During the last two weeks there have been several nationally known writers or political pundits who have taken swipes at the remaining visible leadership of the religious right. Critics from the left say that “Humpy Dumpty” has finally fallen and cannot put himself back together again. Critics from the right say that movement leaders have failed to direct their ground troops. Skeptics from both sides agree that the recent deaths of leaders such as D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell mark the end of an era.
But what next?
Seen as a group of sexually repressed, white men who hunger and thirst for power, this movement has been characterized as being anti-black, anti-woman, anti-poor, and anti-gay. In today’s America, these stereotypes hardly seem American and definitely not Christian. These images are not only outdated, they are untrue.
Anticipating a change, several reporters have even attempted to anoint new leaders and to magnify natural divisions within a massive grass roots movement. Many groups are pulling for their “guys or gals” to emerge as the new leadership. The evangelical movement is going through a maturing process, which will eventually increase its influence in the next few political cycles. Unlike the past twenty years in which television ministries like Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour and Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Hour trumpeted directives to the faithful, local pastors with huge media ministries will probably not lead the way – except in select black churches.
Popular Christian teachers are becoming increasing wary of jeopardizing speaking engagements, members support, media partners, or product sales. The prophetic role of the politically active is not an assignment toward which many pastoral media darlings are running. Black ministers seem to have been given a little more leeway to engage in the culture wars than their white counterparts. While many black parishioners remember that it was the clergy-led, civil rights movement that advanced the national status of blacks in this nation, pastors of all ethnicities will need increasingly focused policy groups to help point the way.
The new religious right will be assisted by thousands of pastors who will nurture their members in clear, biblical principles. The strategy for this movement will come from trusted voices that are currently emerging from regional to national prominence.
The religious right is changing in terms of race, gender and age. Although the numbers are difficult to quantify, there is an enormous groundswell of millions of younger, multicultural converts. These converts may well prove to be more predictable than the values voters of the last few years.
Groups like Teen Mania, which is headquartered in Garden Valley, Texas are raising up a new generation of faithful believers. Teen Mania’s purpose is to “provoke a young generation to passionately pursue Jesus Christ, and to take His life-giving message to the ends of the earth.” Their founder is Reverend Ron Luce who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Counseling and Psychology, respectively. In addition, he is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program. This unique blend of management and ministry credentials has allowed Luce to create an excellently managed organization.
Teen Mania hosts Acquire the Fire and Battle Cry events that bring teens together during weekends to praise, pray and hear words of challenge. In 2005, for example, they conducted over 30 Acquire the Fire/Battle Cry (ACF/BC) weekends with an estimated 250,000 youth. Twenty-six ACF/BC events are scheduled in the first six months of 2008.
See You at the Pole (SYATP) is another movement that is investing in a radical young generation of future values voters. It’s important that our readers grasp the significance of SAYTP movement. At this annual event, high school kids from 12 to 18 begin to form relationships that will help them grow in faith. Here’s how the movement started.
In 1990, a few teens gathered for a discipleship weekend in Burleson, Texas. The teens became burdened for their friends at school. This group of teens joined with others who birthed a vision that students all over Texas would meet at their school flagpoles simultaneously to pray. A challenge was put forth to gather as many as possible to “See You at the Pole” on September 12, 1990. At 7:00 a.m. on that date, more than 45,000 students met at their school flagpoles in four different states to pray.
The news about this prayer movement spread to youth ministers at a national conference in Colorado. Even though there were no plans for a second SYATP event, it was clear that students would create one. One million students gathered on September 11, 1991 at flagpoles from Massachusetts to California. Again they prayed for their friends, schools, and leaders…and they also prayed for their country.
See You At the Pole has continued to grow. More than 3 million students from every state participate joining with students in over 20 countries, including Japan, Turkey, Australia, and the Ivory Coast. Paul Fleischmann, president of the National Network of Youth Ministries says, ““Every year, we have seen this day serve as a springboard for unity among teenagers on their campuses. … Young people have taken unprecedented leadership through this to have a positive impact at their schools.”
These are just two movements that are taking important cultural territory. But from the evidence of these two alone, you can see that the religious right definitely has a past… but it also has quite a future ahead.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.