The Moment Everything Changed

downloadIn Tuesday’s USA Today, Rick Hampson published an interesting article on the change in America after the assassination of John F. Kennedy titled “Moments before the moment everything changed” (November 19, 2013, pp. 1A and 6A). Hampson lists over a dozen trends and movements in America that came to prominence after that assassination—fifty years ago today (ibid., 8th para.). These cultural trends and social movements are still with us and affect the Christian church in many ways, both obvious and subtle.

Why would a political assassination affect a nation so profoundly? American had assassinations before, most notably that of Lincoln. We need to realize that in the USA, our presidents are democratically elected by the people. This is different from parliamentary governments, like Germany or India, whose politicians elect their prime ministers. Once he is elected, Americans know that “we chose him,” not some intermediate group of professional politicians. Political parties know that they have to put forward men who have popular appeal, i.e., charisma. JFK had lots of that. Thus his assassination was felt personally by every American—whether or not they voted for him.

How could that assassination have happened? Secret service agents, police, FBI, and “James Bond” were supposed to prevent such tragedies. People did not believe a lone shooter brought him down. Conspiracy theories immediately erupted about JFK’s demise and are still popular today. These theories were fanned into flame by the then-recently released movie The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury.

Left-wingers thought there was a conspiracy connected to Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. Right-wingers thought there was a conspiracy connected to the Russians and communists. JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had previously tried to defect to Russia, married a Russian woman, and had defended Castro’s Cuba, but there was never any evidence of a communist conspiracy. One angry man, acting alone, had killed the president.

The facts did not rebuild the trust destroyed by conspiracy thinking on either side of the public square in America. College students all around America remembered how the San Francisco City Police officers had fire-hosed students on the city hall steps in May 13, 1960, leading to severe injuries. These students had come from Berkeley, Stanford, and other northern California colleges and were legally protesting the HUAC hearings at city hall that day. The SDS seized the day (carpe diem) in political leadership from that point forward at Berkeley and elsewhere. Film-makers, screenwriters, actors, and radio announcers remembered with bitterness how they had been purged from Hollywood in 1947 by the HUAC. The exiled creators of culture now became social critics and creators of the “counter-culture.”

The counter-culture, visually associated with the “hippies” became extremely popular among the youth of the day. Youth who bucked the hippie trend were considered “nerds.” The youth counter-culture spawned its own music, art, clothing styles, hairstyles, and its own ideas about society and culture. The difference between these ideas and the traditional ideas of their elders created the “generation gap.”

The motto “Question authority” was a favorite among youth. This definitely affected the church, which was to its older members the supreme social and moral authority. Protestant youth questioned the authority of Scriptures, although they still seemed to like Jesus. This explains why Concordia Seminary students supported their professors who practiced “higher criticism” of the Bible—and why they “walked out” with them in 1974. Catholic youth questioned the pope. Much of the time, “question authority” simply meant “reject authority,” and thus most of these “anti-establishment” youth left the church altogether.

Other aspects of the counter-culture, mentioned by Hampson, that were a challenge to the traditional church were the use of “recreational drugs,” the “sexual revolution,” the “feminist revolution,” and the movement for “gay rights.” This affected the church in numerous ways:

  • “Recreational drug” users found that Pentecostal euphoria gave them a “high,” thus helping to wean them off the drugs. This was the root of the burgeoning charismatic movement in the 1970s and the “Jesus People” who were hippies high on Jesus.
  • The “sexual revolution” was really about premarital sex, not about married sex. Premarital sex became common among youth, especially college-aged young people away from parental supervision. The resulting pregnancies increased the demand for safe abortions, which became legal in 1973. Premarital sex, once it became common, led to increased cohabitation, which is now a majority practice among young people before marriage. This, more than any other factor, has led to alienation between the church and the American public.
  • Feminism made demands not only in the workplace and home, but also in the church. Church offices and voting gave way to these demands, with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) adopting woman’s suffrage in 1969. Most denominations now accept women pastors, although the LCMS and Protestants with traditional-biblical-authority have not.
  • Gay rights would seem to be the ultimate defeat for the church’s traditional moral authority—and it is! After decades of activism and struggle, in 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) accepted the practice of ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of homosexual couples, following the practice of Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and European state churches. Many people realize that the capitulation to “gay rights,” as it pertains to moral norms for church-members, is a complete capitulation of all moral authority. Thus we witness the exodus of many pastors and churches out of the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation.

It has been a long way–fifty years–since Dallas, November 22, 1963 at 12:29 PM Central Time. If you don’t understand this fifty year history, you don’t understand the challenges that face the Christian church in America today.


Comments

The Moment Everything Changed — 8 Comments

  1. Well said, Dr. Noland. It brought to my remembrance my youth spent camping and hiking in the mountainous woods. On any given adventure, there was a path to follow, an origin, an ending, and way-points. If we deviated from the path, chasing spurious trails or interesting phenomena, we knew that we would have to make up that time getting back to the trail. Of course, Scouting was full of both true and apocryphal stories, of those who left the group and the trail, wandered too far, and never made it back…

    Makes me wonder, if there’s an allegory in there, for the Church today.

  2. interesting read.

    -“Recreational drug” users found that Pentecostal euphoria gave them a “high,” thus helping to wean them off the drugs. This was the root of the burgeoning charismatic movement in the 1970s and the “Jesus People” who were hippies high on Jesus. ”

    i think the first sentence is possible, but i disagree with the second sentence. it may have helped, but i don’t think it would be the “root”. I think it attracted the jesus people, but i don’t think it’s the root.

    -“The “sexual revolution” was really about premarital sex, not about married sex. Premarital sex became common among youth, especially college-aged young people away from parental supervision. The resulting pregnancies increased the demand for safe abortions, which became legal in 1973. Premarital sex, once it became common, led to increased cohabitation, which is now a majority practice among young people before marriage. This, more than any other factor, has led to alienation between the church and the American public.”

    i don’t know that premarital sex was much more common. I’d like to see a stat on that. From what i’ve understood, premarital sex and abortions and such were hidden. Kinda like domestic violence, interracial relationships, and so many other things that would make one a social pariah. I’m thinking the hippies were making pre-marital sex more PUBLIC not more FREQUENT. I do agree that it increased cohabitation as people were less and less shocked at the situation, again, which i would say is public, not frequent.

    “feminism”
    not sure exactly what you’re saying. I’m hearing that women voters is unhelpful. and i’m hearing that women getting equal pay at work is unhelpful. you could really unpack this and clearly. I’d appreciate it 🙂

    “gay rights”
    i can see where you’re going with this. I don’t know if i’d call it the ultimate defeat of the moral authority of the church. but i definitely can see how it undermines it.

    I definitely think a lot of these things are connected to civil rights – regardless of it being involved with race, gender, sex, or sexuality. I think there’s a lot more going on in this era regarding such things, after a cumulative build up (in some cases) of more than a century. Some of this stuff is so much bigger than that. i really don’t think it could be succinctly tipped off with the (pun intended) bullet-point. WW1 worked like that because of the elaborate relationships built on monarchies and inbreeding. This particular “war” comes from all sorts of systemic issues. I mean, just two month before Kennedy was shot, a baptist church was bombed killing 4 young black girls. This is the tip of the ice burg. I don’t think that was what set everything off. I’m just saying there was a lot more going on.

    “It has been a long way–fifty years–since Dallas, November 22, 1963 at 12:29 PM Central Time. If you don’t understand this fifty year history, you don’t understand the challenges that face the Christian church in America today.”

    Agreed. (i mean that in general, not at you or any individual on this site.)

