The American Revolutionary War against the British crown came at a time of great discovery (philosophically speaking) in the ideals of self, identity, and rational thought. It was a great awakening; a time where a critically-thinking man or woman could step back and challenge the assertions of a governmental institution that resembled more of a tyrannic-deity than a fair and just body of rule. This was a time where (if) the governing church or authority would make a farcical scientific/philosophical denouncement or even proclamation that a person of great intellectual stature could stand up and throw off the yolk of blind belief, and defy the normative culture of submitting to a power that mixed personal beliefs with absolute control. The colonies were essentially fighting not only the British government, but the church that lied within it, as it was intertwined with the oppressive culture they resented. I believe now we are at the precipice of a new awakening; a new moment in history where we are finding our identity outside of political parties, ideals, and a culture filled with ethical pit-falls and moral banalities. We as a church must understand – with a resounding and collective voice – that our identity does not lie within the American government, lest we become the beast that a new generation fights for moral and ethical independence from. We as a unified body must know that we are not called to rectify our ties with a political party or governmental institution; rather we are to transcend and separate, for the health and identity of the body of Christ.
There has been an image cultivated in American society of a universal cultural-church identity interwoven within the government. If you were to ask almost anyone on the street if they have heard that America is a “Christian nation”, they would reply with the overwhelming response of “Yes”. Further perpetuating this image, some churches may even sing the national anthem as a worship song, and preach the message of the necessity of unity between the Church and American politics. This is a grave and treacherous mistake. Never was our nation intended to resemble a theocracy in any way, whether it be minutely or overwhelmingly. On track with this thinking, the modern American government was set up in accordance with The Enlightenment, and some of the major philosophical views against institutionalized religion. Historian Henry J. Sage writes about it in an online article called The Enlightenment in America, in which he says,
“The Age of Reason, or Enlightenment, altered people’s view of religion as well. Revealed religion, the belief that human events are controlled by a divinity, and that truth can be acquired by divine revelation, was either discarded or modified into a belief system based on the idea that the world was a rational place that could be controlled be adherence to rational processes.”
So in this sense, Christianity’s political pull at the time was negated by its loss of divine “rule” and “authority” in the name of “rational process”, which in turn stripped away the “devout” Christian image any aspiring political leader could use as his identity. In order to gain power, the Christian [then] had to be hyper-rational which ultimately led to the doing away of any messianic theology in his doctrinal identity and ultimately formed said person into a deist, making any religious inclination of the early American government deist, not Christian (examples of founding fathers who were deists would be Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin).
American politics and governmental rule have changed with every new generation and liberal-ideological movement that the United States has undergone since becoming a unified nation. Political ideologies have been loosely kept, and often hinge on the popular voice of the people during the time, even if their ideals are wrong (see the succession of the Confederate States); whereas core Christian values are set in stone (so to speak). Jesus’ commandments are too heavy for any humanistic governmental body to hold up without distorting the image of Jesus, and leaving His words open for interpretation. When we as a nation allow ourselves to believe that the Church and American politics are on the same level, we are susceptible to the belief that we have the freedom (because we are American citizens) to interpret Jesus Christ, The Father, and The Holy Spirit in whatever way may allow us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (The Declaration of Independence). In turn, this mentality can cause tremendous harm to the Church and to others, as we have seen in past acts such as the Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, and the systematic desecration of native culture in foreign lands.
As well as the distortion of the image of Jesus that can come about through a false unity between the Church and politics there is also an overwhelming downfall that can consume even the most devout of Christian citizens, and that is humanistic power. Most politicians you will see today airing campaign commercials on television are selling themselves to the American masses. They are the product of an image; a cultural figure to be propped atop a pedestal. They are willing to change how they act, how they speak, and even how they look, in order to ride empty votes into an even emptier yet destructive power. As a church, we are to be transcendent to this. Relying on political ties allows church body members to literally and figuratively worship an identity they are trying to cultivate in the eyes of man, rather than worshiping God himself. Within this parameter of negated worth, we as members of the body of Christ must ask ourselves (as well), who are we letting into power, and how do we view them? If the church found its holistic identity outside of the American government, we would be under far less threat of corruption, greed, and gross misuse of power (although still vulnerable due to sinful nature).
Renowned theologian David Bentley Hart, from his article Anarcho-Manarchism:
“Yet our system obliges us to elevate to office precisely those persons who have the ego-besotted effrontery to ask us to do so; it is rather like being compelled to cede the steering wheel to the drunkard in the back seat loudly proclaiming that he knows how to get us there in half the time. More to the point, since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world—the world that cannot be—ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.”
In this, Hart says that those who we elect into power are those who are distorting the truth and bending honeyed-words to woo us. If this is the future of Church leadership, then our church identity as a whole, and even a majority of the American-Christian community, may be damned to repeat a cyclical pattern of destruction. Hyperbolic as it may seem, if we continue on a path of identifying with, protecting, and funding self-proclaimed Gospel-led politicians belonging to a party – whether it be republican, democrat, or other- that are causing human discord, then we as a Church have failed, and we have abandoned the charitable ways of the Gospel itself.
It is in these reasons that I have offered that I believe the American Church should ultimately secede from any major political identity, and instead transcend the common culture that seems to be lashing chains around the church. The “defend our borders, defend our faith, defend our freedoms” way of thinking must be done away with, unless we are to become obsolete in the new renaissance of intellectualism and rational reasoning. We should instead adhere to what Jesus’ commandments were, given in Mark 12:29-31, which says
“Jesus answered,’The most important is,‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (ESV),
Rather than worshiping a humanistic institution whose “hard-universal” morals are ever changing with the tides of time (the commercialized institution then subsequent abolition of slavery is a major example), we as Christians must find our identity in Jesus, utilizing the minds we were created with to pursue His wisdom in how we are to interact with humanity. We must refuse to exchange the cross for stars and stripes, shirking any notion that our identity within American politics somehow ties-in to salvation.
Bio: A partaker in breaking bread and sharing laughs; I would liken my interests to that of an older Irish grandmother – I am enthusiastic about cats, a good sweet pastry, and whiskey. I believe in the Oxford comma and I always will. Let us share in the divine together.
Trevor Gregory Sikes