It’s Not Salvation, It’s Politics

Christians who look to discern religious significance in the United States have only two options. The first is to sacralize the nation:

By conflating a certain understanding of American history with scriptural revelation, proponents of “Christian America” risked idolizing the nation and succumbing to an “irresistible temptation to national self-righteousness.” They also sacrificed any ability to offer a scriptural critique of the cultural values they themselves embraced.

A second should be to secularize the nation — look at it simply as part of God’s providential care which is almost impossible to discern. But that’s not the way it goes because the search for a Christian American usually results in seeing how un-Christian America is. That leads to sacralizing anti-Americanism:

What, then, might a Christian understanding of the nation look like?

To begin with, it would reject any notion that the United States, or any other nation since the coming of Christ, occupies a unique position as God’s chosen people. It would recall that God’s people, wherever they find themselves, were to be “strangers and pilgrims”—good citizens, yes, but always remembering that their real home lies elsewhere. And Christians must also remember that they will be judged not according to what they profess, but rather according to how they act. Thus, the righteousness of any society should be judged “not merely by the religious professions that people make, but also by the extent to which Christian principles concerning personal morality and justice for the oppressed are realized in the society.”

And that leads to the demonization of Trump’s America (thanks to Chris Gerhz):

I didn’t actually want a Trump sign, but one of the volunteers had shoved it into my hands as I walked through the door earlier; “Make America Great Again!” That sign probably saved someone from getting hurt. I held the sign close to my chest as I positioned myself between the chanting protesters and the angry mob. My 11-year-old daughter was clinging to my arm, sobbing in fear.

The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, “F*#% YOU!” Repeatedly.

I calmly responded, “No thank you, I’m happily married.” Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.

I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.

This is what happens when people try to find religious significance in every nook and cranny. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. Sometimes a nation is simply a nation. But when you’re in the habit of using religious categories to justify national greatness, it’s only natural to use the same outlook to conclude national turpitude.

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Two Kingdoms and Confessional Protestantism Look Pretty Good NOW

Stephen Prothero explains why evangelicals look even less reliable than they always have to those in confessional communions who take church governance seriously:

For decades, pundits have viewed white evangelicals as perhaps the most powerful voting block in American politics—the base of the Republican Party. Cohesive, well organized, and politically active, they crafted their identity around a shared belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God and a shared commitment to supplant the moral relativism of the insurgent 1960s cultural revolution with “traditional values.” It’s a bloc that’s persisted for decades. Today, roughly a quarter of all Americans identify as evangelicals, and white evangelicals make up the majority of Republican voters in many Southern primaries. In 2012, four out of five of them preferred Romney over Obama.

White evangelicals helped to send Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to the White House, so courting them early and often has become perhaps the great art of running for office as a Republican. For decades, Republican politicians have gone on pilgrimage, Bible in hand, to Bob Jones University and Liberty University to court the Jesus vote. Even nominal churchgoers like Reagan have done what no European politician would ever do: pledge their prayerful allegiance to Christ. Along the way, they have repeatedly promised to restore school prayer or stop gay marriage or overturn Roe v. Wade.

What they have delivered, however, is defeat after defeat in the culture wars. Cultural conservatives failed to pass constitutional amendments on school prayer or abortion. They lost on Bill Clinton’s impeachment. They lost on pop culture, where movies and television shows today make the sort of entertainment decried by the Moral Majority look like It’s a Wonderful Life. And same-sex marriage is now the law of the land.

Scarred by these battles, some evangelicals have withdrawn from politics, pursuing what blogger Rod Dreher has referred to as the “Benedict Option,” which focuses on fostering local Christian communities rather than taking yet another whack at the lost cause of Christianizing the nation. Others have continued to try to bend the arc of American history toward biblical values. And some of them are now denouncing Trump as a wolf in sheep’s clothing—even as the larger flock appears poised to make him the Republican nominee.

The most outspoken of the no-Trumpers is Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore has repeatedly whacked Trump—a man whose “attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord”—as a reprobate unfit for the presidency. “The gospel is more important than politics,” he warns his fellow Bible believers. You can stump for Trump or be an evangelical, he says. But you cannot do both.

But Moore’s effort to keep evangelicalism pure, in a world of increasingly polluted politics, is a lost cause. Paradoxically, that effort has actually alienated him from the modern evangelical movement itself. Moore essentially admits this: in a recent op-ed, he announced that until voting habits change, he won’t even to refer to himself as an evangelical anymore. He lamented how so many of his coreligionists “have been too willing to look the other way when the word ‘evangelical’ has been co-opted by heretics and lunatics . . . as long as they were on the right side of the culture war.”

Prothero is right to see the inconsistency in evangelicalism.

What he misses is the inconsistency of academics who study evangelicals. For at least thirty years students of American religion have told us that the Assemblies of God and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are — wait for it — evangelical. That’s like saying BMWs and Yugos are cars, as if the parts are interchangeable, as if they cost the same, as if the owners come from the same demographic, as if the same kinds of technology go into these automobiles.

In other words, not many of the smart people who study religion prepared Americans and even earthlings for what’s happening now. Some did.