There had been a crisis brewing around Christian political engagement for some years before the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021. The fervour of support for Donald Trump amongst many evangelical leaders in the last two presidential elections – despite his lack of personal faith or Christian character – shows how far a party political agenda and the mission of the church have become entangled. The crisis came to a head following Trump’s defeat in November – exposing the failure of numerous prophecies in charismatic circles that he would win a second term – and the repeated accusations of electoral fraud which culminated in the events of January 6th 2021.
Evangelicals in the West have lamented the decline of Christian values in society, especially since the 1960s, and the idea of a ‘culture war’ has mobilised many of them to try and arrest this decline through political engagement. They want to advocate pro-life policies, challenge transgender ideology and uphold religious freedom – and in the US they see the Republican Party as the only option which can deliver these outcomes.
There are many other Christians, however, whose faith moves them to seek social justice, to end racial discrimination, to show compassion to refugees and immigrants and to protect the environment. With these as their priorities, they are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates in the US or for centre- left parties elsewhere.
There is nothing new in this, you might say; Christians have found ideals that they see as being consistent with their faith in both left and right wing parties wherever democracy has flourished. However, a crisis has now arisen because the political debate itself has become toxic. Christians may feel justified biblically in supporting a certain political agenda, but when the debate moves from discussing the issues peaceably to vilifying people who hold opposing views in the unfettered world of social media, then democracy itself is in deep trouble.
The tragedy is that some Christians are at the forefront of this tribalisation of politics; they feel they have to choose one set of biblical values and necessarily oppose the other, creating a polarisation of views and eroding the middle ground on which many believers used to stand. We must heed Jesus’ sober warning against demonising people that we disagree with, because a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:22-26).
All of this is provoking a searching re- examination of the relationship between Christianity and politics, and the beliefs and assumptions which have driven the movements of the last decade or so.
Photo credit: Geoff Livingston 1 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0