Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Activism of Young "Orthodox" Christians

BACKGROUND. In my previous post, I reviewed Colleen Carroll's book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. In this post I am merely recording some of my many notes on the activism of "the new faithful," as presented by Carroll. Keep in mind that Christian holy scripture calls Christians to be activists at least to the extent of "witnessing," that is, identifying themselves as followers of the worldview of Jesus Christ.

What sort of actions do the "new faithful" take? What sort of problems do most of them encounter when living by their faith in a partly secular world that seems hostile to them? On what scale do they act—locally or nationally?

First, for an intriguing overview of Christian activism, listen to Onkar Ghate's 90-minute lecture, second in the "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" series of videotape lectures by Dr. Ghate and Dr. Yaron Brook. That series of three lectures is on the website of the Ayn Rand Center (Participate, Activism, right column): The lectures contain many insights and suggestions useful to pro-reason advocates.

Who are the young orthodox Christians Carroll interviewed for her book?

The young adults profiled in this book…are an eclectic mix. They are college students, monks, beauty queens, rocket scientists, and landscape architects. . . . They tend to be cultural leaders, young adults blessed with talent, intelligence, good looks, wealth, successful careers, impressive educational pedigrees, or charisma . . . They are the sort of people who . . . made conscious commitments that are having an impact far greater than their numbers would warrant. . . . They are the sort of people other young adults look to when considering what to do, how to live, and what to believe. So what they do, how they live, and what they believe matters to America—a lot. (p. 12)

Publicly or privately, activists spreading orthodox Christianity pursue their goals in a variety of settings: university campuses, churches, work places, beauty pageants, small Bible study groups, magazines (such as re:generation quarterly), and seminaries.

The new faithful rely ultimately on mysticism in one form or another. "In our hearts, we know the truth," says one activist. (p. 3) Though none of the newly orthodox Christians in Carroll's account devote full time to spreading mysticism as an explicit purpose, they do promote it implicitly and explicitly in all they do, to the extent that they can articulate their reasons for holding a particular orthodox position. For example—as I have seen personally—God, revelation, and faith are not far away when a Christian opponent of abortion begins to justify his position.

The following notes record a few examples out of the many projects orthodox Christians have created in the USA in the last generation. My purpose here is to show the range of their activities and indicate a few of the problems they encounter as radical Christians.

SOME ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS ARE SERIOUS DONORS. If only by implication, Carroll demonstrates repeatedly that donors are activists to the extent of their donations. Carroll devoted a year to "researching and writing this book" (p. ix), The New Faithful, which at one level is a sort of handbook for orthodox Christian activists. Who paid for her time while she was working on the book? The Phillips Foundation provides not only financial support for young, conservative, Christian journalists working on long-term projects, but also the lifetime benefit of networking. Through the foundation's special projects, such as awards dinners, the young journalists meet other professionals in the field. Those contacts lead to new projects and stable jobs. These benefits sustain activism.

SOME PREPARE OTHERS FOR ACTIVISM.  Some Christian activists attend training courses such as the leadership academy of The Trinity Forum (, founded by Os Guinness, a Christian author. The teachers and administrators at TTF are as much activists as the young activists who attend the training, but the activism of the trainers is indirect.

SOME PUBLISH. Bill Haley publishes re:generation quarterly, "a magazine for young orthodox Christians." (p. 23)

SOME PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL GROUPS FOR LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS.  Orthodox Christians value being members of some form of a religious community. The three common forms of community are: a full-time religious life, as in a monastery; regular participation in church fellowship groups; and informal alliances of religious laymen. (p. 119) Each community offers indirect opportunities for activists to spread their ideas to the larger culture outside the Christian community. For example, even though they may live in some manner of seclusion, monks may spread the word of Christ while aiding the poor in the neighborhood of the monastery.

