This is telling, I think, of what is really at the core of such Christianity—and it isn't Christ. On the other hand, I was surprised by how demographically predictable the response tended to be. Those falling for this kind of hyper-politicized civil religion tend to be in the oldest wave of the Baby Boomers and older. Evangelical Christians under forty, on the other hand, tend to be more theologically and missiologically defined. This seems to be true, I might add, regardless of partisan political identification. I think that's good news for the future, with a church that will be less likely to confuse Christ with Caesar.
Does the Church lose something when it pursues political power?
I think the church loses everything when it pursues political power. This isn't to say that the church should be isolated from social and political realities. The church shapes consciences. But political power drives the church toward the three temptations of Jesus—appetite, self-protection, and power. I think James Davison Hunter's book, To Change the World, is almost wholly right on what has happened to hyper-political evangelicalism in the last generation. This is especially true, in some ways, in the current political context. In an upcoming issue of Touchstone magazine, we'll be quoting my friend David Mills, who argues that political discourse these days is driven by wrath, envy, and resentment (see Fox News and MSNBC any given night for this on display from the Right and from the Left). You can see this in the "siege mentality" of the last generation of evangelical culture warriors in which there is often a reversal of the Pauline admonition of 1 Corinthians 5. Those on the outside we judge; not those on the inside.
This mode of discourse fundamentally transforms the gospel when it wraps itself around the church's mission. David Mills goes on to say that the high passions about politics reveal what really is at the core of our conviction. Sadly, I think many evangelicals have their pulses race much harder in a debate about whether Sarah Palin is smart or dumb than they would over a debate about whether God is triune. That is scandalous.
Lastly, if you could encourage a potential pastor or ministry leader with one piece of advice, what would that be?
My advice would be a lyric from the Grateful Dead song, "Touch of Grey": "It's even worse than it appears but it's all right." By that I mean, the principalities and powers are stronger, deeper, more primal than you can ever imagine. The creation screams out in agony for the sons of God to be revealed. Your own sin, if you can see it, will tempt you to buckle in despair. But take heart! King Jesus has overcome the world. Keep pressing on, until (as the old gospel song puts it) "every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed."