The Challenges Facing the Republican Party-10 Things that the US Church Can Learn From This

The Challenges Facing the Republican Party:
10 Things that the US Church Can Learn From This

Though I place no faith in politics to change the world, I do follow politics closely. And as an observer of culture, it is clear that many of the challenges that the Republican party faces are also mirrored in the church. (Note--my point here is not to argue about, criticize, or try to prop up the Republican party. My point here is to use it as an illustration about what is happening in our culture and the parallel challenges that are found in the church in the United States.)

The church in the US faces every challenge that the Republican party faced, including:

  1. An inability or lack of motivation to reach out to a growing minority population. The percentage of white voters has increasingly shrunk over the past few decades. White voters were 74 percent of the voting population in 2008. This decreased to 72 percent in 2012. Of Mitt Romney's supporters, 88 percent were white--an all time high. Thus, Romney gained an increased percentage of  a "shrinking pie." See Latinos Make American History-GOP Pays the Bill.

    The Republican party has both ignored and been ineffective in reaching out to the growing African-American, Hispanic, and Asian population in the US. They do not in general campaign much in these communities nor speak to their concerns, figuring that they will not get their support. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    African-Americans made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2012, and Hispanics made up 10 percent. These groups went nine out of 10 and 7 out of 10 to Obama, and they will only continue to grow. By 2050, Hispanics are projected to have a plurality of the population in the US. If the Republican party continues to primarily target white, suburban voters and ignores these groups, the party will gradually fade into a regional, minority party.

    Churches of Christ in the US have also been primarily a white, Christian fellowship. Of course, so was the US. But that is changing, and our fellowship has done little to reach the growing Hispanic, African-American, and Asian groups in the US. We either ignore these groups or are ineffective in reaching them.

    In the Dallas Area, for instance, the South MacArthur Church of Christ in the 1970s had the largest church building in the US and was overwhelmingly white. Now that Irving, however, is 88 percent Hispanic, the church there no longer exists--and no similarly large Hispanic congregation exists in its place. (Here it would be appropriate for me to highlight Genesis Alliance, an organization that helps plant Latino churches of which I am a board member. See
  2. Insensitivity at the least on women's issues.
    Todd Akin, who was running for US Senate in Missouri, by all accounts should have beaten Caire McClaskill. But his comments about "legitimate rape" turned off women voters in droves. Similarly, Joe Donnelly beat Richard Murdock in the Indiana US Senate race because of his inarticulate statement about having a baby from rape can be "something that God wants." This fed into other statements from Romney talking about "binders of women" and women being able to come home and fix dinner, Republican lack of support for the Lilly Ledbetter bill (equal work for equal pay), and historically few Republican women representatives.

    Whatever one believes on women's issues, there can be little doubt that this is a huge issue today. At Elderlink, one speaker told of being asked to come and guest speak about Churches of Christ at a religion class at a nearby university. The first question that he was asked is, "You guys are the ones that don't support women, aren't you?"

    At the least, the church must do better at articulating its position on women's issues, not sound like cave men on roles issues, seek to make sure that women are highly valued and treasured, that they visibly serve, and that their gifts and talents are well used. Check out Romans 16, where Paul lists woman after woman, and refers to these women as co-workers and more. Younger people in particular are highly aware of this issue. A loving, biblical message about men and women--where they overlap in roles and where the differ--can be articulated in a way that is less likely to drive these generations away.

  3. Radical statements by certain leaders on sensitive issues such as homosexuality and failure to be able to articulate a redemptive message for this group/issue  . . . .

    This is definitely a tough one. The Republican party contains large numbers of social conservatives who do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle. Obviously, most Christians do not agree with this lifestyle either. However, the Republican party could appeal to this group on fiscal issues if they wanted to. The church must do more than simply say that homosexuality is wrong. Believe it or not, those who practice this lifestyle know this. We must share Christ first, who has the power to transform people. Morality by itself has no power. Christ has power, and it is Christ who is appealing. We must share a redemptive message to this group and realize that many struggle with this lifestyle and do not know how to deal with the feelings that they have. I have met with Christian parents who have teens that struggle with this, as well as teens and young adults who struggle with this. We must show love and compassion and redemption in Christ.

  4. Ignoring the incredible growth of the single population to exclusively focus on married (white) people,
    The Republican party has long appealed to married people with traditional values, and generally it does well with married women. However, the 2012 election brought home again the huge gender gap the party has, particularly with single women. (See Time's "Four Ways Women Won the Election.") There are now more single women in the US than married women, and some 42 percent of the US population is single. Single women are much more likely to look towards government for help, and the message of self-sufficiency has less appeal. How do conservative principles help single women? 

    In the same way, churches are geared towards married people with kids. Every church I have ever been at or have seen advertise says that they want to reach (married) families. Rarely are they seeking to reach singles. This ignores almost half of the US population!  
  5. An aging "base."
    Romney won seniors. But he woefully lost those under 30. The church too is facing this challenge. Church attendance in the US is 18-23 percent and dropping fast. In fact, the only thing holding it up is older generations. Church attendance is even worse with 18-30 year olds. We are losing younger people left and right. Check out You Lost Me.

