Before all of the anti-dualists and despisers of otherworldliness get riled up, the point of this post is not for evangelicals or any kind of Christian to abdicate their duties as citizens. Instead, it is that injecting religion into politics has neither helped politics nor aided religion.
Two recent confirmations of this come from Mikelmann’s post on Rick Santorum’s appeal to evangelicals. He notes that Santorum, some kind of conservative Roman Catholic, has had more appeal to Protestants than those in his own communion. (Lyman Beecher and Josiah Strong are rolling in their graves.)
So, whereas John F. Kennedy seemed to put to rest the idea that a Catholic President would be subservient to the Pope, Santorum has made it an issue all over again. So he must be the choice of Catholics, right? Not according to the New York Times:
Many Catholics take issue with Mr. Santorum’s approach to their faith. Mr. Santorum, polls show, has lost the Catholic vote in every primary contest so far, some by wide margins.
Putting this all together, the Catholics don’t support a Catholic who won’t separate his church from the state, but the Politico-Evangelicals do. And that, my friends, is one more reason why politics is such a great spectator sport.
The second comes from an interview with Carl Trueman and Derek Thomas in which they were asked about the challenges of living in the United States as British citizens. Trueman replied in a way that should embarrass American Christians:
The challenge is often knowing who are the genuine Christians and who are the mere cultural ones. It is not so much the case in Philadelphia but in many parts of the South, church is still the place to go to be seen and to set up business deals after the service.
My wife recently remarked to me that, in the UK, we rarely knew how friends at church voted. Politics simply was not part of the conversation and nobody presumed to assume that you voted one way or the other. There is still a certain overlap here between politics and theology, some aggressive manifestations of which can make life uncomfortable for a foreigner. The ‘culture war’ aspect of the church is one of the strangest aspects of the church here from a foreigner’s perspective.
Again, none of this means that evangelicals should retreat from the public square, though it does suggest entering the public square as citizens rather than as believers would be a help. But it does mean that until we clear up confusions like evangelicals supporting Roman Catholic candidates on Christian grounds and non-American evangelicals feeling estranged from evangelicalism’s politicized atmosphere, the folks who insist on the value of religion for public life have some work to do.