Patheos has been running a debate among high-profile thinkers about Christian engagement in politics.
I am not in the league of the intellectual/social/pundit gravitas of the writers who have addressed this. Also, nobody has asked my opinion. But that doesn’t stop me from giving it.
Let me begin by saying that political Christianity as it has been practiced in America for the past four decades is heresy. It is based on the totally incorrect but implicit teaching from a lot of wing-nut preachers, religious leaders and religio-politicians that righteousness before God is to be found in how you vote and who you hate.
That is heretical. It is also anti-Christ. It teaches self-righteousness, encourages slander and leads people away from the cross, not to it. It is the astral twin of the same kind of co-option of the Christian moral voice that took place in Nazi Germany.
Political parties have “claimed” the Christian moral voice as their means to getting votes to gain power for themselves that they then use to allocate the budget and government favor to those who pay the parties’ bills. They have not delivered on any of their promises to the Christians who blindly voted in their column, and they will not. That was never their intention.
This heresy of a political christianity (little c) has done a great deal of harm to the moral voice of real Christianity at a pivotal time in the moral decline of our nation. It has also, as time has passed and people have begun to gag on its hypocrisies and obvious lies, declined in its vote-getting ability. This has happened at the same time that members of the public who are disgusted with political christianity and who have become diametrically opposed to it have reached a critical mass in key electoral states and can now be big players in the outcome of presidential elections.
In other words, political christianity has become something of a liability to the people who have used it to gain power for these last four decades, largely by virtue of the fact that it has diminished and tarnished real Christianity in the public eye to the point that real Christianity itself is becoming besieged in the larger culture.
To put it bluntly, the smart money is beginning to be on the anti-Jesus crowd and for this reason, the smart money is backpedalling on their aggressive “moral” stands, which were nothing more than political poses in the first place.
Since Christianity has spent so much of its moral capital in lending itself to the election of people who are nothing more than puppets of an amoral corporate conglomerate, it is floundering a bit.
What to do?
Should Christians (real Christians) withdraw from the pubic sphere, head for the hills and comfort one another around the hidden campfires of our faith? Should we drop all pretense of taking our beliefs into the court of public opinion? Should we stop taking a stand for the things we believe because those beliefs no longer resonate with large groups of very vocal people?
Should we get smart in the worldly sense and go along to get along, even if that means giving up on what has been basic Christian teaching for 2,000 years?
Should we, in short, tuck tail and run now that the pay-off has become a pay-back?
That is what a good many political christians who have capitalized on the naiveté of the earnest believers they led into this heresy decades ago are hoping. Shut up and leave us alone, they tell their befuddled flocks. We’ve got deals to do and this morality stuff is no longer helping us do them. It has become a liability we want to shuck.
The answer, at least so far as I’m concerned, is that yes, the political christians who were using real Christianity to gain power for themselves need to take off their lamb’s wool and be the wolves they always were. I also think that the many political preachers who’ve been teaching the heresy of redemption through politics to their flocks need to stand down. In fact, I think a lot of them need to leave the pulpit altogether and go into the wilderness to find their Lord.
We are the light of the world and we need to be that light. That is true especially now when we are becoming besieged and battered by a culture that is (rightfully so) turning its back on the heresy of political christianity.
There is a difference between genuine belief and political expedience. This difference manifests itself in a number of ways, one of which is standing firm when things go wrong.
My advice to Christians is that they should not become cowards about their faith because people who were using Christianity for their own purposes have begun to desert the ship. That’s what rats do, you know. Let them do it.
But you stand firm.
Catholics are being challenged by a Pope who is deliberately and directly addressing this heresy of political christianity and calling us to take on the whole Gospel of Christ. Political christians and their phoney-baloney religious leaders have taught a shorn and neutered political gospel that they have mis-interpreted to fit the political fashion of one or the other of the two political parties for a long time now. They have many well-intentioned but deluded followers.
There are several generations of American Christians who have grown up being taught the heresy of political christianity as if it was real Christianity. When Pope Francis goes in your face with this heresy and teaches us the whole Gospel instead of a truncated corporatist version of it, these people are confounded and offended. Some — perhaps many — of them will not follow the Pope, but denounce him for his failure to validate their allegiance to the false gods of political christianity.
That is sad, and it rests entirely on the doorstep of the political christian leaders of the past decades. By that I mean the same exact christian leaders who are now trying to turn the political christian ship away from the very things they once trumpeted as “non-negotiable issues” for “serious” catholics, or, ‘serious” christians.
There is no reason for people to be dismayed or frightened by all this. Christ will prevail. All we have to do is follow Him and not some bogus political christian leader who is manipulating us to maintain his or her access to the political halls of power.
There is no better way to do this than to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church as they are elucidated by His Vicar, Pope Francis.
Should Christians be engaged in politics?
We are the leaven, the light, the salt and the hope of this fallen world. Involvement in politics is not our mission, it is an expression of our fidelity to Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives, including the political. For those of us who have a calling to active involvement in politics, this expression becomes both more compelling and more fraught than it is for those who are called to live out their faith in other arenas.
But America is somewhat unique in that every citizen is to some extent a politician. Government of, by and for the people is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility. No American can shrug off their responsibility to vote according to what they think is best. If you are a Christian, then what you think is best will be in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. To that extent, every Christian is political.
Genuine Christian involvement in politics at any level must be indifferent to party loyalties and the various demagogues who try to exploit our faith. You cannot follow Christ and these bogus religious leaders with their bogus gospel both at the same time. They lead down entirely different paths.
As I said earlier, I believe that the best way to follow Christ in any endeavor, including the political, is to be faithful to the teachings of the Gospel as interpreted by the constant, 2,000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church.
We don’t need to re-invent the wheel or re-write the Gospels. We just need to be faithful to our call, which is always and forever, the Person of Jesus Christ.