  6. Perceived lack of care towards the poor and hurting.
    The Republican party has been perceived as caring little for the poor, with cuts in Medicaid and Romney's statement about 47 percent of the population being freeloaders on the government dole. With so much of the nation struggling to make ends meet, out of work, or afraid of being out of work, "the poor" might be us. And many upwardly mobile people care about the poor as well. While there is a conservative argument that can be made about churches and individuals providing help to the poor, Republican policies and statements by their leaders can appear heartless and uncaring. While Republicans recoil and make fun of Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain," the fact is that some 56 percent of the US electorate felt that Obama "understood people like me." This was a huge help in his winning the election. And the fact is that empathy is a significant characteristic of a leader. If a person doesn't care about me, why would I follow him or her?

    Many young people in particular are concerned about care for the poor and hurting. They look at the amount of money spent upon buildings and the church and compare it to the amount of money spent in the community and on those in need and it bothers them. Churches must show that they truly do care for the down and out, re-allocate resources towards these ministries, and  seek to show and illustrate how church buildings help the church in its mission.

  7. A cherry picking of data and news media that fits one's point of view and ignoring of other data that points towards decline and other problems.
    All throughout the election, Republicans ignored polls that indicated that Obama was ahead and took solace in Dick Morris, Rasmussen, and Gallup. They scoffed at Nate Silver's 91 percent certainty that Obama would win. They pointed towards large crowds at events and anecdotal evidence of "enthusiasm." They said that there was no way that Obama could equal his 2008 election output. But the polls were incredibly accurate. The conservative pundits were wrong.

    Today I fear that many church leaders are ignoring the research from George Barna, books like You Lost Me, or even The Christian Chronicle, that show that the church is in serious decline in the US and that our message and approach is not resonating with younger generations. They are nowhere to be found. Church leaders point to a few growing churches (most of which are merely swelling) or colleges (like Harding), and they fool themselves into thinking that we can do what we have always done and everything will be alright. We cannot keep doing the same thing, and it will not be alright if we do.

  8. Ignoring popular culture.
    Obama was made fun of for going onto The View, The Daily Show, and doing interview with various pop stars. Romney stayed away from such venues. While it is true that some of these venues would not have been hospitable towards him, he missed an opportunity to speak to that particular audience. Obama used Springsteen and other musicians to draw a crowd to get people to vote. Romney depended upon his own personal appeal. We can see who won. 

    The church often ignores popular culture, new communication mediums, music, and technology. I can remember one church leader going crazy over the introduction of power point--something that is almost out of date now--because it "bothered him." Many today have the same objections to the use of video, when this is the communication medium of today's younger generations. Numerous spiritually themed movies have come out in recent years, including Narnia, The Passion of the Christ, The Lord of the Rings, The Blind Side, and more. Most churches in our fellowship ignored these opportunities to speak through these films.

    When the Narnia film came out, we rented out a theater and asked people to invite their friends. Over 100 visitors came, and I was able to speak to the crowd after the movie and invite them to a special series exploring these biblical themes. At least one direct conversion of a spouse of a Christian (who was very far away from God) came from this outreach. And yet there was a big debate about whether or not we should even do this. Why would a church want to miss this opportunity? Paul used popular culture in Acts 17 to speak about the "unknown God" at Mars Hill. Today, Paul would get roundly criticized for his methods.

  9. Failure to apply and contextualize a message to different sub-groups. 
    Romney largely ran on the conservative message of limited government, hard work, and lower taxes. But when 50 percent of the people do not pay income tax, how does lowering income taxes appeal to them? Futhermore, it was assumed that people would apply this to their lives. Bad assumption. People have to be told and shown how this applies. How could these principles apply to a single mom, a Hispanic immigrant, an African-American in the inner city, an upper middle class soccer mom, a business entrepreneur? Obama made appeals to each of these groups. Romney ran on a broad message. Obama won.

    One of the characteristics of postmodernism is that everyone holds on very tightly to their ethnicity, background, heritage, etc. It used to be that the US was spoken of as a "melting pot," where everyone came from different backgrounds, they left those behind, and they became "Americans." Now, the US is spoken of as a Mosaic, with a diversity of people from various backgrounds who have some things in common, but who retain their own identity. Thus, in order to communicate to a group, the message must be applied to their life experience and who they are.

    Preachers must do the same thing. Broad, general messages that assume people will make their own application often fall flat. Ministers must show how the gospel is good news for single moms, traditional, busy, families, people at the end of their lives, immigrants, singles, etc. We must not assume that people will make this application for themselves.
  10. Well, I don't really have a 10th point right now, but I am sure that I will add one!

What challenges do you see that the church faces in the current culture? What in the recent election points towards these challenges? What lessons can we learn from this?

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Comment by Alberto Vilches on November 8, 2012 at 7:56pm

Great article, James.  While I don't totally agree with all of the problems of the Republicans as stated by many of the pundits...if as many had turned out for Romney as did for McCain, Romney would have is very true that those things could enhance the Republican party and could certainly help the church in her outreach.  The question is, how either do it without watering down their message?  I believe that Romney watered down the message in the last 4 weeks and that kept 3 million of the base away.  It's a tough line to find and adhere to.

Comment by Jennie Johnson on November 8, 2012 at 4:49pm

I have it. I forgot I can print it. Thanks

Comment by Jennie Johnson on November 8, 2012 at 4:43pm

I would like to have a copy of this. Very interesting comments regaring what the church can learn from this.  Jennie Johnson... PO Box 94. Odessa, Tx..79760-0094

thank you

Comment by Bartlett Cleland on November 8, 2012 at 4:08pm

Great post James

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