The nastiest letters I get about my sermons are when I challenge political ideology. In 2006, during the height of the Bush administration, I shocked my congregation by saying, “Jesus was not a Republican.” I was accused of not being pro-life (even though I was training for a race that raised money for evangelical pregnancy centers). Today, the pendulum has swung the other way so that I could shock young Christians by suggesting that Jesus loves even Donald Trump.
Politics is the idol of our age. Our addiction to politics is one of the most discouraging things to me as a preacher. Sometimes I feel that there is nothing I can say from the Bible that can sway people from their political convictions (left or right). We baptize our political ideology and then anathematize anyone who challenges it.
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators”: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—there is much I agree with. However, I sympathize with the deconstruction trend more than Porter does, and so I will also talk a little about how toxic streams within evangelical culture have contributed to the deconstruction movement and how often deconstruction is a rejection of American evangelicalism and not a rejection of Jesus. I also want to suggest a path forward for reform and paint a picture of what a post-evangelicalism could look like.
The third of Porter’s great predators is a politicized Christianity. He writes about the temptation to politicize things:
“And it’s not for no good reason that so many Christians chase after political power. We can’t help but see brokenness, corruption, and evil in our world, and we want it to change. That’s good. God gave us that fire. But no politician or political party encapsulates God’s vision for justice and goodness. Depending on personality, preference, and upbringing, people tend to pick one and demonize the other. When I was a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s, my parents’ generation deified the Right and demonized the Left. Today, it’s millennials and Gen-Zers deifying the Left and demonizing the Right.” (151)
I share Porter’s frustrations with the politicization of Christianity. On several occasions I have had political motivations ascribed to my spiritual leadership when none existed. This was especially evident during the pandemic. Mine is a family of health care workers, and the doctors and nurses close to me strongly encouraged me to take the pandemic seriously and follow suggested DOH and CDC guidelines. In hindsight, we know that the CDC got some things wrong about COVID-19, but I don’t regret taking a conservative approach and I wouldn’t do anything differently. I was grieved that some politicians based their platform on rejecting CDC guidelines for vaccines, masking, and distancing, and I was grieved further when I was accused of advocating for masking and distancing based on political motivations and not based on a concern for human life.
The irony of all of this is that I am a political conservative (at least when it comes to social issues).
Why is it that when faith and politics collide, politics wins? I wish this wasn’t so.
How can the church promote justice apart from politics? How can we promote racial reconciliation, strong families, and justice for the unborn, the alien, the elderly, and the poor? Porter argues that we promote change by telling a different story. He writes:
“Here, in the beginning of the Christian movement, already there’s criminal sedition. We think of uprisings and rebellions, and we think protests, riots, Molotov cocktails. But often, the most subversive and effective rebellion is the simple defiant act of telling a different story. Paul and his friends arrived in Thessalonica without hashtags or gas masks or flags on their pickup trucks, but armed instead with a different story. We have good news about a new king, and his name isn’t Caesar.” (131)
I strongly agree with this. (If you’re curious what it looks like, you can read my twelve-part response to The Case for Christian Nationalism by Stephen Wolfe.) Political muscle can bring about swift results, but these results are short-sighted. True change comes through telling a better story. Winning hearts and minds to Christ is the way to achieve real change.
What do you think? Do you think the church is too political or not political enough? Is the politization of Christianity a turn-off to you?