That Legacy Thing


I wish I could give us Americans some credit for possessing more than a rudimentary memory that extends beyond six months, but, in case we all forget, I want to mention a word. Eight years ago, that word was legacy. Bill Clinton seemed to be highly concerned about his legacy and so were all his sycophants. “The legacy thing” was front page news, and darnit, hosts of people worried along with the chief executive.

**flash forward to today**

I can’t get “An Evangelical Manifesto” out of my head. In some ways, that document highlights the problems with “the legacy thing” for modern American Christians of the born-again variety. It not only swims in angst and contrition, but also seethes with that worry our previous president expressed. Much the same way Bill Clinton couldn’t leave office without ensuring that people considered him the bee’s knees, so Evangelicals go all out in “An Evangelical Manifesto” to win the love of the average Joe and Jane Doe, despite the fact that the Lord said they’d be hated on His account.

And why this plea to be liked? Don’t Evangelicals rule the world? Three years ago, they proclaimed as much in the pages of Time magazine, including a cover declaring Evangelicals the next hip thing. Heck, Evangelicals put their anointed man into the White House. Evangelicals crowed about nailing Saddam. They showed off their new-found affluence and built McMansions all over the place. They got Veggie Tales on Saturday network cartoons. They roamed the halls of power from boardrooms to think tanks. They fought this cultural battle and that. They built massive churches and anchored them with a Starbucks—or some Christianized clone of Starbucks. They ruled the radio airwaves with at least a half-dozen, family-friendly, kid-safe Christian radio stations in every major market. Suddenly, it was cool to be Christian. And Evangelicals, caught up in the moment, flaunted their Time cover story image anywhere they could.

And just look at the payoff! Well, are you looking? On second thought, perhaps it’s better not to look.

Let’s do a quick check…

  • Violent crime is on the rise.
  • Abortion is on the rise.
  • Illegal drug use is on the rise.
  • Life expectancy in our country has actually dropped.
  • The economies of several of the largest states in the country (California, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida) are imploding.
  • This president, the one who was anointed “Our Man,” the one who supplanted the guy worried about his legacy, may go down in history as one of the least effective we’ve ever had—if his approval rating is any indication. Same for Congress.
  • We’ve seen any respect the rest of the world had for our country go down the tubes.
  • Bankers would rather hold Euros.
  • People point fingers at the Chinese response in the wake of their big earthquake, yet can’t remember what happened in New Orleans less than three years ago.
  • More Americans take doctor-prescribed psychoactive drugs than ever before.
  • Just seven years after 9/11, they can’t build skyscrapers fast enough in majority-Muslim countries and emirates like Malaysia and Dubai, while thousands of Americans here can no longer afford to live in the homes they purchased just a few years ago.
  • Our government claims consumer prices have barely nudged upward, though no one would think less of a man today if he burst out crying after seeing his bill at the grocery store. (Yeah, it may well be true that a container of ice cream is still $3.50 today as it was three years ago. Only then you got a half gallon instead of 1.4 quarts. Thank you, government, for telling me the price of ice cream remained steady!)
  • The kids coming out of our public schools are, for the most part, about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.
  • Our cultural cachet is either loud and stupid (name a Will Farrell movie) or obscene (satellite and cable TV providers can’t seem to add porn channels fast enough). Meanwhile, book readership continues to drop precipitously.
  • More households in this country are now dual income than ever before and not simply as a way to garner “mad money,” but largely because they can’t otherwise survive financially.
  • The vast majority of people in America believe that we, as a country, are on the wrong track.
  • And we may very well elect as our next president a guy whose political experience couldn’t get him elected dog catcher in most small towns, a guy as antithetical to Christian views as could be possible and still sport the label “Christian.”

Does it bother anyone but me that all the above happened while Evangelicals were crowing about their power? So you think you can run with the big dogs, eh?It’s like a chihuahua acting like a wolf by baying at the moon. It’s like the neighborhood kid on the football team who throws a tantrum because no one will hand him the ball, until that fated day when someone does, and he fumbles it…right into an inconveniently placed vat of nitric acid.

Worse, if the social impact shows no sign of Evangelical influence, what’s the state of life in that Evangelical stronghold of the spiritual?

  • As a percentage of the population, fewer people attend church today than just ten years ago.
  • Men are dropping out of church life right and left.
  • No one talks about evangelism anymore.
  • Evangelicals don’t want internal reform groups to rain on their parade, choosing rather to point out the glaring problems within the reform groups than deal with the valid issues the reform groups raise.
  • Pollster George Barna continues to show that basic tenets of Christianity are poorly understoood, not by unbelievers, but by Evangelicals themselves—and getting worse.
  • The large majority of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith by the time they graduate.
  • The average Christian man will read not read a single book—outside of the Bible—after graduating from college.
  • Our prayer meetings are filled…with the same handful of grandmothers (because no one under 65 darkens their doorways).
  • And the underground Chinese Church is praying fervently that genuine persecution (not “Hey, those liberal punks at Harvard  discriminated against my Christian son and wouldn’t admit him!”) will come to the fat American Church.

That’s one major legacy issue.

Seriously, if Evangelicals were to start walking the talk, start offering up Holy-Spirit-infused solutions to intractable world problems, and start seriously devoting time and energy to  evangelism and discipleship, perhaps their legacy will be a changed world. Perhaps there would be several million more Christians—and deeper ones at that. At least that’s the intent of the Lord.

Someone please pass along that message to the Evangelicals; I still don’t think they get it.