Consider a second example. Bill Haley established Kairos . . .

a community of young, professional, mostly evangelical Protestants who meet for weekly worship . . . in Falls Church, Virginia. . . . Haley hopes to offer young adults something they may not be getting elsewhere: authentic community, the challenge to live a moral life geared toward serving others, and a genuine connection to a transcendent God. (p. 23)

In the following example note the ripple effect of (1) dedicated individuals meeting other individuals (in social settings organized by still other individuals), (2) networking, (3) developing a clearer idea of the sort of world they want, and (4) taking action to create that world locally for like-minded individuals.

[John] Hart [a student at Kansas State University] discovered the power of Christian community when he became involved with the National Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values. The ecumenical event brings college students together in Washington, D.C., to interact with political leaders, discuss the role of faith in their lives, and examine "servant leadership," using Jesus Christ as a model. The forum grew out of the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of diverse political leaders in Washington that student leaders participate in and help coordinate. The people Hart met through his involvement with the forum and the prayer breakfast embodied the sort of Christian community he admired—and hoped to imitate. When he returned to Kansas State [University], he and a handful of his college buddies decided to think strategically about how to spread the gospel on campus, hold each other accountable as Christians, and live together in community. . . . The group . . . worked to ease the divisions between believers on campus . . . Their nucleus grew from five to fifteen and, eventually, to several hundred loosely connected friends around the nation who share the same vision for strategic evangelism. . . . Through his community-living experiences . . . Hart grew to appreciate the rewards and struggles of Christian community. . . . He has learned, in essence, to 'die to self'. (pp. 92-93)

SOME ORGANIZE SCHOOLS THAT PLANT SEEDS IN FUTURE ACTIVISTS. In Carroll's account, the careful reader sees the role that specialized schools have in introducing young people to ideas that grow for years and then blossom into a conversion and perhaps into activism. Some of the "schools" are ad hoc events devoted to a particular form of religious education. Other schools are institutions and may be devoted to a broad education but provide a meeting ground for religious students.

A young man in a Boston high school attended a "confirmation retreat," that is, a gathering (usually in an area isolated from distractions) devoted to learning about Catholicism and to contemplation or prayer. Later, the young man graduated from high school and entered Brown University to study physics, with the intention of applying it to a career in business. Instead he became a Dominican friar (a "brother" who preaches the word of God), partly as a result of the long-term influence of the retreat and partly from the influence of a campus ministry on the Brown University campus. (pp. 30-31)

An evangelical group that boldly defends Christianity, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, at Harvard University and about 560 other campuses in the USA, is an example of an educational organization that is a " satellite" to a university. (pp. 32, 161, 176, 177-178)

Some newly orthodox Christians attend Christian universities for the purpose of living a more moral life or learning more about their religion or both. That is what Luke Fletcher did. He attended Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, a charismatic Catholic school. (pp. 37-38)   ("Charismatic" refers to a Christian's direct and dramatic experience of God, and proof of having had the experience is the ability to "speak in tongues," that is, babble, as the Pentecostals do.)

Natalie Barsoum, an evangelical student of music attended a secular music college where she joined meetings of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Then she transferred to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., continuing to study music. At Catholic University she met charismatic Catholics. She converted to Catholicism.  (pp. 41-42)

Jeff Barneson, who runs the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship graduate ministry at Harvard University, said he has seen signs of young believers' hunger for stories and lack of interest in purely rational [theological] arguments in Harvard's fellowships. He cited a group of several dozen graduate students who meet weekly . . .  for an after-class Bible study session. (p. 176)

SOME ADVOCATE TO NICHE GROUPS. Some organizations achieve small-scale but more intense success by offering a meeting point for individuals who share some value. One example value is a profession, such as medicine for medical students. Another example value is a particular national culture such as for first or second generation Korean immigrants. A third example value is a particular style of worship, such as for some African-Americans who enjoy singing without instruments, responding aloud to speakers, and praying aloud. The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a "multiethnic" organization, but it has ethnic branches such as the Asian-American Students for Christ. (pp. 176-177)

SOME JOIN ESTABLISHED CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS. For activism, some new orthodox are joining long-established Christian organizations. One such organization is the Legionaries of Christ (, an institution composed of priests and students of priesthood. It was founded in Mexico in 1941, and dedicated to training priests, spreading Christianity, and aiding the needy. Legionaries of Christ works closely with Regnum Christi (Kingdom of Christ), an organization of laymen. Another example of an already established organization which today's young orthodox Christians in the USA are joining is the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (, founded by eight priests in 1987, for two purposes: aiding the poor and spreading the Gospel of Christ. Guided by a desire to "renew" the Church, the organizers were following the example of renewalists in Italy in the 1500s. A third example of an established organization suitable for activism by today's "new faithful" orthodox Christians is Sisters of Life ( It is an organization of Catholic women formed in 1991 and dedicated to supporting "pro-life" causes such as opposing abortion and euthanasia. (p. 36)

SOME HELP CHRISTIANS ACROSS DENOMINATIONS. Some activities and some organizations bring Christians together for common interests, at least temporarily and partially.

When it comes to topics like abortion, [Father Willard] Jabusch [who directs 'the Catholic ministry at the University of Chicago'] said, conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and orthodox Jews often are united by their similar stands. (pp. 178-179)

Some organizations regularly bring evangelicals and Catholics together. An example is "Iron Sharpens Iron, an interdenominational Christian group at Notre Dame that gathers evangelical and Catholic students for worship, teaching, and prayer." (p. 179) "If young Catholics are mimicking evangelicals in the realm of faith [for example, in more demonstrative displays of worship], evangelicals are copying Catholics in the world of works." They are learning "how the gospel applies to such issues as poverty, racism, unbridled individualism, and materialism." (p. 45)

Sometimes Protestants and Catholics participate in the same ecumenical institutions. An ecumenical Christian monastic community in Taize, France, "attracts about a hundred thousand pilgrims a year, who come to participate in Taize's prayer rituals, Bible studies, common meals, and chores." The Taize monastic community holds communal prayer meetings near Chicago and San Franciso. (p. 91)

SOME APPRENTICE FOR A RELIGIOUS CAREER. "At the University of Notre Dame, an estimated 8 percent of graduating students apply to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a faith-focused, university-run teaching program that sends its members to live in Catholic community houses and work in understaffed Catholic schools across the nation." About two-thirds of the eighty applicants who are accepted "stay involved in Catholic education after their two-year service stint ends." (p. 33)

SOME WORK FULL-TIME ADVOCATING THEIR IDEAS.  In college, when Jason Evert "conducted [Christian] retreats, chatted with women friends, and counseled pregnant women outside abortion clinics," he saw "the pain and remorse that accompanied premature sexual activity." At age twenty-five, Evert became a "chastity educator." He "travels the nation talking to teenagers and young adults about chastity." (p. 135)


Theology on Tap … exposes young Catholics to the teachings of the church in an unconventional setting. In Washington, D.C. [as well as Chicago and Atlanta], speakers ranging from priests to graduate students address a standing-room-only crowd of twenty- and thirty-something Catholics each week on topics spanning from sexual morality to religious devotions. The setup feels unconventional, but the theology is utterly orthodox. And the crowd eats it up. (p. 34)

SOME WRESTLE WITH PROBLEMS COMMON TO ACTIVISTS. Some newly orthodox Christians wrestle with a problem that affects some activists in some other movements: retreating from a hostile world, with the result that the activist ends up talking only to like-minded individuals and does not change the world. This problem, for some members of the "new faithful," is related to the broader problem of how best to apply the basic principles of one's worldview to daily life.

The struggle to infuse faith into daily life is a perennial one for committed believers. In a secular, pluralistic culture where all religions are considered equal and none are entirely welcome in the public square, the challenge of integration [of one's worldview and one's daily actions] looms even larger. . . .  The decision to be an orthodox Christian today entails a conscious choice, not a passive inheritance. And living that choice is . . . no easy task. (p. 45)

Orthodox Christians are few. Some of them—perhaps the ones most committed to altruism—need spiritual support from others in order to live their lives as consistent Christians.

