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Going Nuclear: Young Christians Redefine Evangelical Politics

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The story of the "broadening evangelical agenda" -- evangelicals' political engagement with issues such as climate change, poverty and HIV/AIDS -- reached a new level of visibility in 2006 with the devastating mid-term losses by Congressional Republicans, even in blood-red districts. President Obama's doubling of John Kerry's support among young Evangelicals in 2008 indicated that politics were truly changing in the heart of Jesusland.

The way this story has played out in the media over the past few years has by now become common knowledge: conservative individual X takes surprisingly progressive stance Y, often accompanied by a sign-on statement filled with other surprising conservatives. This, like all man bites dog! stories, was newsworthy in its time. We Evangelicals have become well-known as a curious, dog-biting species.

However, the broadening Evangelical agenda narrative is winding to a close, and another phenomenon--seemingly similar and yet critically different -- is rising to take its place: the maturation of the first generation of Evangelicals with no memory of the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s, and no inclination to fight those battles.

This week marks the public launch of the Two Futures Project, a new movement of Christians, led by younger Evangelicals, for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. This seems somehow fitting. How, after all, could we look ahead without abolishing forever the ungodly specter of these indiscriminate weapons?

Further, the nonpartisan, pan-Christian support we have received from wise, older saints - from Chuck Colson to Jim Wallis to Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz -- is itself a testament to the readiness of history to turn: we're seeing veteran Cold Warriors wishing their children and grandchildren peace and freedom from the battles they fought.

This does not mean that younger Evangelicals are becoming secular progressives. We still believe intractable, unavoidably divisive things like the atonement of the cross, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his literal resurrection from the dead, and the inspired authority of the Bible. We have no intention of throwing this orthodoxy under the bus for the sake of social acceptability.

The generation of Evangelicals currently coming into maturity, however, will decreasingly understand itself in contradistinction to more progressive politics, as the previous generation has largely done. As a result, though we will continue to have profound differences with many progressives -- and conservatives -- there will also be significant areas of overlap and co-belligerency on matters of mutual concern and the common good.

Finally, we can certainly draw (at least) three conclusions about the future of Evangelical political engagement.

First, Evangelicals will be less politically powerful than we have been in recent decades. Voters willing to pull the lever on one or two issues alone win elections. A diverse constituency with broad interests does not. This will be good for the American Evangelical soul. We'll see what it does for the country.

Second, we will increasingly work across internal divisions for common cause, though this change will probably be inscrutable to non-Christians who wouldn't know an Arminian from a TULIP Baptist. This is not to say that doctrine and theology have ceased to matter, but I expect that we'll fight those battles in parallel with, rather than prior to, work on mutual social concern.

Third, familiar political distinctions will lose their descriptive value for us. Younger Evangelicals are coloring way outside the lines of a blue/red dichotomy. In this new environment, traditional definitions of conservative and liberal will be stripped of their traditional landmarks and cease to be meaningful. This, too, is for the good. Political divisions based on the left-right seating plan of human legislatures never did lend itself to good cartography for the kingdom of God, anyhow.

The Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, born 1977, is the founder and director of the Two Futures Project. Those with eyes to see can follow him on Twitter @2FP.