Do Religion and Politics Mix?

Here is something to think about: For the first time in a generation, the Religious Right had almost no visibility in the recent Congressional elections. The social issues that brought millions of conservative evangelicals out to the polls in previous years were simply missing from the debate. Instead, Americans focused on their worries about the economy, the deficit, and unemployment. This is actually an extremely significant and positive phenomenon. 

Here is how I describe the problem in Chapter 2 of The Sword of the Lord:

"For all Christians‚Äîfundamentalist, evangelical, mainline Protestant, or Catholic‚Äîunderstanding fundamentalism matters because Christians are losing the struggle to have any appreciable influence in the thoughts, hearts, and lives of most Americans. The political dominance of the Religious Right over the past three decades in America has had a profoundly negative effect on how Americans think about Christianity. A groundbreaking survey titled Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity was published in 2007 by the evangelical Christian Barna Group. Its authors, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, report that large majorities of non-churchgoing Americans are openly hostile to Christians. 87 percent believe that Christians are too judgmental of others. 86 percent believe that Christians are hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another. 75 percent believe that Christians are too involved in politics. Over two-thirds believe that Christians are out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, and not accepting of other faiths. 90 percent believe that Christians hate homosexuals.

"Younger Christians especially are likely to see and share these perceptions. As one survey respondent said, “Christians have become political, judgmental, intolerant, weak, religious, angry, and without balance. Christianity has become a nice Sunday drive. Where is the living God, the Holy Spirit, an amazing Jesus, the love, the compassion, the holiness? This type of life, how I yearn for that.”

Of course, Christians ought to bring their deepest values and most profound faith to their public actions. But measuring faith by a voting record--assuming God is on your side when you vote for a candidate or take a political stand-- is an act of supreme arrogance. The question, as Abraham Lincoln said, is not whether God is on your side, but whether you are on God's side. Do your actions in the public space promote love, justice, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, concern for the poor, compassion for the outcast? Do you follow Jesus, or do you expect Jesus to follow you?