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New York (Evangelical) Values

May 3, 2016

Well, here I am in rainy and cool New York.  After living 15 years in North Carolina and 17 years before that in various tropical locations my wife and I have moved back to the state where we were born.  When we told people we were going back they often looked at us as if we had lost our minds.  Even after we’ve arrived here New Yorkers asked us why we had come.  Our answer was always easy and always one word – family.  It is good to be with our extended family again.

Some have asked me if I am going to continue blogging and my answer is “probably yes.”  After being here just four days however I can sense that some of the things I write about will change. North Carolina was a hotbed for the culture war, that mix of religious convictions and conservative politics that continually manifested itself in heated public debate; debate that often had me wincing about the things being said and done by my fellow-evangelicals.

While there is a culture shift going on in NC, the days where cultural norms and evangelical values were almost identical are still alive in memory.  You can even make the case that for a majority of the population those values are still strong.  As a result there is an almost desperate urgency among evangelicals to shout “Stop!” and to support any politician who shouts it and any law that tries to do it.

New York evangelicals have moved on.  They’ve already lost the battle to stop the culture shift and no longer focus their efforts on an attempt to turn back the clock.  In large part that is why a Christian politician like Ted Cruz got obliterated in the recent primary here.  If you listen to Cruz you will repeatedly here his promise to “restore,” “reclaim,” or “return to,” some glorious past.  New York evangelicals realize that is not going to happen and view such claims as hot air.  Of course the cavalier way that Cruz dissed the entire state with his “New York values” sneer didn’t help him either.

The challenge for New York evangelicals is to be messengers of truth and grace in a culture that has, at best, only a vague understanding of both concepts.  I repeat, grace and truth.  They often look at their fellow evangelicals in NC and other Bible belt regions and shake their heads.  They hear the truth being shouted and grieve that grace to others seems to be whispered or totally absent.

We New York evangelicals (for I now count myself in their number) realize that we are far from perfect on this “grace and truth” issue.  We realize that maintaining our core values in a culture that does not respect them is hard; that we might not be doing it well.  What we need from NC is not sneering Ted Cruz-like dismissals but encouragement and prayer.

What we offer in return is an example from someone further down the cultural road.  NC evangelicals, like it or not, we are probably your future; you will soon live in an environment akin to ours.  We hope that you can watch and learn, probably as much from our mistakes as our successes.  But above all we hope to show that we can be evangelical without the help of pandering politicians and repressive laws; that the culture war is to win hearts, not political battles.

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