Political Editors / Jun. 25, 2021

In Brief: Surrendering the Public Square

Conservative pastors stand by silently, conceding the culture war with barely a whimper.

We’ve all seen the encroachment of leftism into numerous areas of American life. Mark Pulliam, a recent transplant from Austin, Texas, to a “small town in east Tennessee,” recounts how he’s seen this affect even in his rural, conservative county, and he argues that religious leaders ceding the public square bear some of the blame.

One would expect the public square in such an area to be heavily imbued with traditional Christian (if not Judeo-Christian) morality; evangelical pastors who would outspokenly reinforce religiously grounded conservative values; and on Sunday the pulpits would resound with biblical recriminations against the tide of secularism and decadence overtaking our culture. If so, one would be disappointed, and perplexed.

Mainline Protestant churches, Pulliam said, are eaten up with “wokeness.” And it’s killing both them and the community.

In east Tennessee, and many other places throughout the country, the public square has been abjectly surrendered. I don’t wish to suggest that east Tennesseans have become areligious; they haven’t. Most people in my community regularly attend church. Rather, the mainline churches — and especially the ministers and pastors charged with the responsibility to be “faith leaders” — have largely vacated the public square. To the extent that religious leaders espouse a public message, it is based on social justice, or trendy leftist politics, not the Scripture.

He gives a few examples — a Presbyterian-affiliated college and more than one local Baptist minister advance social justice, while “conservative ministers seldom speak publicly to oppose” various scourges of society.

In a county that has voted Republican since the Civil War, and supported President Trump over Biden-Harris by a whopping 71 percent-27 percent margin, one would expect the faith leaders in the community to have a public presence commensurate with the numerical dominance that their conservative congregations collectively represent.

But they don’t. Instead, prominent figures in the area work to advance not the gospel but the NAACP, BLM, and a “diversity and inclusion consulting firm.” Pulliam argues, “Conservative congregations do not work together in the community to promote traditional values. ‘Progressive’ faith leaders are very active in this regard.”

The most troublesome aspect of many faith leaders’ withdrawal from the public square is that it represents acquiescence to the “progressive” theological agenda, which treats critical race theory, social justice, “anti-racism,” … same-sex marriage, and even democratic socialism as Christian imperatives, when in fact they contradict millennia of Judeo-Christian tradition. Religion, instead of being marginalized or ignored … has been hijacked or commandeered by progressive activists posing as faith leaders, who use their clerical robes and pulpits to dispense leftist nostrums dressed up as religious dogma. In my community and elsewhere, conservative pastors stand by silently, conceding the culture war with barely a whimper.

Pulliam concludes:

Real religion, with an emphasis on biblically based Judeo-Christian morality, is essential for our experiment in republican self-government to succeed. In his 1796 Farewell Address, President George Washington counseled that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” and warned that “morality can[not] be maintained without religion.” Our second president, John Adams, elaborated by noting that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Abandoning the public square is not just a disservice to organized religion; it is a threat to the survival of a free society.

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