The headlines have run from the benign through the snarky and all the way into the nasty, but the coverage of yesterday’s meeting of Evangelical leadership with Donald Trump is almost unanimous in declaring the meeting as marking the death of the religious right as a political force. They are probably right, but I think it is important to note that such does not mean the end of religion as a force for shaping society and it most certainly does not mark the end of faith.
What has died is not the church; what has died is a thousand and one political actions groups of various sorts all operating under the rubric of “Christian.” These groups serve a purpose but also often confused the gospel in the process. So many people supported these groups that were nominal churchgoers, if they went at all, thinking mistakenly that being a Christian was about your politics. So many thought the same thing about Jesus. Many were attracted to him because in Him they sensed the power to throw off the shackles of Rome, and they were gravely disappointed when He ended up on the cross. And yet, slowly, Jesus changed everything. He resurrected, empowered His followers and over the course of the next few centuries Rome was not thrown off – it was converted.
What yesterday apparently marks the death of is not Christianity, but the false expectations that so many have placed upon it. Though the forces of secularism may be blowing trumpets of celebration, but this is no time for mourning – this is an opportunity for renewal.
If we use the brief retelling of history I laid out above as a guide we learn that the power of Christianity to shape culture and society is not in revolution and politics; it is in conversion. Same sex marriage may now be the law of the land, but if we convert everybody to our faith no one will take advantage of the law.
Unlike the Roman empire, in a democracy like ours there is a place for religious political action, but such is not the raison d’etre of Christianity. For way too many, particularly in the Evangelical portion of the Christian world, politics and the heart of the church had become jumbled into a single ball. Perhaps the death that was marked yesterday is a necessary one – necessary to untangle the ball that politics and the gospel had become.
This is not a time for the political scientists of our faith to do a “lessons learned” analysis. This is a time for the pastors of our faith to call us to prayer – starting with a confession that we too often substituted our politics for our devotion to the Almighty. With such confession there will be no need to undo the tangled knot; rather the knot will simply relax. Then it will be time to rededicate ourselves not to our politics, but to our Lord. If we do, it will be exciting to watch what happens next.