As Orcinus' contribution to the excellent Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm, I'd like to take a look ahead at the evangelical movement, and discuss some of the trends that will be affecting its theocratic fringe in the years ahead.
The good news is that there's mostly good news.
1. Age will take its toll. While there's no shortage of young evangelicals filling the churches, the theocratic core is found among people middle-aged and older. They're the ones who put up the money, do the organizing, and attend the seminars. And, while these people may get angrier and stranger with age, the good news is that they won't be around forever.
2. The Galloping Gertie Effect, already noted here, is creating an ongoing series of PR nightmares for the various theocratic movements -- and we've now got the liberal media chops to maximize those missteps. Time was that fundamentalist leaders could stand up and say any fool thing, and it was like tree falling in the forest. Now, they're likely to find themselves in the running for Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person In The World." Since previous Evangelical uprisings in America have always ended with the faithful beating a retreat from widespread public derision, there's reason to believe the theocrats may finally have cleared the far side of the shark.
3. The Emerging Church. The younger generation of evangelicals has begun to flee the theocratic movement in droves. Among my fellow students this semester at Regent, the talk is of the Emerging Church -- a loose but growing "conversation" that is completely re-thinking evangelical Christianity, and coming to some radically different conclusions about its meaning and mission. (A great summary can be found here.)
There's a lot about the Emerging Church movement that rings familiar to those of us who remember the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s -- or have read up on the communal communities of Christianity's earliest days, after which many of these groups consciously model themselves. EC groups tend to organize themselves along communal or tribal lines, often sharing their material goods, forming tight support networks, and conducting lay-led services in homes. Most remain anti-choice; but now, this position is put into a larger context, integrated with deep social justice and ecological concerns. Organic food and voluntarily simplicity abound. Gender relations vary from extremely liberal to conservative beyond anything current would-be patriarchs would dare promote. The movement has many threads and factions -- not all of which are benign -- but it seems to be drawing the best and brightest of Gen Y's theological talent, suggesting that we will be dealing with a very different flavor of evangelicalism in the decades ahead.
And, most importantly, while these kids are out to save the world, most of them have absolutely no interest in ruling it. There's a lot more to say about the Emerging Church, but perhaps the most important point is that it's hard and deliberate turn away from the feel-good homogeneity of the suburban megachurches; and a conscious step back from the right-wing evangelical juggernaut of the past 30 years.
Of course, there's bad news, too. As we've often said here, American culture is brittle now. One good shock to the system, and there's no telling what authoritarian horrors could be unleashed. But while those are valid and serious worries, they're still in the realm of what could happen. What is happening is an ebbing tide, with signs that the theocratic threat to our culture is, finally, in slow retreat.