From a public-policy point of view, the Indiana faith community has had a rough few years, leaving many faith leaders with a form of public-square post-traumatic stress disorder.
First, churches, faith communities, religious societies and houses of worship suffered a setback when the Indiana General Assembly refused to allow voters to determine the definition of marriage. In the summer of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court completed the insult by precluding states from speaking to this issue.
Family dysfunction has only grown worse since then. Poverty, crime, mental health crises, lack of educational attainment and many more problems trace their lineage to families failing to thrive.
Following this insult, true injury came with the raucous battle over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Here was a perfectly fine federal law enacted with President Bill Clinton’s approval and the vote of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. But when the Hoosier faith community pursued its enactment here, we were branded homophobic, small-minded, religious bigots.
Meanwhile, two of the most vigorous critics of passing an Indiana RFRA have established a striking presence in our capital city after saying they had to reevaluate doing business among such moral midgets. Salesforce put its name upon and its Indiana team within our state’s tallest building. Cummins built a gleaming office building in sight of our Statehouse.
More recently, Google announced a project in Fort Wayne, and Meta (formerly Facebook) announced a major project in southeastern Indiana. It seems the backwaters of Indiana policymaking are fine when profits are being generated.
COVID church closures were more of a threat here than a reality. But that true threat added to the stress level of religious leaders and their followers.
Such hostility and misapprehension are well explained in a new book by Hoosier thought leader Aaron Renn. “Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture,” released Jan. 30, offers a succinct and compelling diagnosis of the whiplash that has traumatized faith leaders active in public life.
Renn, who lives in Indianapolis following a stent at the Manhattan Institute and as an Accenture partner, offers a compelling analysis of evangelicalism and its relationship with the larger culture. Evangelicals, loosely defined as orthodox Christians who adhere to the Bible, make up perhaps a quarter of Christendom. Traditional Catholics, mainline denominational members and charismatics, to oversimplify things, make up much of the balance.
Renn notes the broad acceptance of and favorable attitude toward evangelicalism and Christianity in general until the mid-1990s. That was followed by neutrality toward evangelicalism, a more conservative form of the faith. In the 2015-2016 timeframe, the same years noted above, this neutrality turned to hostility. The balance of Renn’s work suggests strategies for the faithful to adopt in light of this new dynamic.
This final blow, the loss first of favor then of simple acceptance, adds to church-leader wariness. For those committed to serving others and loving their neighbors as they love themselves, the larger culture has turned hostile, castigating the leaders’ motives and frustrating their actions.
Let us hope efforts to reduce this wariness succeed, for Indiana needs her faith community fully engaged to flourish.•
Smith is chairman of the Indiana Family Institute and author of “Deicide: Why Eliminating The Deity is Destroying America.” Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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