Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Urbanity, Immigration, and Change

I know I've not been keeping up my end of the bargain this summer. We went on a two week, 2200 mile sojourn to the southest for a family reunion (48 Scotts!) and a wedding. It was fun and I did not miss the internet much at all. I've been reading a bit, trying to keep up with all the library holds that seem to come in at the same time. In that reading, I ran across an interesting statistic: in 1910, 40% of US urban residents were foreign-born.

There had been a wave of immigration following the Civil War, which only increased at the end of the century. Most immigrants at least began their lives in the US in the cities, a fact that continues to be true today. There are just better support networks for immigrants in largely populated places. Part of the reaction to this fact in 1910 was a retrenchment from the cities. There was an intellectual rejection of science, education, and global engagement. The suburbs didn't explode until after WWII, but the movement out of the cities (largely by white folks) began earlier.

This is the same period that produced radical, protectionist, conservative politics and the fundamentalist movement in Christianity. New ideas, in general, were rejected because they challenged a largely homogeneous culture that develops when people spend a lot of time with each other. Rural places were familiar and predictable and it brought comfort.

In reading that development, I couldn't help but think about today's US culture. Immigration and "the other" have once again become bogeymen, scapegoats for the plight of white, working-class, largely rural citizens who've been left behind by economic and political changes in the last decade. I've been saying that's it's not really the fault of immigrants, but I've struggled to really articulate an underlying problem.

I don't know the data for our current situation, but I suspect that with the rise of technology and communications, it's becoming easier and easier for immigrants to survive in more rural and suburban areas. Cities are still a big draw, but no longer are a required jumping off point for a new life in the US. Perhaps the encroachment of new ideas, customs, and cultures into previously homogeneous and isolated areas is creating the same kind of fear-based backlash we saw a century ago?

Obviously, it's not really about immigrants, but the new and unpredicatability they present to largely settled communities with accepted ways of life. It's not an issue of "good" and "bad" or "right" and "wrong" so much as it's a necessary struggle to deal with "different." Fear is a natural reaction to different, especially when we're used to accepted and predictable habits - like when our house guests don't put silverware in the dishwasher in the right direction.* There's a real tension that needs to be resolved. It can only be ignored or endured for so long before a conversation needs to be had and an arrangement worked out.

It's the same kind of issues every community goes through, but for rural areas, where population hasn't changed much (in number of composition) those conversations are relics of the past with no immediate memory in the present. We need to get passed the surface fears of change and otherness and see the infusion of new people, ideas, and customs as not a "problem" at all, but a challenge that requires attention. Religious fundamentalists discovered you can only put off dealing with modern science and thought for so long. Yes, the communities and ideas persist, but they bleed off population with each generation, as some adherents fail to escape the necessity of navigating the larger world.

I've never, ever met or experienced anyone who genuinely and openly encountered an "other" with an open mind and ears, who didn't soften their stance on the person or their ideas, even if they continued firmly in their own beliefs. Different people might not (and need not) change our minds to truly change our hearts.

I hate change as much as anyone. I like to have a long runway and lots of time for preparation to do or think anything different, but even I know you can't give in to your fear of change. Other people might have to patient, but we also have to be willing. Change is scary and difficult, but it can't be avoided. If others are willing to give us time, we have to be willing to consider the possibility. All it takes is a little trust and a little grace.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!

*Knives and small spoons facing down, forks and large spoons facing up, obviously.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Christian or Citizen?

The very fact that some Christians call immigration "complicated" betrays the real problem. Christians cannot hold the flag in one hand and the cross in the other; it's just impossible. We (as American Christians) don't have any allegiance to the United States. It's not our job to supply answers to governance problems. We're part of a different nation and a different empire. When it comes to immigration, our policy is "y'all come;" everyone is welcome. There are no places for borders or nations or citizenship in God's empire. You can't have a Christian nation, because to govern as Christ is to eliminate national distinctions.

The ends cannot justify the means, because, for Christians, there is no "end." It doesn't matter what the "right" goal or outcome from a particular policy might be, if it's abusive or un-loving or harmful to peace, it's wrong. "We can't get to ________ without _________" is not a valid argument for doing the wrong thing.

I'm pretty sure I've written about this very thing recently, but I can't find it, so I assume it would be hard for you to track down as well. The idea that we have some obligation to offer alternatives for what the government is doing just flies in the face of Christian action. We're taught and trained to be "citizens" of the US from an early age - most of the time in ways we don't recognize. One of them, though, is this obligation we feel to provide a government solution to everything.

