Agitation for control, that’s what happens during election seasons (which last way too long in the USA), and the culture wars implicates many Christians in that agitation for control. There is within our faith an aching for God’s will be to done but when that ache becomes activism in the political sector it often falls prey to the “Constantinian Temptation.”
Our Lord’s vision of the kingdom surpasses partisan politics. It relocates politics. It calls us to a different kind of politics.
From my Kingdom Conspiracy:
There was no voice more respected in the twentieth century among conservative evangelicals than Carl Henry’s, and perhaps no one gave more thought to the Christian and society than Henry, yet he observed that many were too aggressive and getting things backward. It is worth quoting him as a good reminder.
He begins with the important observation that Christians have hope and have a vision. He says, “Christians have biblical reason for seeking a predominantly regenerate society.”That aim, however, he says, doesn’t mean what many think it might mean. He asks some piercing questions: “But do they . . . have reason also to legislate all scriptural principles upon public institutions including government and schools? Even if they should become the majority, would it be wise to do so?” He presses even further: “Will not Christians be disillusioned and in fact discredited if by political means they seek to achieve goals that the Church should ideally advance by preaching and evangelism?”
Then he makes a jarring observation that ought to be stirred deeply into the soup of American Christianity: “Despite all the media tumult over [the] Moral Majority and the high public visibility of its leader, its extensive solicitation of funds during a six-year political crusade—claiming to speak for six million households—has not achieved passage of a single major piece of legislation cherished by the conservative right.”
This is precisely the point that James Davison Hunter would make nearly three decades later, when he observed that evangelicals do not have sufficient political power to achieve their aims and maybe ought to rethink their entire approach to what he calls “faithful witness.”
Randy Balmer, one of America’s finest historians of evangelicalism, after years of studying the relationship of evangelicals and politics, concludes on a similar note in his God in the White House: “My reading of American religious history is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power. Once you identify the faith with a particular candidate or party or with the quest for political influence, ultimately it is the faith that suffers.” He concludes with a subtle, but searing, reminder: “Compromise may work in politics. It’s less appropriate to the realm of faith and belief.”
Amen, and again I say Amen.