At this writing, Islamic State militants are engaging in some of the most horrific persecution of Iraqi Christians since the days of the Roman Empire. Children are being beheaded, parents gunned down, churches burned, and whole populations uprooted, all to feed a monster known as radical Islam.
While I believe that those who commit such atrocities should be held accountable personally for this violence, I am under no delusion as to who bears much of the responsibility for creating the conditions that have nurtured this outrage: conservative American Christians. That’s correct; I am calling out the Religious Right for helping to set the stage for the slaughter of Christians.
To interpret my comments in the context that supports them, one has to understand the real disaster that has been conservative evangelical politics, a pestilence that has infected our body politic for nearly four decades. I say “disaster” because no other word will suffice, and I also say it as one who is an evangelical that holds to many of the same views of Holy Scripture as do most conservative evangelicals, including many who are quite vocal in electoral politics. (One significant difference between many other evangelicals and me is that I am not a Dispensationalist, so I don’t see the modern state of Israel as a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and a re-establishment of Israel of ancient Bible times.) The Betrayal of the Am... Best Price: $8.98 Buy New $5.40 (as of 09:25 EDT - Details)
The Gospel Does not Need Politics
No doubt, I have managed to alienate huge swaths of people in these first three paragraphs, so how do I effectively make my points that, in my view, prove (or at least effectively demonstrate) my allegations? The best way to proceed, I believe, is just to explain why political evangelicalism results in idolatry and other perversions of the Christian Gospel. I also recognize that many people who have pursued political evangelicalism have done so with good intentions, but just as power corrupts, so does the political process which, in the end, results in politics without any semblance of Christianity.
Furthermore, I also believe I should point out that I do not believe it is a “sin” to run for political office or even a “sin” for a Christian to become involved in politics, but I add that good people may find themselves crashing and burning as they fall deeper into the political pit. For every Ron Paul who managed to keep his integrity even while serving in Congress for more than two decades, there are many more who succumb to the lure of power.
It is not just the fact that politics can corrupt Christians (just as I also believe that most people who seek political office are not “good” people who “want to make a difference”), but also the fact that I believe that syncretism of politics and the Christian Gospel ultimately turns into another religion, one that is apostate to the core, that being called “American Exceptionalism.” No, not all people who hold to this political doctrine are evangelicals, but conservative practitioners of Political Evangelicalism usually tend to hold to an “American Exceptionalism” viewpoint.
Over time, partisan politics corrupts the Christian Gospel, which does not need political action to survive. In truth, the Gospel has thrived in atmospheres in which Christians had no political power or influence whatsoever. From the mass executions of Christians by Roman authorities to mass murders of Christians by communist governments in the 20th Century – and now the Islamic State brutality and the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt – those who would rule have done their best to stamp out Christianity by killing its practitioners.
In fact, over the centuries we have seen Christianity survive and even grow in an atmosphere of outright murderous persecution. For example, the communist government of Mao’s China did everything it could to stamp out Christianity through murder, torture, and imprisonment, yet after China emerged from government-imposed isolation in the 1980s, the world found that there were more confessing Christians in the country than there were War, Empire, and the M... Best Price: $4.64 Buy New $9.95 (as of 08:25 EDT - Details) when Mao and the communists took power in 1949.
During that time, Christians had no political power or governmental influence in China, yet the faith flourished, albeit underground. In fact, the Christian Gospel does not need political backing and often does better when the faithful are not selling their souls to Leviathan.
American Christians have not had to worry about being imprisoned or tortured or executed for their faith, at least not yet. I realize that the United States has become much more secularized in recent years and certainly the gloves are off regarding how governments view Christianity. I work on a college faculty that is overwhelmingly liberal Democrat and I know firsthand from conversations (not arguments) with fellow faculty members of their absolute hatred for conservative Christians in particular and the Bible in general.
Being that they equate evangelicalism with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, there is no doubt in my mind that many of my colleagues would like to find ways to limit legally what Christians can do. Some of them would like to tax churches into oblivion, while others make sure that no confessing Christian (unless of the hard-left variety) can ever find employment as a teacher in their departments. (When I interviewed in 2001 for my position, no one asked me about my religious beliefs, but the department which had the opening was not dominated by hard-left ideologues.)
My point is that evangelicals are going to find themselves marginalized at best and outright persecuted at worst in the not-too-distant future in the USA. It is inevitable, I believe. We already are seeing Christian groups being kicked off college campuses such as Vanderbilt University because they maintain that elected leaders of those groups must be confessing Christians, something that is anathema to the leftist leadership of modern higher education. What began on the campuses is seeping into our society at large, as American Progressives are going to do what politicians have done through the ages: blame Christians as things become worse.
Some evangelicals will respond to this trend by demanding that Christians become even more involved in the American political process, with the mantra being that we must “elect the right people” who will stop this secularist drift. Yet, it would do Christians well to think about what has happened in U.S. politics since the late 1970s, when evangelicals jumped feet-first into the political cauldron.
