One of the central mottos of the radical movements of the 1960s was: Question authority. The Baby Boomer generation was coming of age, caught up in the culminating battles of the civil rights movement. They faced conscription into an unjust war in Vietnam, where reports of atrocities resounded louder every day. Increasingly, America’s young people were forced to make a choice – your country, or your soul.
Many in this rising generation were convinced that the whole system was rotten. It would have to be razed to the foundations – by any means necessary – so that a new, more just order could be established. The traditional authority structure of politicians, businessmen, church leaders, and generals could no longer be relied upon.
While perhaps embarrassing to the aging Boomers today, the popular slogan, Don’t trust anyone over 30, captured the spirit of this time. Anyone who had been around long enough sucked in by the powers that be simply couldn’t be relied upon to drive substantive change. Unfettered young people would have to chart a new way forward. This broken world, teetering on the edge of nuclear annihilation, would require a whole new set of values if we were to survive.
The mass abandonment of religious observance in the last 50 years is reflective of the way that the Christian community has often been seen playing chaplain to the powers of domination rather than lifting its voice on behalf of the oppressed. It doesn’t help that there are still today many reactionary elements within the Christian community that seek a return to their old place of political preeminence. This only reinforces the impression that the church is a shill of right-wing demagogues and corporate magnates.
Yet amidst the cultural wreckage left in the wake of the 1960s, a door has opened for the church to find a new way of relating to power. Almost unnoticed amidst the prostitution of the mainstream church to the violent systems of power and control, there has been an emerging alternative witness.
The prophetic stream of the church is growing on the margins of Empire, calling this whole rotten system into question. The true church of Jesus is caring for the needy and oppressed – especially those who are being rejected as unclean by the mainstream congregations. There is a church that is being the church – in spite of the church.
A revolution is coming (and it is here now) that is just as significant as the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. The Boomers helped to question the false authority that was leading us down a path to destruction, and we have a new set of national values as a result. Thanks in large part to their efforts, we can now count anti-racism, feminism, the embrace of LGBT people, and much more, as part of what we aspire to as a nation. Now it is time to translate these new values into a holistic way of life that can stand as an alternative to the death machine of Empire.
The radical project looks different today. Before, radicalism was about deconstructing and calling into question the structures and authorities that held our world in a death grip. Today, we are called to the equally radical task of building new, prophetic institutions that can embody the values that shined so brightly in the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s.
For those of us in the church, it is time to begin developing with earnest the new forms of community, worship, prophetic witness, and hospitality that are needed for a new era of Christian discipleship. Sprouting out of the rubble of 1960s deconstructionism, we are called to create something new. In the crumbling shell of Empire, we have an opportunity to grow movements that give life and bless the world around us.
Many in my parents’ generation mistakenly believe that they have failed. I have heard many Boomers lament the “failure” of their generation’s revolution. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The apparent strength of today’s military-industrial complex is illusory. It has never been weaker. Thanks to the pioneering work of previous generations, and the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have been given everything we need to overcome this dark world order.
The groundwork has been laid. All we need now is the will to build on that foundation.
Do we have the courage to enact the beautiful, loving society we know God created us for? It is possible now. There’s nothing more we need to know. We have all the tools in our hands. We can begin living in the Kingdom today.
What will be your next step?