“Evangelical Christians have depended almost entirely on the promises of politicians and votes at the ballot box to maintain their influence in the culture, and the benefits that have come from being the predominant religious view in America.”
So, the election is over. Let me tell you why it was not a “disaster” for Evangelical Christians, or even, as some still wring their hands and vent their disappointment, some kind of a “loss for the cause.”
Here’s a quote from the previous article, Part 1:
“He (Paul) made a point to teach Christians that part of their faith was demonstrating their obedience to the civil government as an acknowledgement that its power and ability to operate was completely in God’s hands and that its leaders would be held accountable to God for what they did.”
As far as I know, those passages, found scattered throughout his writings, but most notably concentrated in the book he wrote to the Christians who lived in the very capital of the Roman Empire, still apply. In light of everything that has happened to Christians throughout the history of the church, an election loss experienced by some prominent Christians who supported a particular party and candidate in the American Democracy, frankly, is way down on the list of political tragedy encountered by the church, if it indeed even falls into the same category.
First of all, the demographic data gathered after the election indicates that those who labelled themselves as “evangelical” or “born again” Christians were not united in their choice of politicians or parties, across the board. The conservative media has a tendency to look at the caucasians among the leadership and then assume that they speak with a united voice for the conservative branch of the church. The problem with that is that a majority of African Americans who are church members place themselves in the category of “conservative” and “evangelical” and are as likely to use the term “born again” as their caucasian counterparts, and they overwhelmingly supported the President and his party. Most caucasians simply write them off “because they are black” and discount their view because they see everything through the lense of social issues. Latino voters as well, who represent the only demographic group showing genuine evangelistic growth in the American Christian church, overwhelmingly supported the President. One of the things that both of these groups have in common is that they see some glaring inconsistencies in the caucasian Christian’s tendency to equate opposition to abortion and gay marriage as the only standards by which to measure partisan politics. Other Christians from different cultural backgrounds see a lot of hypocrisy, and a lot of inconsistency, in the moral measurements of the politicians that Caucasians tend to support. When you put in the self-identified “Christians” who are African American and Latino, a sizeable percentage of American Christians, almost half, cast ballots for the winning candidate and his party. That makes it extremely difficult to label this a “disaster” for Christians.
But beyond that, when has it ever mattered that the party in power showed some kind of “favored status” to Christianity, or any branch of it, when it came to the mission and purpose of the church? What changes now, even though some Christian leaders seem to think that the results of the recent election are a signal that things are changing?
Missionaries have had their eye on China for several centuries. It is one of the most prominent destinations for the modern missions movement, largely because there are so many people, and because reaching Chinese people with the gospel means rapid multiplication of the spread of the gospel. But in 1949, the modern missionary movement was completely and totally shut out of China by its communist government. At that time, depending on what source you read, estimates were that there may have been as many as 100,000 Christians in the country, with a total population nearing 1 billion. There were serious doubts that the Christian church would survive the persecution it was about to endure, a straw fence against a wildfire, so to speak. But the Christian church in China experienced its greatest evangelistic revival during the most restrictive period of the country’s communists. Churches were banned, buildings were confiscated, leaders were murdered and imprisoned, but millions of people came to a saving faith in Christ, and risked their lives and their futures to do it. When the government finally loosened up on religious freedom, and contact was restored with Christian churches in the west, it was estimated that there were more than 20 million Christians in China. During that same period, with no restrictions on the practice of their faith, the number of Americans attending church was plateaued, and the evangelism that was taking place wasn’t even accounting for the number of children of Christian parents being baptized.
In spite of prognostications to the contrary, I do not believe that Christians in America are in for some kind of crackdown. The churches have, in some cases, but certainly not all, lost their ability to influence legislators to do its bidding in terms of passing moral law, but that is not even close to being persecuted in the way that so many other Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. The government no longer eliminates the competition faced by the church in presenting the gospel in the public square, but no one is interferring with its right or ability to do so. Christians are not being persecuted for their beliefs, and there is not a single case of a Christian being arrested in this country for practicing their faith. Prayers written and spoken by public officials are no longer permitted in school, but students are not prohibited from praying, nor from preaching the gospel if they so choose, though we hide behind those Supreme Court rulings to excuse our lack of boldness and leadership in this area.
And the fact of the matter is that the politicians Christians have relied upon over the past decades to put initiatives into place based on the moral agenda of the religious right have miserably failed to deliver. On three different occasions, Republican Presidents had the opportunity to appoint the swing vote on the Roe case, and put an end to abortion on demand, and on each of those occasions they failed to do so. Arguing about executive orders for late term abortions by Bush, and all the lip service paid by H. Bush and Reagan is nothing more than grasping at straws. Christians have bought into all kinds of political agendas, but failed to hold politicians accountable for failing to deliver on their own. The result is that nothing got done, and little attention is now paid to those issues.
Psalm 146:3 is still good advice.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”
The future is always an opportunity. The Christian church, and specifically, its more conservative, Evangelical branch, does not need to rely on the favor of government in order to do its work. Given the status of the Christian church in America for most of its history, and even where it still finds itself today, its record of accomplishing its mission and purpose from a Biblical perspective is open to criticism. It should have done much better than it has. And an honest evaluation of the situation as it now exists, post election, when only the facts are considered, is that Christianity in America is still the most favored and most influential movement in the country. There has been no attempt, covert or open, to take away the first amendment freedom of religion. None whatsoever. It is time to turn off the radio, stop wringing hands, open the Bible and move forward.