The Problem with Evangelical Politics

"We've mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don't want the political one that comes along with it~Eric Weiner, New York Times

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer. (II Timothy 2:4)

I began reading a collection of essays in a book called "A New Evangelical Manifesto" and came across an arresting essay by Brian McLaren entitled "The Church in America Today".  In this essay, he identifies three characteristics of the predominant Evangelical political expression of the past twenty years.

Even before I read the essay, I have had an uneasy feeling anytime evangelical Christianity was mentioned in the same breath with any type of politics.   Although I recognize that within the broad evangelical Christian community, there is an incredible diversity of political leanings and actions, the politics most often identified with Evangelical Christianity is often self described as conservative, right-winged or regressive politics.  It is this unique connection of evangelicalism and conservative politics that has caused a significant public resentment and community polarization.

McLaren describes three characteristics of the Evangelical-Conservative Politcal fusion:

1. It is Nostalgic:  It beckons to a bygone era and romanticizes the conditions of the past.  While yearning of the family values of 60 years ago, it looks through the lens of the powerful and the comfortable.  The inequities and exploitation, both social and economic, that allowed the powerful to have a wonderful quality of life are often minimized.  This has had the effect of disenfranchising those peoples and groups who were not allowed to participate in the American dream for any number of reasons.

2. It is Nativistic: The vision of the Evangelical-Conservative movement is focused on keeping the predominant power structures in place.  The rise of people of color, women, and non-Christian peoples in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia is often viewed with fear and loss, rather than progress or improvement.  Feelings of reverse-discrimination, victimization and "take back our country" identify this nativistic impulse.

3. It is Negative: The general tone of the movement is often to be "against something".  The platform and rallying points are often against abortion, against Gay marriage, against expansion of Healthcare, against any domestic social programs, etc.  While any movement or platform can be described in negative terms (for example, pro-education can be described as anti-ignorance), the Evangelical-Conservative movement rarely chooses to identify itself in positive terms.  Most of the ballot initiatives and congressional bills are directed at eliminating,or  restricting current programs or certain activities.

When you look at these three attributes, you can see how there is significant suspicion and resentment to the Evangelical-Conservative movement.  The suspicion and resentment is often interpreted theologically as the "persecution" that comes with speaking the truth as opposed to legitimate critiques of policy.

This is why the role of the church must be outside and independent of predominant political movements.  This is not advocating for Christians to withdraw from the American political process, but that we must not allow any particular political agenda, whether conservative, progressive, libertarian, anarchist, or socialism to co-opt the church.  Its role is to be a prophetic witness to government, advocating the kingdom of God agenda above and beyond any secular political agenda.

I realize that this is too simplistic to carry out.  Christianity, particularly protestant Christians, employ a vast spectrum of hermeneutics (approaches in interpreting the meanings within scripture) in discerning the will and agenda of Jesus.  This means that sincere and devout Christians often have significant disagreements about the purposes and callings of the church.  Yet, the alternative community that Jesus inaugurated has anti-dotes to the "3 N's" of the predominant Evangelical-Conservative movement:

1. Jesus provided hope.  Instead of focusing on returning to the past, the Kingdom of God inaugurated the a focus of a better future.  The gospels record God's intervention through Jesus in order to reveal a preferred and possible alternative reality.  This is the nature of hope: God will faithfully intervene to promote human flourishing.

2. Jesus promoted Diversity.  Jesus mission to provide salvation meant the healing of the world.  It was not a "Jewish" salvation but a universal response.  The kingdom agenda revealed a global inclusivity as part of its credibility (Rev 7:9).  It is constantly empowering the poor, the marginalized, and the weak to participate in the life of the Kingdom.  

3.Jesus prescribed creativity: Jesus literally challenged every religious and political assumption of his day.  Although he respected tradition, he was not limited by it.  He was constantly providing alternatives solutions to every impossible situation and his approach was completely unconventional.  

It is my hope that Christians would understand that the Kingdom movement is one of hope, diversity, and creativity.  It cannot be co-opted by nostalgic, nativistic, and negative movements.  This is not an indictment of the values of Evangelism or Conservatism but a challenge to promote the Kingdom Agenda as our primary allegiance.  Remember, Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it, and we have the privilege of joining his mission to provide hope, diversity, and creativity!

May God bless you

Pastor M Traylor