In a culture that often derides commitment, young adults need support to make faith commitments that last. In many Protestant churches, help often comes from accountability groups—small circles of peers who come together regularly to discuss choices made in daily life and to keep each other on track. Some Catholics have formed similar groups, and orthodox believers of all stripes say the choice of friends, as well as the support of formal faith communities, can make the difference between short-lived enthusiasm for Christianity and long-term commitment. (p. 52)

Some orthodox Christians enjoy associating with like-minded Christians but recognize a need to spread the word of Christ to non-Christians. One Christian magazine, re:generation quarterly, sponsors discussion groups in twenty-five cities in the USA. The mission of those discussion groups is "community transforming culture" (p. 116). They discuss the dual problem of living by their beliefs in their own personal lives and sharing those beliefs (their "faith") with nonbelievers in the broader culture.

SOME USE THEIR INTRANSIGENCE AS A MAGNET. Some Christian activists find that either "steadfast moral teachings," the "authority of tradition," or the refusal to appease relativistic secularists attracts some young "spiritual seekers" to the Christian cause. (pp. 68-69) A 2001 survey found that generally congregations that have a "commitment to [explicitly] high moral standards" are more likely to grow and prosper financially. (pp. 69-70)

Carroll shows in Ch 6 ("The Campus"), that orthodox Christians are especially interested in spreading Christianity to college and university students and faculty. One particular project serves as an example. In 1987, orthodox Christian Kelly Monroe enrolled as a graduate student in "the notoriously heterodox" Harvard Divinity School. Relativism, postmodernist deconstructionism, and anti-intellectual mysticism dominated the school. "Monroe and fellow Christians wanted to see Jesus Christ and orthodox Christianity taken seriously in an intellectual setting." (p. 157) In 1992 The Veritas Forum began at Harvard. The founders of The Veritas Forum were all Christians and locals: Harvard students; Harvard alumni; Harvard professors; and Kelly Monroe, by then a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Fellowship, an evangelical group.

The name of the Forum comes from the original Harvard motto: Veritas: Christo et Ecclesiae, Truth for Christ and for the Church. (pp. 156-157) The "forum" consisted of a series of seminars and lectures. The effort was "grassroots," that is, the leaders of the seminars and the lecturers were Harvard students and Harvard alumni, not imported from elsewhere. The principle that organized the various events was the purpose of the forum: to examine "the truth and relevance of Jesus Christ by raising the hardest questions of the university, society, and human heart." (p. 157, quoting Monroe from her 1996, best-selling book, Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians.)

To the organizers' surprise, seven hundred participants attended the forum. The idea of the forum spread rapidly to seventy-five colleges and universities. One function of each forum is to unite the local campus Christian community. Each forum draws from its university's own academic community, and each forum speaks to local interests. The Veritas Forum, as a central organization, provides an informative website ( Monroe, now an employee of the Forum, travels to schools that are struggling to set up their own events. (pp. 157-158)

The Veritas Forum serves multiple purposes, as Carroll's discussion shows: (1) helping committed Christians intellectually articulate their positions on issues that arise from Christians as well as from objecting nonbelievers; (2) increasing cooperation among Christians of various denominations; (3) publicizing Christian ideas, both the fundamentals and the applications, to non-Christians; and (4) helping committed Christians cope with a largely secular campus culture.