We must have an opinion not just on immigration or gun control or taxes, but on how the government can regulate these things within the Constitution. Why? Why do we feel that obligation? We're not elected officials? We don't have to pass laws or defend them in court? We feel an obligation because we've bought into the American narrative of democracy. A good Libertarian will always tell you, the US isn't actually a Democracy, but a Republic - which means we elect people to speak for us, rather than actually speaking for ourselves. We're not actually part of the process, as much as the narrative says otherwise. The only thing that keeps a Republic from becoming an Oligarchy is the consent of the people.

Outside of that, though, why does the government response to anything dictate our understanding of it. I believe people deserve healthcare and education and a warm place to sleep and nutritious food and meaningful work. I don't have to provide some blueprint for the US government to provide those things (if it even ever could), because politics is more than elections and laws. Politics is the way a society functions, the way people engage with each other. It encompasses everything. Yes, laws and government are part of that, but they are not "politics." Politics is much bigger.

The Bible is pretty clear that there's no special treatment for God's people - the "us" and the "them" are one and the same, in our attitudes and actions, at the very least. There is no argument from citizenship or safety in the Church of Jesus Christ, because citizenship in God's Kingdom doesn't come with any special rights or privileges; there is no promise of safety (in fact, actually a promise of the exact opposite).

I get that not everyone is a Christian and that citizens of the United States have different rights and expectations. I know no earthly government can or will operate on a Christian perspective. I would never argue for such a thing. Just because not everything a government does is inherently evil, though, doesn't mean, however, that Christians should compromise their beliefs or principles to accommodate or participate in the empires of the world. A "Christian nation" is just a myth and we've got to put myths to bed - you can't play both sides.

Immigration is only complicated if you're working from a Constitution or the electoral realities of a nation state. If you're a Christian, those things are quite simple. The problem only arises when you try to hold them together. Christians should have already made a choice - if you haven't, now's the time.

Applaud the good done by the nations of the world, oppose the bad; there is no obligation to offer a compromise - indeed, a compromise does not exist.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I had an interesting conversation about Christians and swearing a while back. I don't quite recall with whom, so I can't give credit, but thanks, whoever you are/were. The idea brought forth was an examination of the purpose for Christians taking a strong stance against profanity. (Even the definition of what words are course, offensive, or "bad" is a pretty tough slog, but we'll just define them as however you would define them, for the purposes of this post.) Christians generally try to avoid needlessly offending people (so much so we've gotten squeamish about necessarily offending people, but that's a topic for another day) - and avoiding certain words was a way of ensuring we weren't lumped in with a particular, marginal group of people - you know, the proverbial sailors and skullduggers, the kind of people who had tattoos back when tattoos were something only a few, unwashed people had. It was a "set apart" kind of thing, an abstention from something that was generally seen as detrimental to society.

The question then emerges, what is the purposes of maintaining such abstention when the only people who are really offended by those words are the Christians themselves? I mean, in a world where you can't say "crud" because we all know you really want to say "crap" and crap is just a stand-in for "shit," which you can't even say on television (except you mostly can, now, because, by and large, don't care), is any of this verbal gymnastic even serving a purpose?

There's something to be said for a unique distinctive. Holy means to be set apart, after all, and there's lots of peculiar things Christians do because they're Christians. My question remains, though, is this one really saying anything of substance theologically? Does utter avoidance of certain words strengthen or enhance the cause of God's Kingdom in the world?

I'm not saying we go willy-nilly, say whatever the (circle one) heck/hell/
fuck you want, because that's just selfish and inconsiderate. I'm all about embracing situational appropriateness. There are times and places for every word just as there are, most assuredly, times and places where they don't belong. I'm not even saying we should abandon the worthwhile endeavor to avoid offense in our speech; I'm just saying that maybe we tone down the good/bad talk and treat every word in relation to context.

Christians should absolutely be an odd, marginal people in the world, but probably not because of the words we avoid.

There's a book that came out last year, one that I've been on the library waiting list for, called Swearing is Good for You by Emma Byrne. As I said, I've yet to read it, but I did catch a very short article by her, about the book, in TIME Magazine (link unavailable) where her basic argument is that "profanity" words have real power and should be reserved for appropriate times. (Funny how he brings up a book that agrees with the idea he just put forth. Hmmmm....) I'm looking forward to reading the book because she talks about how people develop positive associations with particular swear words. Research seems to indicate that positive connections only occur during adolescence and come from "a friend's laughter, parent's disappointment or an enemy's fury," to name some examples. It's a learned behavior.

