble when you take the test. We all will. Kamila Bendova, a Czech Catholic hero who was one of the leaders of the anti-communist movement in Czechoslovakia, told me that most Christians at the time did what others did: they kept their heads shut and their mouths shut, hoping to avoid trouble. That would be you, and me, if we didn’t exercise our faith in a way appropriate to live in a country that is no longer “our country,” the way Truman intended it.
Carl Truman writes: “But those days [of Christian cultural domination, or even of peaceful co-existence with secularists] It ended and that leadership is not prepared for what is happening now. Being ridiculed for believing in miracles is much easier to deal with than being hated as a fanatic. That’s right. I’ve often repeated the story here about how evangelical leaders of the Great Church of Southern California refused to take a stand to defend the existence of Christian colleges in that state from the threat of not allowing state scholarships to be used for needy students at “sectarian” colleges. According to a friend who shares In the campaign to rally the support of the church, all these leaders supported the campaign in theory, but everyone was afraid to say it publicly, for fear of being called a bigot.Only the courage of the black Pentecostal leaders in Los Angeles, and the Latin Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, defeated the threat.
This is the world Carl Truman is talking about. This is the world Aaron Wren is talking about, in the Biblical Three Realms model. And again: this is not only a challenge to evangelical Christians, but to all Christians in post-Christian America (and Europe). Truman says, “And now we need church leaders and thinkers who understand this and are prepared for the social consequences. If leaders don’t lead with truth, why do people take a stand on truth?” Last weekend in Poland, I heard young Polish Catholics tell me that they are all starving for real leadership from the Catholic clergy, but often getting nothing.
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Let me put it this way. Here is a four-minute speech in the European Parliament by Polish statesman and philosopher Ryszard Legotko, a Catholic and political conservative, berating Parliament for its undemocratic authoritarianism towards European peoples — Hungarians and others — who do not. Do not share the left-wing secular views of the majority. This is not a religious speech, but a political one. The reason I mention it here is because Legutko, speaking like a politician in a lions’ den, shows the kind of daring and courage that Christians of all walks of life will need in the near future: