There’s nothing wrong with being a conservative or a Republican. But churches shouldn’t be in the politics business. Some things you can’t avoid. Churches had to choose whether or not to shut down during Covid, whether or not to require masks, etc. Abortion is a political matter, but there is a legitimate theological angle to it as well. But political questions are ones generally outside the expertise and authority of a pastor.
A recent article by Tim Alberta in the Atlantic about “How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church” has been making the rounds.
There are a lot of criticisms that could be leveled at this. For example, it ignores the even greater levels of political involvement in the black church and the Christian left movement.
We might also disagree with Alberta’s decisions about what to classify as political or whether he has given a fair portrait of the politicization. Clearly, a sharp turn into obsession over race has also hit a large number of churches, but that doesn’t factor much into his piece.
We could also argue that he relies on less than a handful of anecdotal and unrepresentative examples to make his case (although that’s common in journalism). He might just have easily written a long piece about three of the craziest examples posted by Woke Preacher Clips on twitter, for example.
We could also question whether Alberta would equally apply his claim that a focus on earthly concerns “runs directly counter to the commands of scripture” to matters such as racial justice, feeding the hungry, etc.
We could also note that his quoting of Russell Moore, who has publicly trashed Trump voting evangelicals in venues such in the New York Times using language that calls into question their salvation, as an authority without any counter-balancing authority discredits Alberta as a partisan in the dispute.
We could also question his description of postmillennial theology (which was commonly held among liberal Protestants in the past, and does not require “amassing political power”).
There’s probably a lot more that could be critiqued.
But let’s be honest: there’s a lot that’s true in there. Churches are being ripped apart by politics, as part of the turmoil and realignment I highlighted as resulting from the negative world.
It’s also true that what I labeled the “culture war” strand of evangelicalism has overly merged faith with politics in inappropriate ways, and also too often has become captive to conspiracy theories like Q-Anon. And it’s not just that the leaders are manipulating the flock, though there’s doubtlessly some of that. A lot of the people in the pews want this stuff. As they say, you can’t cheat an honest man.
A lot of conservatives want to overlook this because they view themselves as distinct from some of these wackier churches such as those profiled in the article.
But there are a ton of wacky churches out there. There prosperity gospel movement is not small, for example. Nor is support for Q-Anon a niche movement. Lots of Christians listen to Alex Jones and read a lot of these strange web site.