Must Christians renounce political and cultural power in order not to lose sight of the fact that heaven is their true home? Many evangelical leaders believe so. C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, recognized that it is entirely the other way round: “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Last week we took a look at the debates over whether the elites in charge of evangelical colleges, seminaries, and other institutions, in their desire to gain a hearing in the world, have compromised key Christian convictions in the process.
This week we dive into a related topic making the rounds, the current fracturing of the evangelical world. Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote a much cited article in the Atlantic entitled “The Evangelical World is Breaking Apart” in which he contends that the evangelical churches are fracturing because they have become politicized and tribal “repositories of grievances.” David French (unsurprisingly) agrees.
Wehner and French’s contention can be boiled down to this: Christians who are politically active, more often than not, have exchanged Christian faithfulness for the resentful rage that defines the contemporary political scene.
A slightly different angle is found in Collin Hansen’s recent article about the final Together For the Gospel conference, to be held in 2022, where he laments the fact that “many pastors find more in common with even unbelievers who share their political and cultural assumptions than with believers who affirm the same doctrine.”
Unlike Wehner and French, Hansen doesn’t throw every politically right-leaning Christian under the bus, but he is also troubled by the same basic dynamic: those who would strongly insist that evangelicals should adhere to certain cultural and political priorities. Russell Moore shares Hansen’s concern, although he places those he criticizes in the category of heretics.
Wehner, French, and the myriad other writers churning out slightly different forms of the same basic claim, of course, always have only one group of evangelicals in mind: those on the right. While they may throw in a brief comment here or there about how this is a bipartisan issue, they never really examine left-leaning evangelicals at all. When Wehner mentions a pastor who has recently resigned his pulpit and left the ministry altogether because “he felt undermined by people in his congregation…who, it turned out, were less animated by spiritual matters than by political agendas” you know he isn’t talking about supporters of President Biden. Trump and evangelicals who support him are the problem. They are the ones who angrily denounce, ridicule, persecute, slander, and hound pastors from their pulpits. Crickets regarding those on the left.
One of the main ways this comes out is the anecdotes and quotes these authors choose to highlight. There will be a lengthy litany of abuses coming from those on the right, with an equally lengthy recounting of how mistreated and abused those are who righteously stand apart from politics, simply feeding God’s people with the unadulterated truths of Scripture. No doubt such mistreatment does occur. It should be opposed. But the selectivity of these authors is not accidental. It builds up a one-sided picture meant to send shivers of revulsion down the spine of any decent human being: “That kind of evangelicals, they are the problem. They have made an idol of politics. They must be stopped.” The recent special on CBS is a particularly egregious example of this kind of intentional selectivity. Those who, it is claimed, are politically neutral, are always carefully portrayed as being above the fray, their hands unsullied by worldly affairs. Instead, such pastors and leaders—so we are told—simply want to show us how the gospel shapes our understanding of race, gender relations, immigration, and more. Nothing political in that, right?