After a long, frustrating courtship with the GOP, Richard Land, then President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention declared, ”The go-along, get-along strategy is dead. ‘No more engagement. We [conservative Christians] want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.” That was 1998.
One wondered if that particular sentiment and strategy faded with Land’s retirement. It seemed so when the SBC, a leading voice among those conservative Christians clamoring for more influence within the GOP, disinvited Ben Carson to its Pastor’s Conference in June of this year.
Then, in an interesting announcement yesterday, the ERLC will host an event as part of the SEND North America Conference in Nashville, the new President of the ERLC, Russell Moore, will interview Jeb Bush live. Included in the event will be a video interview with Marco Rubio. One wonders if little has changed.
Phillip Larsen offers a Guest Post that reveals the marriage may be prompting a different divorce.
As the polls closed in early November of 1980, the room was buzzing with excitement. All their work had paid off and their “guy” was now set to become president. The speeches were set and the room was buzzing. The sense of anticipation was palpable. As the band began playing “Hail to the Chief”, out stepped the man of the hour: Jerry Falwell!
This is the moment where the blurring of the lines between conservative national politics and the evangelical church had reached its crescendo. Ronald Reagan was president-elect, but Falwell and the rest of the Moral Majority movement had won the night.
The premise of the marrying politics and the evangelical church is beautiful in its simplicity. If we can get people who love Jesus in positions of power, then the country will begin to look more like the Kingdom of Heaven. Moral and Christ-like people will result in a moral and Christ-like country. The gospel will trickle down from the top, and God will be pleased.
So what happened? 35 years later, the country is (at best) on a similar moral standing, the Republican Party is staring down the real possibility of having a generation long presidential electoral problem, and while we can spin the latest data released from Pew Research, we can’t deny that the church faces diminishing influence. It was supposed to be a partnership that saw the rise of moral driven governance, but instead, it has diminished both the church and GOP.
The concept is beautiful until we realize that Jesus never called the church to political power. It was a great idea until the siren song of “our guy” occupying the oval office became too much of a temptation. Then those who hold difference political beliefs no longer were the opposition, but the enemy. The concept is logical until we realize that the gospel is not, and was never meant to be advanced via the throne, the judicial bench, or the legislative pen.
It is widely held that Jesus spoke only once regarding political power in saying “render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s.” Although this is the only time Jesus explicitly mentions the relationship between the church and government, there are two other instances where Jesus demonstrates his attitude towards politics. If you aren’t careful, you might miss these references.
The first is when Jesus comes to the end of His 40 day fast and is presented with all the kingdoms of world. If the goal for Jesus was establish an earthly kingdom, this was a prime opportunity. Yet, He rejects the throne of man in pursuit of the throne of Grace.
The second happens when Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheers and the laying of Palms. The people want Jesus to enter into the city as a conquering Hero. They have reached a breaking point as the Romans continued their oppression. They are searching for any kind of respite, and present Jesus with an opportunity to seize the power seat. They are celebrating the Jesus that they want Him to be, not the Jesus that He is. When Jesus chooses the cross instead of the sword, the crowd changes its adoring “Hosanna” to the vilifying “Crucify Him.”
Scripture demonstrates the mantle of political leadership is not one that the church should pursue because it is not what Jesus pursued. The church is at its best when it serves as the voice of accountability to the positions of power, not the instrument in which power is derived. When the church exclusively aligns itself with one political party, the church and the party are viewed with suspicious eyes; and rightly so. The Church is the bride of Christ; she needs to earthly suitor.
We learned from a Pew Research piece that some cited “too involved in politics” as a reason that they have walked away from the American Church. Younger evangelicals grow weary of being patronized by politicians who think they are two issue voters. This weariness is compounded when they see that those two issues are given plenty of lip service but little action. The result? Young evangelicals were twice as likely to vote for a Democrat in 2008 as they were in 2004. The Moral Majority’s ship of state ran aground.
All of this points to one thing: the American church has been chasing the wrong thing, under the wrong pretense, for the wrong reasons, and the goal that they hope to achieve is diminished because it is attached to the contact sport that is American politics. The Church becomes diminished because it borrows the strategies, themes, and structures of politics, a secular ideal. The political party becomes diminished because it must echo the vernacular of the church during the campaign, further constricting their base. The marriage of the evangelical community to the GOP is bad for the church and bad for the GOP. This isn’t to say that a Christian can’t be politically active. It is to say that chasing political victories at all costs is an albatross around the neck of the gospel.
Practically, this means that we have a choice to make. Despite my most ardent objections, the 2016 campaigns have picked up with increasing speed and veracity. Donald Trump emerged from Trump tower; saw his shadow and it means there is 17 more months of winter…err…the election season. Not only that, but against all odds he currently leads the GOP field. For the church, we can finally quit pursuing the power that was never ours to begin with. For the Republican Party, they can drop the unrealistic expectation of being Christendom’s political voice. In doing so, both are stronger. In doing so, both are better.
Phillip Larsen lives in Oklahoma City with his wife and kids, and is a member of West Metro Community Church. He is the author of “Suit Up” and “21 Days to Suit Up”. Phillip has a Master of Christian Education from B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, with over 90 hours of seminary education. You can see more of his work and his speaking schedule at www.philliplarsen.com.
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