Society’s values resist rapid reversal but can shift substantially over a generation. Evangelicals need to plan for the long haul.

Evangelicals are supposed to be the salt of the earth. Christian people and the moral values of the Bible they espouse are a saving and preserving salt in society. But the preserving quality of salt becomes effective only when it is used, and its use is governed by the moral taste buds of society. That’s another way of saying people get the kind of government they deserve.

A taste for salt can be stimulated or suppressed. And in recent months many evangelicals have begun to wonder if salt has not lost its savor for the palate of the American people. For nearly a century we allowed the moral taste of America to change bit by bit away from a solid commitment to biblical values. The change was so gradual it was scarcely noticed—except by a few who were widely regarded as alarmists.

Then in the sixties we suddenly became aware of how radically we had shifted in our moral standards. The seed planted by Carl F. H. Henry a quarter of a century earlier in his volume The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism began to take root. Evangelicals, including fundamentalists, moved into action, and Bible-believing Christians were exhorted to act now or we would forever lose our American freedoms and the ethical heritage we had taken so lightly. Evangelicals, and especially fundamentalists, were going to “make America once more a righteous nation.”

The surprise is not in their failure but in how close they came to securing their goals. Things began to happen in 1976, “the year of the evangelicals.” For the first time in this century America elected a president who openly identified himself with the evangelical ...

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