It’s Always a ‘Negative World’ for Christianity

Protesters against the admission of the "Little Rock Nine" to Central High School. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images.)

One of core conservative Christian critiques of American culture is that America is growing ever-more hostile to the authentic Christian faith. We’ve left a friendly and hospitable past, and now we’re confronting a hostile future.

As one writer put it in an influential First Things essay, prior to 1994 the culture retained a positive view of Christianity. That view turned more neutral between 1994 and 2014, and since 2014 we’ve entered the “negative world,” where “being known as a Christian is a social negative, particularly in the elite domains of ­society,” and “Christian morality is expressly repudiated and seen as a threat to the public good and the new public moral order.”

This notion puts an intellectual frame around right-wing Christian rhetoric that declares we have to “take our country back.” Everywhere there is a sense of siege, and each and every act of unfairness or censorship directed at conservative Christians (whether in the United States or as far away as Australia) is amplified as proof of the concept. We have entered a new, dark time, it is said, and thus the “old ways”—which include a commitment to kindness in the public square—are simply inadequate for the moment. 

But this analysis is fundamentally wrong. It’s dangerously wrong. It’s wrong not because the present moment is particularly hospitable to the Christian faith, but because it fundamentally misunderstands both American history and American Christendom, and it fundamentally misunderstands the permanent countercultural reality of authentic Christianity.

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