Progressive Christian Channel
The Problem with Partisan Religion: A Review of "Hijacked"
Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide
By Mike Slaughter and Charles E. Gutenson, with Robert P. Jones
It is a time of sharp division and inflexible opinion in America. Those who know they are right are arrayed against those they are certain are wrong, and the opportunity for dialogue seems to have slipped away somewhere during the last decade. Whether we describe the battle as being between Red States and Blue States, liberals and conservatives, religious and secular, or true theology and false theology, true believers on either side are convinced that they are engaged in a battle for America's soul. While Christians ought to be on the forefront of conversation and reconciliation, you don't have to look any further than today's newspaper to know that religion is also polarizing us, especially at the intersection of religious faith and political issues. As Mike Slaughter points out in one of his sections of the new book Hijacked, when congregants begin to associate certain political stances with Christianity, they may believe that their pastor isn't preaching the gospel. Like fellow mega-church pastor Gregory Boyd, the Rev. Slaughter lost members from his fellowship for paying attention to justice, not simply preaching a partisan religion (15-17).
Hijacked asks the hard question, What has happened to the Evangelical Church? Why are we as divided as our secular culture? The Rev. Slaughter observes that 1984 is when he noticed that evangelical Christianity began to combine with conservative politics (26-27). It was then, he observed, that evangelicals began to get seduced by the prospect of power. "Evangelicals," he notes, "were becoming less prophetic and were being drawn into the allure of the possibility of world change through grassroots organizations that would lead to political control and dominance." The problem, as Hijacked explains it: Legislation can't change the human heart.
And power corrupts (28).
So the problem for mainstream American Christianity has become a simple one: it has gotten itself so tied into the structures of power that it can hardly disentangle itself in its present form. Orthodoxy in political beliefs has become in some churches as important as orthodoxy in religious belief. And here is where Hijacked makes a huge contribution toward civility and the possibility of Christian renewal. It reminds us of the old saying, sometimes attributed to John Wesley, taken as the organizing principle of the Moravian Church, that it is not necessary that all of us agree on everything: "In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."
Phyllis Tickle likes to tell audiences that the IRS counts over 20,000 different Protestant denominations in the United States. Each of these formed over disagreements in theology, worship, or polity: Methodists, Episcopalians, African Methodist Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, Free Will Baptists, American Baptists—you get my point. Some of the differences between these denominations are over essential matters, although not many. Unitarians do not believe the same as Southern Baptists about the divinity of Christ; the Church of Latter-day Saints counts the Book of Mormon as a new holy scripture, while the Assemblies of God would tell you that the Holy Bible contains in itself and without error all that God wishes us to know.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.