  3. Quasicelsus :
    I definitely think a lot of these things are connected to civil rights – regardless of it being involved with race, gender, sex, or sexuality. I think there’s a lot more going on in this era regarding such things, after a cumulative build up (in some cases) of more than a century. Some of this stuff is so much bigger than that. i really don’t think it could be succinctly tipped off with the (pun intended) bullet-point. WW1 worked like that because of the elaborate relationships built on monarchies and inbreeding. This particular “war” comes from all sorts of systemic issues.

    Right you are. And this had been prepared through a couple of centuries of focus on the rights of the individual rather than his or her duty before God and towards his or her neighbour (including, for the record, the duty to protect the rights of his or her neighbour rather than his or her own).

    The rhetoric of rights is common even among Confessional Lutherans. We talk about the rights this and that group has or should have in church. We talk about our right to live and serve and worship God as He Himself has commanded it. We talk about right to life. Our focus is our own sovereignty and freedom to make our own choices – where the fundamental reality is that we are bound by our duty to God.

    And this is more than mere rhetoric: whether we are aware of it or not, and to varying degrees, it reflects a fundamental attitude to self, and to life itself, and what life is all about.

    And Christians and Confessional Lutherans are not immune to this. We are as self-centered as all other sinners. And whether we want to or not, and to varying degrees, we all subconsciously adapt to the values and ways of thinking that we are being taught to see as self-evident, unquestionable, and going without saying.

  4. @Jais H. Tinglund #4

    I appreciate the distinction you make, between a perspective of duty versus right. I couldn’t agree more, by the way, about what those perspectives say about us… good fodder for a weekend meditation. Thanks.

  5. @Quasicelsus #3
    i don’t know that premarital sex was much more common. I’d like to see a stat on that. From what i’ve understood, premarital sex and abortions and such were hidden. Kinda like domestic violence, interracial relationships, and so many other things that would make one a social pariah.

    I’m inclined to agree. If there were abortions, they were very well hidden! The more usual thing in our circles was discretion in choice of companions, and if the girl got pregnant, the couple got married. And stayed married. As their mothers and grandmothers had done before them. [But my spinster cousin could tell that story better; she was listening to them talk while I was immersed in my books.]

    Pr. Noland, all those things blossomed in the last 50 years, it’s true, but the seeds were already sown. The disruptions of wartime which took men away from their communities just when they might have been marrying the girl next door; the GI bill which took a lot of them into college afterward, not infrequently with wife and children in tow; the general loosening of community authority and the large number of women encouraged to work in war factories all contributed. [As they sang after WW I, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Answer for many, you couldn’t and if not for the Depression there would have been more.]
    For a generation after WW II, also, there was more money in the middle class then there had been in a long time. It takes a certain amount of money, even to be a “hippie”.

  6. Yes, current thinking has made premarital sex, abortion, affairs, etc. more public, but I cannot imagine that it hasn’t also made these things more common. There used to be consequences to making the choice to have premarital sex. It was harder to “cover it up” using birth control and abortion. There was some shame associated with sin and a real reason to fear that you would be “found out”. These consequences and fears would have discouraged some people. Recent studies have shown that an appalling number of 12 year olds have engaged in some form of sexual behavior. Do you really think that this was the case 50 years ago? The number of children born outside of marriage and the currdnt number of legal abortions is clearly higher than what anyone could imagine the number of ” cover up” marriages and illegal abortions to be 50 years ago. These sins have been made public without shame, encouraged, and many obvious consequences have been removed. Is it any wonder that their frequency has increased?

  7. I am a well educated and intelligent stay at home mom. I’ve heard feminists repeatedly use the term “broad mare” to describe women who, like me, spend their time caring for their children. To further illustrate the problems with the entire attitude of feminism: when I was in high school my stay at home mom hand knit me a beautiful and unique shawl. Once when I was wearing it, it was admired and complimented by some other girls, culminating with, “where did you get it?!?”. When I told them that mother had made it, their compliments quickly turned to scorn with the comment, “oh, how domestic…”.

    This, the entire attitude behind feminism, is the problem, not equal pay for equal work…

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