I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?
I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:
“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”
I am familiar with the thinking of patriotic Christians because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.
The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.
Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands like a city set on a hill for the world to see.
While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.
The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. The focus was on faith. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.
I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 21st Century. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles. That tribalism caused the first schism in the early church.
The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe we are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.
Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that patriotic element differently. God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.
(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)
The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as our brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.
That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world. We all have our own unique vantage points and perspectives, and for that reason I need to listen to others because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position.
Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world. The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump:
“Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.”
This is a major concern. We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.
In another article, How American Evangelicals Lost Credibility with the Global Church, and podcast, Quick to Listen, we get a glimpse of how Christians in other parts of the word have characterized the American evangelical embrace of Donald Trump. The author says, “[T]he word evangelical has become politicized and toxic even in the UK because of Trump politics”. Some people in the UK are evidently asking:
“Was the US never really a ‘Christian country,'”
“Was US Christianity corrupted by politics?”
This view of American Christians from believers across the pond is a sobering reminder of the danger of blind spots in personal perspective. Immersed in our own circumstances and the thoughts in our own heads, we are apt to miss where we diverge from believers in the rest of the world. How they see us should give us some pause.
The danger of any people in any geographical, political and cultural circumstance at any time in history is to get caught up in the peculiarities of those circumstances and times and confuse them for timeless truths. We, in America, are no exception.
In the wake of the last four plus years of some extreme stances taken by a large segment of the church, a little self-reflection seems to be in order. Better yet, some dialogue with brothers and sisters who look on from a greater distance and different perspectives seems to be necessary.
Some of those brothers and sisters we need to listen to are close to us. Within our borders, African American Christians who believe very similarly to white evangelicals on theological matters, like the necessity of being born again, have (in general) a very different perspective on politics, culture and what God is doing in the world.
It would be easy to brush them off with political labels like “progressive” and “liberal” (and we do) and miss the fact that their views on faith, politics and culture are forged in a very different fire than the experience of a typical white evangelical. We serve, pray and worship the same God, but our relationships with God were shaped under different circumstances.
I see very conservative black Christians (theologically) shaking their heads at white evangelicals who enthusiastically and passionately supported and defended Donald Trump in everything he said and did. We need to listen to what they have to say to us and take it to heart.
They didn’t drink the Kool-Aid, and they have something to say to us. I dare say we need to listen to them and learn from them on this point.
I have been doing that more intentionally, and gaining different perspective for a number of years, now. These things take time (a lifetime, really), as we offer ourselves up to God to work within us to will and to act according to His greater purposes.
Frankly, if Trump had been elected again, many people in the church may have wandered further off the narrow path into dangerous territory. We need a reset, and we need a new perspective. We need to listen to people like George Yancey and Esau McCaulley, especially now as we try to recover our balance in the aftermath of teetering on the brink of patriotic idolatry.
Christianity has never faired well from a position of power. The greatest spread of the Gospel almost always occurs in the face of opposition. At the present time, the fastest spread of the Gospel around the globe is taking place in the hostile environments of China, Iran, sub-Saharan Africa, etc.
When Christianity couples with power, history shows us that corruption creeps in. While the passion with which American Christians have attempted to reclaim our country for Christ has been well-intended (by most I believe), I believe it is misguided, especially at the point at which our Gospel testimony is being tainted.
We would do well to refocus our gaze at the cross and listen to others who, unlike us, have not had the luxury of feeling the exhilaration of manifest destiny or the delusion that our prosperity is within the grasp of unquestioning faith and allegiance to forces that pander to that delusion.
We need to open our eyes and our ears to what the world of believers outside our circles can tell us and gain more objective perspective on our position in the global church. If we aren’t able to humble ourselves and accept correction where we have wandered off God’s path, our actions are likely to further taint the Gospel message in the US and trigger even further decline in receptiveness to the Gospel.