SOME SPECIALIZE IN CHRISTIANIZING POLITICS. "Young believers often reject the separation of sacred and secular that marks modern political thought. Instead, they see the two as inextricably connected, and they hope to transform the public square with the same faith that has transformed their personal lives." (pp. 201-202)

Washington—and the political realm at large—naturally attracts devout young believers who are born leaders with a passion for transforming culture. Several Christian organizations have attempted to tap into and contribute to that reservoir of talent and zeal by organizing programs and fellowships that help young adults integrate faith and politics. The Family Research Council . . . Focus on the Family . . . . And the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an evangelical organization that includes about a hundred religious schools, sponsors an American Studies program that brings college students to Washington for a semester to examine public policy and their professional callings as Christians. These initiatives, known as worldview programs, are designed to help young Christians make the connection between their orthodox faith and its implications for politics and society. Most programs are conservative and are concerned with preserving traditional morality in a culture they see as desperately in need of principled Christian leaders. Their emphasis on integration [of beliefs and actions, religion and politics] is designed to help young Christians take their convictions from the religious community to the public square, where they can help transform culture from positions of political influence. (pp. 214-215)

Though many Christian activists, as such, are conservative and Republican, not all are. Some support causes ordinarily associated with the other side of the usual Republican/Democrat, conservative/progressive split. For example, Sheila McCarthy, a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame, spent her activist time at the university organizing pacifists in the local chapter of Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ.

She coordinated a hunger awareness day in the campus cafeteria . . . . After graduating . . . she joined the Catholic Worker movement . . . . McCarthy now lives in a Catholic Worker house in Los Angeles, near . . . Skid Row. She and her housemates serve six meals a week on Skid Row and tend to the sick and dying people who live with them. They pray, work, and study as a community, advocating for the rights of the poor and against violence and war in any form. (p. 203)

The conservative Catholic activists and the progressive Catholic activists disagree about some issues, but they agree about others, such as banning abortion. Then they join forces.

Catholicism is a "cafeteria" religion. Some proponents pick some elements of holy scripture and de-emphasize others. The "Gospels arguably support the political philosophies" of both conservatives and progressives. "Christian orthodoxy entails a defense of traditional values in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family . . . . But that same orthodoxy is rooted in the Gospel passages that inspire [progressives], parables that praise the poor and peacemakers and rail against the dangers of money and power." (p. 205)

SOME ARE FACILITATORS FOR A CHRISIAN WAY OF LIFE. Now "a husband and father," Anthony Buono remembers with hatred . . .

how it felt to wander through the singles scene as an orthodox Catholic committed to church teachings on sexuality. . . . He knew many single Catholics who felt alone in their opposition to premarital sex and contraception and hopeless about finding spouses who shared their values. He wanted to heed the pope's call to help build strong Christian families in the new millennium. So in May 1998 he launched Single Catholics Online—now known as Ave Maria Single Catholics Online since its purchase by billionaire Catholic Tom Monaghan. The Web site links orthodox Catholics to one another for a $60 fee. (pp. 141-142)

Another route for living a Christian way of life and spreading Christian ideas is homeschooling. The aims of orthodox Christian homeschoolers include improving academic skills, teaching Christian values, and avoiding the relativism that has infected public schools and many private schools, including some religious schools.

Homeschooled students can [now] also attend colleges geared to their worldview. Patrick Henry College, a new evangelical in Virginia, was founded specifically for homeschooled students. Several small orthodox Catholic schools also attract a large number of Catholic homeschooled students seeking an education that entwines faith with reason and steeps them in classical thought. (pp. 151-152)

THEY TEND TO JOIN ORGANIZATIONS THAT DISSEMINATE THEIR HARDLINE VIEWS. Serious religionists are those individuals who adapt their lifestyle to their religious principles; unserious religionists adapt their religion to their lifestyle. (p. 70) Organizations that hold orthodox views tend to attract individuals who hold orthodox views. For instance, Catholic Answers ( is an organization dedicated to apologetics (defense) and evangelization (dissemination of doctrines), according to Rosalind Moss, an employee of Catholic Answers who was drawn to Catholicism from Judaism. Catholic Answers does not soft-pedal Catholic positions. (pp. 69-70)

As another example, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, attracts . . .

young urban professionals to morally conservative evangelical Christianity . . . Each Sunday, the church—which holds most of its services in a college auditorium . . . draws a crowd of several thousand with its vibrant worship style, small-group communities, and openness to spiritual seekers who are skeptical of Christianity. But for young Christians like [John] Chao [a technology consultant], Redeemer's greatest strength is [Senior Pastor Tim] Keller's preaching. The message is undiluted orthodox Christianity that does not equivocate about conventional [Catholic] morality. (p. 71)

