More than two dozen evangelical leaders signed a joint statement this week calling on Christians to make 2017 a "Year of Good News" while America's airwaves are polluted with "fake news, distracting news, divisive news, disorderly news, and, sometimes, depressing news."
The letter was spearheaded by Greg Laurie, founder and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and was first published Tuesday, when he and his fellow Christian leaders committed themselves to making "the message of Jesus Christ transcend the monopoly of our media."
"I think in our particular time in America," Laurie told TheBlaze, "when we have so many divisions — divisions on racial lines, divisions along political lines, divisions along so many lines — that it's very important for followers of Jesus to stand up for what we believe is good news in a bad world."
Other well-known Christian leaders who signed the letter include the Rev. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse; Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Christian singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin; and Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
For the letter's signatories, "good news" has two meanings. Not only are the evangelical leaders hoping to see good news replace negative news, they are also wanting to witness the spread of the gospel, which is the English translation of a Greek word literally meaning "good news."
Taking a look at the changing makeup of American society, it's clear that Laurie and his fellow evangelical influencers have their work cut out for them. While President Donald Trump won the election to a large degree because of evangelical voters (he carried white evangelicals 81-16 over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton), the country has been steadily trending toward a "post-Christian age," according to the Barna Group.
In just two years, from 2013 to 2015, the number of Americans who qualify as "post-Christian" increased from 37 percent to 44 percent. To be "post-Christian," according to Barna, a person has to meet at least 60 percent of the criteria — nine or more out of 15 factors listed in the group's post-Christian metric.
That criteria includes factors such as those who "do not believe in God," "agree that Jesus committed sins," "have not prayed to God (in the last year)" and "disagree the Bible is accurate."
And the idea of irrefutable moral absolutes is in decline, too, Barna reported last year. According to the group's findings, a majority of American adults — 57 percent — believe knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience, and the divide gets even larger when broken down by generation. Three-quarters, or 74 percent, of millennials, born between 1984 and 2002, either strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, "Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know." Only 38 percent of elders (born before 1946) agreed with that statement.
The key to breaking through all the noise, Laurie said, is "keeping the main thing, the main thing," meaning focusing on the gospel message rather than getting sidetracked by "social issues," which he argued is like "getting the cart before the horse." In his view, the best protection against a corrupted society is leading people into committed relationships with God.
"I believe if a person gets right with God and really comes into a relationship with him, there's no way that they can be a racist," Laurie said. "I believe if a person comes into a relationship with God and really gets their life right with him — I don't think they'll be a law-breaker."
"I think if a person gets their life right with God and comes into a relationship with him," he continued, "they won't be a drug user, an alcoholic or many of the other problems we're facing in our culture today. So to me, the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing."
And Laurie is trying to highlight that goal with this letter. In it, the signers call on Christians everywhere to "share the message of Jesus with everyone they can at every opportunity they can." It also encourages pastors to preach "boldly" and "pray intentionally for national revival."
As for the future of the country, Laurie said he is "always hopeful." Rather than putting his faith in a particular person or political party, the pastor said he is hopeful that "things can change for the better" over time. He said he appreciates Trump's willingness to surround himself with "strong believers," like Vice President Mike Pence.
Laurie also praised the president's speech to Congress Tuesday night, when he addressed Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy Special Operator Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens, who was killed during a raid in Yemen in late January. During his comments to Owens, Trump invoked the words of Jesus in John 15:13, saying, "For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."
"As the president said," Laurie noted, "we all were created by the same God, and that is true."
However, just because Laurie has found common ground with politicians doesn't mean Christians won't have to work to make this year a "Year of Good News."
In 2017, Laurie is hoping evangelicals will successfully cut through the "divisions and distractions dividing our nation and disorienting our culture," as the letter reads, because faith in Jesus Christ "remains the hope of the world and is more needed in our nation now than at almost any point in our nation's history."
"The main thing — for Christians — is a relationship with God that everyone can experience, no matter what they've done, no matter what sins they've committed," he said.