On the Aging and Passing of the “Francis Schaeffer Generation”

In his fine post yesterday, Jerry Risser wrote that he is “certainly not a proponent of fighting the culture wars of the 1980s and 90s.” He then went on to say that on critical moral issues, we must stand firm. It seems that a loud and growing majority agrees, in a sense, with the first statement, by saying “you social and religious conservatives just go away.” One writer on National Review Online suggested religious conservatives on “on the verge of a new Babylonian Captivity.” These sentiments clearly complicate attempts to stand firm as Jerry exhorts.

My wife and I, who were in our 20s when President Reagan was elected, tended to interpret “faith in action” as activism in support of the “life issues,” notably abortion, to which American Evangelical Protestants had been awakened, albeit belatedly, by the work of Francis Schaeffer, in particular. We are in the “Francis Schaeffer Generation” as much as the “Reagan Generation.” In his book (with Dr. C. Everett Koop) Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (and working against a background of 20th century totalitarianism), Schaeffer urged us to be appropriately alarmed and outraged, and to act constructively. And he warned us against taking lazy solace in “personal peace and affluence.”

Now, the Francis Schaeffer Generation is getting old. Some of its mightiest warriors are dying off (Schaeffer and Chuck Colson, for two, are with the Lord). It’s being told it’s out of touch.

But far be it from me, a nameless foot soldier in the “culture war,” to suggest or admit defeat. To be sure, an angry, clenched-fist, condemnatory stance does not honor Christ or communicate love and respect. But in a world where an unpopular stance on moral issues is considered hatred on its face, no one should bear any illusion that the culture war is over. The secularists will press their advantage. Consider, for example, on abortion: why is it treated not just as a matter of choice but as a public good? Why is any attempt to discourage it labeled as a “war against women?”

What should we foot soldiers do? How about:
1) Double down on Schaeffer’s principles. He was right.
2) Support the leaders and people and organizations on the “front lines.”
3) Recruit, support, and gently persuade emerging leaders of the new generation, who, unlike fossils like me, are “in touch.” This includes future political candidates.
4) Realize that there is still a place for good-old-fashioned litigating and legislating. For example, I read remarks by Richard Doerflinger to the effect that legislative protection of certain conscience rights may be feasible, such as with riders to larger bills that would not be likely to be vetoed.
5) Support “emotional,” “narrative-based” approaches as Jerry suggested. There is an army of emerging, imaginative workers, particularly in the performing arts, who should be encouraged to craft high-quality cinema and other works that engage audiences more thoroughly and gently than “Christian” films that amount to cinematic Evangelical sermons, as nice as these may be.
6) Realize, as Jerry pointed out, that thoughtful, rational arguments can still carry the day. Did we all notice that Massachusetts rejected physician-assisted suicide—by a narrow margin, to be sure—last week, and that some of the most eloquent positions to that end were articulated by people like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel who cannot be mistaken for religious conservatives?
7) “Change the water.” Recall the old joke about the two young fish who swim past an older one, who asks them, “How’s the water?” They respond, “fine,” then swim on a bit before one asks the other, “What’s water?” We must be aware of the “water we swim in,” and question and seek to change cultural assumptions, where necessary. It seems to me this goes on in our extended families and on our streets, in conversation with people closest to us.
8) Learn about, and teach our kids about science and proper scientific reasoning. Jerry pointed out that “good science” should be embraced. But by that we must mean not only science pursued ethically (e.g., iPSCs vs embryo creation and destruction to get ESCs), but also science done well and honestly, and appropriately interpreted. Anecdotes—even a lot of them—added up and posted on a “scoreboard” do not substitute for properly controlled clinical trials, and we must remember that there is profiteering going on with some uses of adult stem cells, and there have been some cases scientific fraud committed in iPSC research. Examples not to be overemphasized, but they are out there.
9) Above all, pray for God’s guidance and for his truth to prevail, trust His sovereignty, and obey Him as fully as possible, with His help.

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