Not learned so much as "someone taught me," more learned in that swearing induces pleasure when it makes someone uncomfortable, angry, or upset. In other words, parents lecturing their kids about swearing only make those same kids MORE likely to swear. It really does seem like a universal issue - abstinence and/or shame (because they're almost always the same) imbues a thing with greater power than it would otherwise possess.

As I said, twice, I've yet to read this book, but instinctually I took this tact with my (now six year old) daughter. I've never said a single thing to her about "good" or "bad" words. She's heard swear words on occasion - whether it's something slipped into a podcast or some neighbor on the street - I've tried really hard not to react in any way to those instances (other than perhaps repeated or gratuitous use, where I might make some comment about needed a broader vocabulary to vary one's word choice). I feel like it's worked out pretty well. Our kids learn their vocabulary from the words they hear us use, not from everyone word they hear anywhere. My daughter is going to learn to talk the way my wife and I talk - for better or worse. If we're using words in ways that are comfortable to us, she will, too.

I was just using some potentially faulty logic when I made that decision, but I'm glad to know science backs me up on this one.

I still cringe a bit (at least internally) when I think about the little mouth click/disapproval vocalization my dad made literally every time an even moderately offensive word was uttered in our presence (and outside our presence, for all I know). There was certainly no doubt which words were acceptable and which weren't - and what's more, I don't think I was harmed in any real way by that. I'm not sure it served the purpose for which it was intended, but I do appreciate growing up in an environment where I was taught to consider my words.

That's the other side of the coin on this one.

We all know people for whom "those words" make up a shockingly high percentage of their vocabulary - like where the 'f's outnumber the conjunctions. There's something a little off in those conversation - not because such a person is lesser in any way, but because words do, in fact, mean something. I've got a pet theory I'd love for sciency person to actually test out: I think people who swear so casually are more likely to be violent.

Hear me out on this. "Swear" words are those we generally save for our most emotionally intense situations - from the proverbial hitting on a thumb with a hammer, to hearing the news that a loved one has tragically and unexpectedly died - the moments when we feel our feels to the feeling-est degree are often those times when profanity is most understandably used. These are special words to express special emotions at special times. (That's the very definition of profanity, by the way, making sacred - or special - things ordinary.)

My theory is that people who use profanity casually, as placeholder or filler word, when they encounter those moments of extreme emotion - the places where profanity is most appropriate - they lack a vocabulary to properly express those emotions and there's nothing left but a physical response. If some guy hits my care out of sheer carelessness, I might say "what the _____ were you thinking" while we wait for the tow truck on the side of the road. But if that's my response to someone setting the table with forks on the right or bringing back an espresso instead of a macchiato, I may lack the ability to express myself appropriately after the car crash and just take a swing at the guy.

I'm not saying it has to happen that way, just that it makes sense that it would for some people. I'm suggesting correlation, not that individuals who swear a lot are more violent, just that collectively, people who swear a lot might be more violent. Obviously it's an unscientific hypothesis that's convenient in that it proves my point. Still, I think it's got some merit.

This brings me back around to where I started in the first place. How and why do Christians approach this topic? Maybe, since Christianity is profoundly non-violent, there is some real world, theological purpose for avoiding profanity. Maybe banning even the replacement words, like darn or gosh, really does help us learn to save the "bad" words for extreme moments. There's also an argument to made that Christians shouldn't be reacting out of anger anyway (and that's one I do agree with, by the way) - disciplining our use of profanity might actually be discipline, as in practices designed to control our use of those very words so can avoid them even when they might be warranted and overcome the kind of anger that leads us to act in un-Christian ways towards other people.

I guess I'm saying if we're going to call people to be really, really careful with the way they use words, we should also be really, really careful that we know why we're doing it (both calling people to greater consideration and avoiding certain words ourselves). "That sucks" might be a crude phrase I was discouraged from saying growing up, but, as a pastor, I've found it profoundly helpful as a response when someone tells me a parent has died, or they lost their job, or an engagement was called off. It's an expression of compassion and solidarity and truth, regardless of how it's judged socially - I've found it to be comforting and cathartic and appropriate in ways I never would've imagined.

