The guy on the left is, of course, Jimmy Carter, the Evangelical President. The guy on the right is one Larry Norman, former singer/songwriter of the Top 40 hitmakers People (link below), and the self-proclaimed Father of Contemporary Christian Music, which is what happened when Larry 'n Jesus had a Born Again time and he started making rock 'n roll for the Lord, much of it still pretty good.
My addled mind is completely befuddled by what happened in the middle, particularly the years 1980 - 2019. When I graduated from Ohio University in 1977, I moved to the inner-city of Columbus to be a part of a Genuine Jesus Freak Community(TM), a bunch of broken hippies and former hippies who all lived together under the same roofs, married folks and single folks and homeless people and dogs and cats and goats (some good eatin' there) who were united in the modest goal of changing the world for Jesus. Because they were young and idealistic and well-intentioned, they did some good things, including setting up some tutoring programs for the kids in the hood, and cleaning up the alleys and generally loving the neighbors around them, most of whom didn't look like them. Because they were young and somewhat prideful and naive, it didn't really work out, either. A bunch of people, including me, met their spouses and started having kids and moving away to places where they were safer. They moved away for the most logical of reasons. They also moved away because they could.
I look back on those young Evangelicals with great fondness and yes, some bewilderment. Some of them eventually morphed into what is now a 10,000-member megachurch in the suburbs of Columbus, complete with a gigantic church complex and bookstore and coffeehouse and restaurant, and a nifty Community Center that provides childcare to the neighborhood, and legal consultations, and medical and dental care at free or greatly discounted rates, and fixes beat-up cars, and runs athletic leagues for kids who otherwise might have too little to do and too much time on their hands. All of this is praiseworthy. I commend them. That suburban church is home to people from more than 100 nations, and that is not a typo. They strive to be inclusive and welcoming in all the normal Evangelical ways, which, of course, doesn't include significant segments of our society. It is what it is; some good, some bad. Mostly good, with some gaping holes.
Some of them moved on to more established denominational churches. Some of them started churches of their own, which is an Evangelical hallmark. Some of them bagged it and walked away from it all, and now have nothing to do with Christianity or religion in general. All of them grew up, experienced the joy and the messiness and the hurt of life in the Christian Church in America. Some are still there. Some are not.
The pastor of that 10,000-member megachurch, who I used to hang out with during his relative Jesus Freak youth, is retiring soon. I know he remembers Jimmy Carter and Larry Norman. There are vestigial memories of his youth that still make him an anomaly in today's Evangelical world. He sometimes preaches sermons that rile up the congregation because he insists that a core part of the Christian message involves loving and serving the least of these. People don't like that. It doesn't fit in with the Gospel According to Fox News, and more and more that's where people in his congregation are taking their religious cues from. There is a storm a-brewing, one that may hold off until his retirement, but which will surely burst forth once he's gone. There is a struggle underway for the soul of Christian America. I'm not necessarily betting on orthodox or historical Christianity.
Mostly, I miss 1975; the certainty, the assurance that the team was all working toward the same goal. That's all gone now. I'm not even sure what the team is anymore. I miss Larry Norman, too.
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