For the first time in three decades, socially conservative Christians find themselves in a dramatically changed political environment: outside in the cold, so to speak. No more easy access to the Oval Office or powerful friends in Congress.
How do we respond in this unfamiliar role? After all, we have been in the center of things, politically speaking, since 1976. As a brand-new Christian attending the Christian Booksellers Convention, I remember being stunned that there were "Jimmy Carter for President" signs. For the first time, evangelicals were openly organizing.
Later, their disillusionment with the born-again President led to the Reagan surge, the Moral Majority, and the Christian Coalition during the heyday of political activism. The Religious Right became a pejorative term, but it achieved needed political victories.
Those victories are far less likely today with a President and Congressional leadership radically committed not only to abortion rights but also to adding sexual orientation to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which could prevent faith-based organizations from considering sexual orientation in hiring decisions—a huge threat to religious liberty.
So do we retreat into our sanctuaries? Political columnist Cal Thomas, among others, says we should forget the idea of changing culture through politics and just be the church: help the poor, visit those in prison, and so on. To that I say an emphatic "No!" Rather, we should learn from Scripture how God taught the Jews in Babylonian exile to behave: "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters … multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city … and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jer. 29:5-7, ESV).
That means we are to be good citizens, praying for and obeying the state. In doing so, we may impact our leaders powerfully, just as Daniel influenced King Nebuchadnezzar when he was appointed to serve him.
And as God commanded the Israelites, we must also build up and disciple our families at a time when most of the West is in a destructive demographic decline. Close friends of mine, Jack and Rhodora Donahue, consciously decided to raise and disciple a Christian family. Their 13 children have given them 83 grandchildren and growing numbers of great-grandchildren. Not one is weak in the faith; several are priests and almost all others work in lay ministries. The Donahues quip that they have invaded occupied territory, Satan's domain, with their own brood. Would that every Christian parent approach child rearing that way.
Most importantly, we who call ourselves evangelicals or socially conservative Christians must build relationships within our own faith communities, creating networks of activists who see Christianity as a worldview and adhere to biblical orthodoxy. We need to reach across confessional and denominational lines, strengthening one another in our faith and fortifying our witness in a winsome way. But we can do that only if we ourselves are rooted in the true faith "that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
In this time, which many see as a political exile, true believers must live in such a way that the world sees a difference in our lives. This is one of the things that excites me most about Prison Fellowship's work behind bars. We are creating communities of believers who are in exile but discipling one another—who, when released, go back into prisons to help disciple other prisoners. This is how movements grow; not from the top down but from the bottom up.