Words are indeed just words... in the same way that people are just people. We can define them from afar, offer our value judgments, and put them into neat little boxes, but none of that can actually define who or what they are in the context of our relationship to them. The world would be a lot easier if people would just be happy being who we expect them to be - that's just not how things work. We need a language that's just as specific and unique and flexible as the world we use that language to create, describe, and engage.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Power, Privilege, and the Impossibility of Reverse Racism

I am a huge fan of Planet of the Apes. Not just a latecomer with the most recent re-vamped trilogy (which are very well done, by the way), but the kind who discovered the originals from the late 60s and early 70s as a teenager in the 90s and looked forward to the annual SciFi channel marathon every year. I've got all five films on DVD - I bought the box set. In terms of film-making, the first one is the only marginally-defensible film and the second one is downright terrible - beyond awful - but despite the artistic issues and obvious social commentary, they're an engaging world in which to live and they speak with a voice that is generally marginalized about real, ongoing, global and societal issues.

This is not a post to discuss the cultural brilliance of Planet of the Apes, but I wanted to set the stage with my bonifides, because my reaction to the recent Roseanne dust-up is unusual for specifically this reason. I will not, in any way, defend Roseanne - she's had a long history of racist and hate-filled comments that betray a point of view. This can't get passed off as mere accident or happenstance no matter how one wants to spin it.

At the same time, I want to be honest about what happened and how what happened guided my train of thought, so:

I saw the headline breaking that Roseanne had been cancelled due to racist tweets. I had no details, so I went to google to get some and be informed, like a responsible human being. Google puts the first couple image search results at the top of the page, especially when you search for a name, like I did for Valerie Jarrett. One of them stuck out to me - because of the hair style she had and the strange angle of the photograph, my mind said, "Wow, she looks a lot like the Kim Hunter character from the original 1968 version of Planet of Apes in that one." Only that photo, mind you. I went back, after actually reading the tweet, and looked at literally hundreds of Valerie Jarrett photos and none of them seemed close. Just the one, with that particular angle.

Again, I'm not here to defend Roseanne or make excuses. You can't see her history and also give the benefit of the doubt that she just happened to be a Planet of the Apes fan and also just happened to see the one photo I found with that specific angle (a photo I'm not ever going to link to for all the reasons I'm speaking about below). She's made her bed, at this point.

The "coincidence" argument, though, intrigued me a bit, mostly because I understand how virulently and fundamentally white people are afraid of being racist or being perceived as racist or having someone notice how racist we really are. People make jokes about white fear of racism, but it's not really a joke. This is why we're so quick to tell you about that one black friend we have (who's probably just humoring us - at least most of the time).

I got to thinking about some other hypothetical person - me for example - who innocently made some comment about a specific African-American person looking like another specific person, who happened to be professionally made up as an ape. How would that be received? Then I realized, of course I'd never actually say something like that, even if the comparison occurred to me, because I understand the long history of racism and how persistently, even today, the comparison between black people and monkeys (or apes) is used to demean and dehumanize a people who've suffered such travesties for way, way too long. In other words, a human adult (especially in the US) with basic social awareness, should know full well the offensive, racist associations such a comparison would invite, regardless of intention.

I briefly thought that was a little bit unfair, until I reminded myself that it is literally the definition of injustice: things in the world that shouldn't be, but are. Not only that, but it's a pretty sorry, blatant example of white privilege. White people, like me, have the distinct privilege of being the only people on Earth who don't have to constantly be thinking about skin color. Talk about injustice! The color of white people's skin never matters, at least in a negative way - whatever minuscule negative example you can come up with is totally and entirely dwarfed by the vast positive benefits of racism we've enjoyed down through the years - which gives us the tremendous luxury of not always having to think about race. Obviously, it's a luxury that everyone SHOULD have, but, of course, they don't, which makes it an injustice.

It also brought to mind a really terrific essay I read a week or so ago. It was written more than a year ago by Sebastian Whitaker and it's simply titled "Dear White People: Your Dictionary Definition of Racism is Wrong." What he brings to the conversation is the notion that racism is not, in itself, an action or attitude, but a world-view that says some people are inherently better than others because of their skin color; racism is the embodiment of white supremacy.

Prejudice is our attitude towards people different from ourselves, where we generalize people for any number of reasons and make judgments about them because of those differences. Discrimination is when we act on those prejudices to somehow hamper or hinder those folks. In this sense, anyone can be prejudiced or discriminatory against any group - white, black, gay, straight, southern, German, ginger, overweight, nerdy, whatever. Those things are about attitudes and actions of individuals regardless of context.

Racism, though, is specifically about a particular world view that's been in existence for a very long time and continues to under-gird the society in which we live - even for those of us who wish it didn't exist. People of all skin colors have been shown to have unconscious biases in favor of white people and against those of darker skin. You can be prejudiced or discriminatory against white people, if you've got the inclination or power to do so, but you can't be racist against white people, because there's no system of non-white supremacy embedded in Earth's cultural history.

(Shoot, part of the purpose of that original Planet of the Apes movie was to specifically create a scenario where the humans were the oppressed species as a statement about racism in the world, with the hope that white people seeing white people as an oppressed minority might wake them up to the challenges of race in America. Whether that was wise or effective is certainly debateable, but they at least were aware enough, even in 1968, not to have any of the apes played by actual black people to avoid the overtly racist connotations that might invite.*)

There is some natural inclination towards prejudice that must be overcome in human evolution, but there was also an actual system of value ranking, based on skin color, that existed overtly for centuries. The 19th and 20th century debunked pseudoscience of phrenology was an attempt to judge the quality and character of a person based on the shape and density of their skull. It was entirely based in race and there are charts you can find where people did "research" to rank dozens of distinct "races" around the world on a hierarchy chart that always, always, always had white people at the top.

Whitaker's essay resonates with me, because it parallels the field in which I'm actually trained: Christian theology. For many Christians, the notion of faith is contained in intellectual assent - a particular passage from the Book of Romans is interpreted to mean all we need to do is believe the correct ideas genuinely and truly and we're "Christians." This is so terribly lacking in context, it will be impossible to explain without making an incredibly long post even more painfully obtuse. Suffice it to say, Christian belief is entirely about action - do the words you say and the actions you take contribute to the world as God intends it to be or not? You can intellectually assent to all the "proper" Christian ideals, but if you're a jerk to the people around you, you're an agent of death.

If you take Whitaker's (absolutely correct) understanding of racism, you can make a parallel claim: it doesn't matter so much how often you profess to believe everyone is equal and the way black people are treated in the world is terrible, if you say or do things (even without mal-intent) that perpetuate the notion that some skin colors are better than others, you're participating in racism.

So while white people like to parse all the intricacies of when and how one might be legitimately called a racist, it's very much an action-based system. What Roseanne said was racist - with or without her track record and reputation. If I were to express the same comparison, regardless of my intentions, it would be equally racist. Does that make me a racist? Well, in that moment, it certainly does - maybe not even though any fault of my own, but because an injustice exists in the world and through my action (even a potentially innocent one), I've perpetuated and participated in that injustice.

White people are obsessed with not being a racist; we tend to care a lot less about actions or systems in which we participate that perpetuate racism. Well, we do care, but only in that we're afraid those actions will define us as racist. Non-white folks tend to be a lot more concerned about calling out the words, actions, and systems of racism precisely because those are the things which actively dehumanize and disadvantage non-white folk. It would probably help if white people stopped being so worried about being called racist and spent more time thinking deeply about our own words and actions, about the systems in which we participate and how they affect the world around us. Yeah, there may one day come a time when everyone equally has the privilege to ignore race, but that day is not today and thus maybe not the most relevant conversation topic.

The other, small part of this that probably should be said, is for non-white folks to recognize how easy it is for white people not to think about race. It may seem impossible that a white person could make a statement like Roseanne's with no racist intent, but it really is (again, it's hard for me to believe Roseanne herself is in this camp, but it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility someone else might be). We do it all the time. White people say stupid racist shit without ever have bad intentions because we have this incredible, unfair privilege. It is still racist and it's wrong and it deserves to be called out. Regardless of intention, it's still abhorrent.

As a society, we're generally pretty terrible at communicating the message that just because you did an abhorrent, offensive thing, you yourself are not a worthless individual that others find impossible to love. We tend to conflate those things together and it's a real detriment to genuine conversation and growth. Healing divides are not possible with demonization, which means we have to bend over backward to be nice to people we don't like and who stay stupid things. (I am still a Christian after all - and the loving your enemies thing is pretty core to that belief system, or at least it should be.) We live in an inherently racist world - and try as we might to change that or rise above it, we're still going to say some terrible, racist things from time to time - we have to be better at recognizing, repairing, and growing, rather than shaming, condemning, and isolating.

White people need to be more aware of the world in which they live and how it continues to be shaped and formed on a foundation of blatant racism that creeps into our thoughts, words, and actions regardless of our intent or espoused beliefs. That's unfair, sure, but it's also reality. Having a conversation without a racial component is an unjust privilege we can't continue to take advantage of if we really want to see some reconciliation in the world. Guess what, it's also not the only privilege we'll have to give up if we genuinely want to see change.