All of the anti-Christian trends that are disturbing to evangelicals have accelerated in the past three decades, even though conservative Republicans have had more political influence than they had from 1950 to 1980. When I was born in 1953, a Republican was in the White House and Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, but by 1958, Democrats owned Congress and did so until 1994, except for a brief six years when Republicans War, Christianity, and... Best Price: $5.35 Buy New $9.95 (as of 02:35 EDT - Details) controlled the Senate.
Furthermore from 1950 to 1980, Republicans were in the White House for 16 years and Democrats for 14 years, but those Republicans were not conservative by any means. However, in the political era of politically-conservative evangelicalism, we have seen the Sexual Revolution codified and made a permanent part of the federal (not to mention state and local) bureaucracies, the Drug War has exploded and turned the USA into Incarceration Nation, abortion on demand, made permanent by Roe v. Wade, has become the norm, and it only is a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court makes gay marriage the law of the land.
Christian conservatives have opposed the legislative and bureaucratic march of the Sexual Revolution, yet it continues apace and nothing will change it no matter what the Republicans do (or don’t do). Keep in mind that conservative evangelicals have had the most political influence they ever will have in U.S. History during the past three decades, but they have batted zero for most social issues.
Instead, we have massive incarceration, due in part to the evangelicals’ insistence that drugs are bad and the only appropriate legal response is for government to throw users into prison and impose draconian prison sentences. Both the federal government and state governments execute people left and right, and prosecutorial, judicial, and police misconduct are rampant. We also have had seemingly-endless military interventions abroad, with Christian churches engaging in what only can be called orgies of idolatry in celebrating the American Armed Forces during religious services and excusing destruction of entire societies as “collateral damage.”
To make matters worse, when Democrats in Congress released a report on CIA torture practices in the “War on Terror,” many people recoiled in horror but there was one group that generally supported torture and apparently had no problem with the behavior of CIA agents abroad: conservative evangelicals. Just as they refused to condemn the slaughter of innocents in the U.S. wars, they are willfully blind to torture and its victims.
Having grown up in conservative evangelicalism all of my life, I cannot recall the kind of military worship in churches that seems to be overly-prevalent today. Granted, I came of age during the unpopular Vietnam War (when we were fighting “Godless Communism”), but while people respected military veterans, they did not celebrate military service as part of worship the way they do now.
To be frank, all of the things that conservative evangelicals have championed in the past 30 years have turned out to be disasters, with the exception of their lukewarm support for free markets, and I mean lukewarm. Yes, the typical conservative evangelical might say something like, “We need to cut back on government regulation and taxes,” but be unable to articulate how regulation affects the economy or give any kind of specific guidance on what needs to be done. Furthermore, Republican-led governments have done nothing to stop the regulatory march that now is so prevalent that it has placed our once-thriving economy in mortal danger. The Other Side of Calv... Best Price: $17.13 Buy New $26.50 (as of 08:45 EDT - Details)
Instead, conservative evangelicals, even while decrying “Big Government” seek to use government to teach Creationism in public schools and place the Ten Commandments in government space. While this provides “red meat” for the “political faithful,” it does nothing to advance the Christian Gospel, and I believe that the political activism that has dominated evangelical churches for the past 30 years has hindered the Faith, not enhanced it.
Although many conservative evangelicals like to use the Old Testament for political guidance, we have seen the Gospel grow in those situations when Christians had no political power at all. The Church had phenomenal growth during its first 300 years even while the Roman State actively was trying to eradicate it by any means necessary. Likewise, as I pointed out earlier, Mao and his Red hordes were unable to eliminate Christianity from China despite the free employ of murder, torture, imprisonment, and marginalization.
What makes this history even more important is that Christianity has experienced its largest growth in times when it was politically unpopular, something that should give everyone – Christian and non-Christian – pause. Look at the New Testament, and especially the four Gospels. Here we see an all-powerful God humbling himself as Jesus, being born in a filthy and wretched cattle stall and having his birth announced to marginalized people such as shepherds. (Shepherds in that day were so despised that they were not permitted to give testimony in court because their word was considered to be unreliable.) Soon after his birth, Jesus and his parents were forced to flee to Egypt because King Herod of Judea had ordered him to be killed.
Jesus lived as an itinerant preacher, surrounding himself with flawed and uneducated disciples, was despised by the religious leaders of his day, and his ministry emphasized anything but the militaristic “gospel” that too many modern churches preach today. (For a more complete view of this sad development, read articles written by Laurence Vance that boldly condemn this trend.) He taught his disciples not to seek to “lord it over others” as the Gentile governments did, but rather to serve others. (This is not the same as the politician who claims to be a “public servant,” as all of us know just how much those “servants” love to lord it over everyone else.)
