Today (Nov 5) the Dallas Morning News ran an commentary explaining 10 reasons that a Christian could not vote for Donald Trump. Across my Facebook feed came an article by an important evangelical leader explaining the many reasons that a Christian must vote for Donald Trump.
Interestingly these divergent views of Christian behavior came from writers who agreed about Donald Trump. They thought him loathsome. They disagreed about what it means to be a Christian. And I think this is the strongest indication yet, one emerging with greater and greater clarity, that in the United States there are at least two different religions claiming to be Christianity. And while they have superficial similarities in the language they use and the scripture they claim to follow they actually urge their followers to put their faith in two very different gods.
Consider. One says that God approves same-sex marriage. The other says that God does not. One says that a woman has a right to an abortion. The other believes abortion is in every circumstance murder. One group believes that the US should be open to refugees. The other believes it should be closed. One believes in building a stronger military. The other believes it should reduce military spending. One believes that all Americans should have health insurance. The other believes that this is an abomination. One believes that a Christian nation will have a humane government that meets its citizens needs in education, food, health care, housing, and employment. The other believes that offering such support dehumanizes people and encourages dependency. One group believes that the right to own guns is God-given. The other believes that gun ownership has nothing to do with God and should be regulated.
While both groups might agree that God transcends these differences, for all practical purposes they have already mutually anathematized one another and each has claimed to be the true religion of Christianity. They are not simply two branches of the same religion. They involve fundamentally different conceptualizations of God, of the world, of humanity, and of how God relates to humanity through Jesus Christ.
And this already means that Christianity and Christians have lost whatever grip they have on the political process. Probably the biggest difference between this presidential campaign and that four years ago is the near complete absence of “God bless America” at the end of political speeches. This may be because given the content of most speeches it would be simple blaspheme. But I suspect its because the candidates know it doesn’t matter.
I have noted before that in a democracy the future of governance is completely embedded in demographics. With the emergence of two different religions calling themselves Christian, effectively splitting that demographic, as well as the rise of ethnic and other religious minorities, the future is almost certainly one in which religion itself will play a declining role in national elections.
And that, I think, is good. The greatest danger to both Christianity and our nation is a government that presumes to draw its moral purpose, power, legitimacy, and continued existence from claims to represent God rather than the people.
Moreover many of us would welcome the emergence of a fiscally conservative small government party that wasn’t in thrall to aging theocrats whose policy demands are exactly the opposite of a conservative, small government agenda. Or we’d welcome an honest socialism not driven by utopian dreams of implementing God’s Reign on earth. The sooner the United States quits pretending to be a Christian nation the better, and the sooner Christ might once again find a place in our national life.