White people, whether we're willing to admit it or not (and I'm just as guilty as the next white guy), generally want to solve the world's problems by making everyone "like us," but normalizing our own position and perspective in the world is, in fact, part of the very racist problem we're intended to solve. You can't have a world where everyone is on top - the very notion plays into a destructive, racist, divisive world view that needs to die. I have great faith that it's possible to overcome, but it does not come without a cost and it does not come without intention.

*One could argue that no black people got those jobs because Hollywood was a pretty white place and black people didn't hardly get any decent jobs, especially in 1968, but they did specifically include a black astronaut as some sign they were aware of the racial elements at play.
Yes, perhaps Charlton Heston should've switched parts with Jeff Burton if they really wanted to make a statement, but they needed to get the movie funded and Hollywood, along with the rest of society, then and now, is racist, and no one would fund this crazy sci-fi experiment if a black guy was in the lead role. MORE INJUSTICE!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


A few weeks ago, at a pastor's meeting, we discussed the notion of "cul-de-sac" groups - specifically boards or committees and congregations. The cul-de-sac was a concept developed to impress upon people the idea of safety, security, and privacy (which never really materialized, to be honest). He had a great quote: "a committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."

It is human nature to insulate ourselves. We want a predictable, familiar community of people - and when we find it, we want it to remain the same forever. Too often we've built these insular communities and called them "churches," when that couldn't be farther from the original design. Intimate, connected, familial - for sure - but closed and private, certainly not. The whole purpose of the Church is to live out a specific lifestyle in the midst of the public square, to be an example of an alternative way of life.

This brought to mind a distinction I ran across months ago (so long ago I've now forgotten who to properly credit) that Christians, especially American evangelicals, intend to be counter-cultural, but have actually constructed a subculture, separate and distinct from the culture at large. This is the distinction between living differently in the world and living in a different world altogether.

Conservative Christians in the US - what's become commonly known as "the evangelicals" - have created their own little world and, instead of engaging culture, reject it and recreate it separately, expecting people to take notice. What's worse: so much of this subculture has very little to do with Christianity; it's largely a generic moralism that's vaguely related to carefully curated scripture passages - often entirely devoid of context.

In a subculture, your primary concern is checking the right behavioral boxes to live in a way that will qualify you for the subculture. The colloquial expression growing up was "don't drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do." It was an out-of-touch joke even then, but it betrays a reality. It's not even that a distinctive set of practices (either done or avoided) is a bad thing - a common rule of life is a community-defining practice and often vitally important, even for a counter-cultural presence. The problem really arises when you start to look at "why" those things are done (or not done). If it's simply to bodily identify with a specific group or to check off the boxes for heaven, you're in real trouble. If it's to embody a different set of principles, foundational assumptions for life, then it makes a lot more sense.

One of the real benefits, though, of American evangelicalism becoming and ever more exclusive subculture is that it has less and less presence in the real world. Not having been in a traditional ministry setting the last few years has woken me up to the fact that most everyone, even many people very involved in Christian ministry, just have no clue this evangelical subculture even exists. I hear pastor friends lamenting some preacher/author/conference that's embarrassing themselves and Christ and I gladly don't know what they're talking about.

As a subculture prefects its isolation, it disappears. The only time evangelical leaders pop up in mainstream culture is when they're saying ridiculous, usually deplorable things. It's a strange novelty - a bit more offensive than the Amish or a hippy commune, but equally as irrelevant in everyday life. I suspect (and hope) that by the time my daughter's grown up, the average American will know as much about Franklin Graham as they do about snakehandlers.

True counter-culture makes it's present felt simply by existing. Subcultures fade from consciousness as they reach their goals. Counter-culture is generally painful for the mainstream, but largely by asking difficult questions about relevant issues. Subcultures are annoying to the mainstream, because they feign relevancy by making a scene (almost literally the original definition of geek).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is wildly relevant to this (and every other) time and place. It is a counter-cultural message of suffering, unconditional love. It does not always provide the safety, security, or privacy of a cul-de-sac - but those very well may be illusions anyway.
There is no question of whether Christianity will survive the current upheaval of culture and human understanding, but whether the organizations and institutions we now associate with Christianity survive the change is entirely dependent on them rejecting the human desire for subculture and embracing a truly revolutionary counter-cultural presence.