He then was arrested, given a crooked trial, and then condemned to death on a Roman cross, which was utterly cruel, painful, and cast utter shame upon those forced to die in this hideous and humiliating fashion. Jesus then was placed into a borrowed tomb and, according to the Gospels, rose again in three days, stayed on earth for another 40 days, and then ascended. In the Book of Acts, the disciples asked Jesus shortly before his ascension if he at that time was going to restore the political kingdom of Israel to a new state of military and political glory. Jesus firmly rebuked them and told them, instead, to preach a new Gospel to the whole world. The War on Drugs Is a ... Best Price: $5.87 Buy New $5.95 (as of 11:50 EDT - Details)
One reason that Muslims cannot accept the Christian gospel is that they cannot believe that God (Allah) would subject himself to the kind of humiliation and defeat as represented by the cross. In their view, Allah always wins, and he wins in a way that trumpets his victory. The idea that God would have a plan of salvation that included his own blood sacrifice is anathema to a Muslim, which explains why it is illegal to practice Christianity in many Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia.
However, Muslims and Christians historically have lived in peace among each other, but the rise of political Islam along with the aggression in the Middle East by U.S. forces has changed not only the social and political balances, but also has made Christians a target by making them to be scapegoats. The sad irony is that evangelicals, who are the Christians most likely to be involved in overseas missions, now see Muslims as enemy radicals to be militarily destroyed rather than people who should be hearing the Christian Gospel. An even sadder irony is that modern evangelicals essentially have embraced an Islamist view of the Gospel in which “Christian America” kills “infidels” for the cause of Christ. Thus, political evangelicalism corrupts the very Gospel that evangelicals purport to follow.
(Several years ago, I attended a wedding in which the groom was in the U.S. Marine Corps and his father was the presiding minister. His father said during his charge to the groom that there would be times when he would have to “kill for Christ.” To this day, I cannot fathom what he said.)
Throughout the New Testament, followers of Jesus are reminded that many of the great triumphs of the Gospel are done through what seem to be vehicles of weakness. All of the Old Testament heroes from Abraham to the prophets are flawed characters. The Messiah is not a valiant swordsman riding a white steed leading a political and military revolt against Rome, but rather a very humble and ordinary-looking man riding a donkey.
God, according to the Scriptures, gains victories through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and uses weak and flawed people to spread the Gospel goes on throughout the world – despite the efforts of political and religious authorities to stop it. Yet, evangelicals continue to search for political power plays through “their” candidates, be they a Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum or someone else like (God forbid) Newt Gingrich who claims he can roll back all of the Sexual Revolution and stop everyone from using drugs via government edicts and police raids, or do something to legally promote Christianity in order to make it more politically acceptable. To put it another way, political evangelicals negate their own gospel as they continue to preach that all that is needed to “improve” the world is just another dose of deadly force via the police and military arm of the State. Basic Economics Best Price: $22.32 Buy New $27.19 (as of 01:35 EDT - Details)
I believe that political evangelicalism has done more to impede the Gospel than the worst legal restrictions that Progressives have applied and will apply in the future. American Christians in the near future are likely to lose their jobs, their homes, their families, and maybe even their lives simply because their beliefs are at opposition to the Gospel of Progressivism. Progressives have resorted to murder against other enemies, so why not American Christians? I have no doubt that many of my faculty colleagues – who are pretty much representative of modern Progressives in their political and social outlooks – would openly support government raid against Christian sects, even if innocent people are gunned down or die in burning buildings. They supported the government massacre of the Branch Davidians at Waco, saying that David Koresh was a “whack job;” they will cheer on even more slaughter in the future, of that I have no doubt.
That being said, however, there is no reason why Christians also should embrace Progressivism any more than they should embrace other ideologies. Progressivism is statism, and statism is idolatry, the pursuit of a false god. The Christian Gospel is complete, I believe, and does not need to be mixed with political ideologies and outright statism. I add that when I speak of Progressivism, I don’t mean just the conservative “American Exceptionalism” variety of Progressivism, but also the leftist Progressivism that dominates the mainline Protestant churches and organizations like Sojourners.
(The founder and director of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, embraced Marxist ideologies in his earlier days and actually believed that the mass-murdering communism of Mao Zedong was “Christian” in both its intentions and implementation. Today, Wallis simply worships all aspects of the Welfare State and anything else that leftist Progressivism has to offer and claims that statism is the very essence of the Christian Gospel.)
Unfortunately, as James Ostrowski has eloquently written, Progressivism is a “cancer” that is destroying this country from the inside out. It replaces individual freedom with absolute obedience to government authorities; it justifies U.S. military intervention abroad against people who have not been at war with us, and it attempts to substitute crony capitalism for free markets.
Many of these trends would have occurred without political evangelicalism. However, by engaging in the syncretism of politics and the Gospel, political evangelicalism has created a false message that the American State is the essence of Christianity when, in fact, the American State is utterly hostile to everything the Scriptures declare.
While Christianity grows overseas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is dying in this country. I believe that one of the most important reasons has been the love affair between evangelicals and the State, the worship of a false god, a god that can sustain nothing but sorrow and death.