But not far below the surface, change is afoot in the ranks of a once-reliable GOP voting bloc and around that term, “evangelical.” As has been widely reported, more evangelicals are breaking formation and tackling social problems such as poverty and human trafficking that weren’t on the evangelical political agenda a decade or two ago. Even more seismic, though, is a challenge being mounted against the notion that electoral politics is the way to do God’s work in America’s public life.
In a refreshing departure from the culture war mind-set that has come to characterize this and other recent elections, some of evangelicalism’s leading thinkers and spokespeople are trumpeting an important insight: Christians too fixated on politics are bound to end up frustrated and tarnished. And politics is not the only way to create positive change….
Consider Jonathan Merritt. A one-time GOP precinct leader and the son of a Baptist pastor from Georgia, Merritt, 29, has become one of the most persuasive articulators and exemplars of a revised form of evangelical engagement with politics. Despite the impression one gets from the political rhetoric of late — a “war” on Christians, a “war” on women, a “war” on contraception (and a “war,” evidently, on measured language) — Merritt is convinced that the culture wars’ days are numbered.
Merritt, author of the forthcoming book A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus beyond the Culture Wars, put it this way in an e-mail exchange with me: “Americans are tired of the incivility and the partisan divisiveness on both sides. Regardless of how much longer the culture wars are going to continue, Christians need to transcend the polemical, partisan, power-hungry battles that stymie the common good. If my intuition is wrong and the culture wars continue to rage on, my hope and prayer is that Christians will take a higher road as they seek to be faithful in the public square.”