Yesterday I taught the second of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Read my summary of Week One here.
If you recall, in Week 1 I explained five ways in which Christians have thought about politics–past and present. We discussed Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.
This week we asked: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics, especially in the last fifty years?
We began by defining evangelicalism using the Bebbington Quadrilateral: Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, and Activism. This proved to be a very fruitful conversation. I taught about 120 people this morning (in 2 sections) and nearly all of them believed in the theological tenets of the Bebbington Quadrilateral. But only a small percentage ( roughly 25%?) use the word “evangelical” to describe their faith. In both hours I had people ask me to distinguish between an “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”
I then offered a quick history lesson focused on why so many conservative white evangelicals in the 1970s began to worry about the decline of Christian culture. We touched on the separation of church as defined by the Supreme Court in 1947, Engel v. Vitale (1962), Abington v. Schempp (1963), changes to American immigration policy (Hart-Cellar Act of 1965), the relationship between segregationism and evangelical libertarianism, Roe v. Wade (1973), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and the religious liberty debates of the last twenty years (“Merry Christmas,” Johnson Amendment, Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc.).
I then introduced the political playbook devised by the Religious Right in the 1970s to deal with these social and cultural changes. The playbook teaches:
- America was founded as a Christian nation
- America’s status as a Christian nation is in jeopardy
- We must “reclaim” or “restore” America to its Christian roots
- We must do this through electoral politics by electing the right people who will, in turn, pass the right laws and appoint the right judges
- We will win back the culture for Christ
- If this happens, we’re not really sure what we will do next, but we do know that God will once again be happy with the United States.
When I talked about #6 above I emphasized how evangelicals have not thought very deeply about politics. Many evangelical leaders have no idea what they will do if the proverbial dog catches the proverbial bus. This, as Ronald Sider described it, is the “scandal of evangelical politics.”
Here is what I told the class they could expect in Week Three:
- The current evangelical political playbook, as written over the course of the last fifty years, privileges fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.
- We will then ask: “Are these healthy or biblical ideas (fear, power, nostalgia) from which to build a truly evangelical approach to politics?