Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon open their book Resident Aliens with the following:
Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended…and a new world began.
When and how did we change? Although it may sound trivial, one of us is tempted to date the shift sometime on a Sunday evening in 1963. Then, in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us—regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church—made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.
That evening has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom, South Caroline style. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina—the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world—served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.
You see, the authors continue, our parents never worried about whether we would grow up Christian. The church was the only show in town. [And] Church, home and state formed a national consortium that worked together to instill “Christian values.” People grew up Christian simply by being lucky enough to be born in places like Greenville, South Carolina, or Pleasant Grove, Texas.
[But], Hauerwas and Willimon conclude, a few years ago, the two of us awoke and realized that, whether or not our parents were justified in believing this about the world and the Christian faith, nobody believed it today. All sorts of Christians are waking up and realizing that it is no longer “our world”—if it ever was.
The news that we no longer live in a Christian culture may be a shock to some of you, though a quick look at primetime TV is enough to demonstrate the point. But what the realization that we no longer live in a Christian culture means is that we as believers in Jesus Christ must order and live our lives differently. We must live, as Hauerwas and Willimon make clear by the title of their book, as resident aliens. In many ways we have awakened to find ourselves behind cultural enemy lines. Consequently, we must live as strangers and pilgrims in this nation and in this world.