Political Christianity: American Style

The tragic decisions of American Christianity to align itself with a political party has now landed in a pool of manure with a plop. You may be thinking of the Christian Right, and you’d be right. You may be thinking of the Christian Left, and you’d be right again. Exhibit #1: the so-called “debate.” Gone are the days of dignity.

Progressives, in sometimes insufferable prose, align themselves and the church and especially the “red letters” of Jesus with the Democrat or Social Democratic party. For them, Jesus’ being for the poor ineluctably means Jesus is for centralized government and federal relief, aid and support for the poor and that, for them, means Vote Left.

Conservatives, in sometimes insufferable prose, align themselves and the church with the Republican party (or its Tea Party variation). For them, to be Christian means to be anti-Left and pro-Right. Jesus and the whole Bible, they seem to claim in one variation after another, are for decentralization, free markets, and the platform list goes on.

Recently (the penitent) Wayne Grudem’s buddies have declared that Christians Progressives need to repent. Here is the statement from the American Association of Evangelicals, which clearly has Jim Wallis and George Soros as their worried center:

Each of us is called to repentance. Our entire nation will be revived as we return to the Lord. We, the evangelical and Catholic signatories below, know we are sinners forgiven by the saving work of Christ. And believers who normally turn the other cheek are, at times, also called to overturn tables. This is a moment for such believers to speak truth to power.

After years of earnest but less public attempts, it is now with heavy hearts, and a hope for justice and restoration, that we Christian leaders urge ‘progressive’ evangelicals and Catholics to repent of their work that often advances a destructive liberal political agenda. We write as true friends knowing that most believers mean well. We desire the best for you and for the world God loves.

Randall Balmer, ironically enough, has called for evangelicals (conservatives are his focus) to become again what they once were: the vanguard of progressivism in the USA. (Progressivism, of course, changes over time.) He’s also argued time and time again that the church works best when it works from the margin, when it ceases its grasping of power, and when it concentrates on its mission of redemption through Jesus Christ. He’s reargued this in his newest book, Evangelicalism in America, and I commend the book for a good reminder.

What to say? The progressive and the conservative are two sides of the same coin: Yes, Jim Wallis and Wayne Grudem are two sides of the coin. Seek the Powers, bend the nation toward one’s particular vision of the Christian vision through the Powers, call the other names and call them to repent from their unChristian ways, and bring in the kingdom.

Their primary mode of operation is to stimulate the amygdala.

One simple observation: the closer progressives or conservatives get to seeing the way to change the world is through the Powers in Washington DC the closer they become to being Constantinian — a conservative Constantine or a progressive Constantine is still a Constantine.

American Christianity, during election season especially (and since it lasts so long and occurs so often that means always), spends its energies on who will be the Next Apocalyptically-crucial Power in DC and in so doing is failing to use its energies — a zero sum game seemingly — for the mission of God in this world and to this world.

The alternative is not Left vs  Right, but Left-Right Powermonger vs. kingdom politics embodied in gospel living and church living.

Evangelical-conservative and Progressive Christianities are corrupting themselves day by day into a pollution of the Body of Christ by becoming variant versions of Constantinianism.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.