THEY REJECT AN "OBSESSION WITH RATIONALITY". Scott Jackson, "a twenty-nine year old pursuing his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School," said that most Catholic members of the "boomer" generation have a different agenda than his generation. (p. 82) "Boomers" are individuals in the U.S. who were born between 1946 (just after World War II) and 1964 (the beginning of the Vietnam War began). "One example, said thirty-one-year-old seminary professor Melody Knowles, is the boomer obsession with rationality." (p. 82) "[John Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism], Knowles said, represents the boomer attempt 'to prove you can be a rational Christian. And my big thing is: Who cares?" (p.83)

THEY APPLY THEIR CHRISTIANITY IN VARIOUS WAYS. Young orthodox Christians have different personalities. They have different lifestyles. They join different denominations. They worship differently—some solemnly in traditional liturgy (candles, Gregorian chants, and so forth) and some boisterously in handclapping, calling out, and singing contemporary worship songs. (pp. 83-85) Some are fully "in the world," raising families, working, and entertaining themselves. Others live in full-time or part-time "faith communities" such as convents, monasteries, and friaries. (pp. 87-88)

Most orthodox Christians are devoted, to some degree and in some form, to "serving others." Andrew Witmer joined Jonathan House, a community of single Christian men living in a row house in Washington, DC. He said (p. 112): "I've had a lot of opportunities for servanthood. There's always a chance to do something for someone else." A Baptist, "he took on the job of structuring the house's weekly Bible-study and faith-sharing sessions."

SOME ADVOCATE THEIR IDEAS TO OTHER INDIVIDUALS, ONE TO ONE. In Hollywood, a homosexual coworker of Emily Finnelly, a young orthodox Christian, asked Finnelly for her view of homosexuality. Finnelly said she believes that the Bible forbids homosexuality, at least as an activity. Finnelly then asked the coworker if he was offended. The coworker said he was not. Finnelly "saw the conversation as an opportunity to witness to her faith and values. 'No lines of communication have been closed'," Carroll reports. (p. 130)

THEY HELP ORGANIZE AND ATTEND EVENTS THAT DRAW THE LIKE-MINDED According to Wikipedia, World Youth Day is an event sponsored every two years by the Catholic Church. Young Catholics from all over the world celebrate the day at a particular location that changes from event. In between the World Youth Day international events, each diocese holds a youth day event locally each year. The purpose of the events, both internationally and locally, is to celebrate young Catholics, who are "the future of the faith," according to Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), the founder of the series of events. "The communal atmosphere of the event, and the pope's [1993] exhortation to young adults to lay down their lives in service to Jesus Christ and his church, left an indelible mark on many young Catholics." (p. 101)

THEY USE A VARIETY OF MEDIA TO COMMUNICATE. Consider one example among thousands. In 1981, Mother Mary Angelica founded Eternal Word Television, a conservative Catholic network. (p. 102, Now EWTN is on mobile devices too:

CONCLUSIONS. First, Carroll's broad look at the "new faithful" demonstrates the main points that Dr. Ghate made in his lectures: Christian activists speak out; they organize a wide range of groups, some broad and some very specialized; they act locally and nationally; they intellectualize; they write books; and they push to change the world around them.

Second, none of the "new faithful" Carroll profiled in her book worked full-time or even part-time to directly spread mysticism—such as faith, revelation, or the commands of holy scripture— as an isolated element of their worldview. Instead, at least for these Christians, mysticism is a means to an end. It is the means by which they claim to have acquired the knowledge about a supernatural world and that supernatural world's edicts about how to act in this world. Mysticism appears indirectly in all their advocacy, always only one or two steps away from the principles of ethics they advocate. Mysticism is integral to the ethical and other messages.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, at

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