This story, it seems to me, illuminates the main issue facing young evangelicals. It’s about recent developments in the Anglican Communion, which is beset by a conflict over whether Scripture means what it says. Most media accounts present it as being about homosexuality — Drudge’s headline for the story is “Anglican clergy creates anti-gay alliance…” — but that isn’t so. While the ordination of a gay bishop in the Episcopal Church was definitely a spark plug, there are more issues at stake — whether Jesus is the only way to heaven comes to mind.
Of course, not all young evangelicals in the US are tied up with the Anglican Communion, so why is this so important? Look to the end:
There was no immediate response Sunday from the archbishop of Canterbury, the Episcopal Church in the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada. Some liberal American bloggers sought to play down the conservatives’ actions, dismissing them as an attempt to hijack the Communion when, in their view, there are much more important issues for the church to confront, like poverty, AIDS and global warming.
Those three words — “much more important” — speak volumes.
What I mean is this: Nobody denies that these issues are important. Very important, in fact. And they are especially so to young evangelicals, as volumes of poll data show.
But are they the most important? Are they more important than tossing the Bible out the window as an authoritative document — what we see in the church context here? Are they more important than the slaughter of millions of innocent babies, or the sexual sins whose ubiquitousness has played a huge role in the persistence of poverty in a number of populations — the issues we see at play in the larger culture?
That is the dividing line. Are they not important, important, or the most important? Too often, conservatives are seen as thinking they’re not important — and the left errs in thinking they are the only thing that matters, God’s law being just a distraction.
If conservative evangelicals are not going to lose the next generation — which looks askance at us in unparalleled numbers — we can’t ignore issues like poverty, AIDS, and global warming. But we can’t address them by forgetting about everything else. What’s more, we can’t make a cogent cultural case on family issues if we don’t talk about poverty and AIDS — because there’s no better way to fight them than strong families.
We can’t fall into the trap of being uncaring — or even seeming uncaring, if we truly are not — about these issues. But we also can’t give heed to the lie that the topics conservative evangelicals have been talking about for three decades don’t really matter — as the quote above would suggest. And if we’re really going to win, we’ll marry the two “sets” of issues, because they really ought to be mutually reinforcing.