On Christian Political Non-engagement

Doug Wilson makes an important point about American exceptionalism here, and I’d like to offer some words to the same end. Here’s a quote:

Nationalism is the result when you try to make your natural affection for your people into a god. It is a terrible, devouring god. If a couple of men got into a fist fight in the greeting card section of a store because one of them saw that the other guy was going to buy a “best mom in the world” card, when he did not in fact have the best mom in the world, because the fellow punching him had the best mom, what would we say? One would begin to suspect, would one not, that they were both missing the point?

But there is a mistake in the opposite direction. I have noticed an unsettling tendency among some young Christians, who know that they are not supposed to be nationalists, therefore thinking that they can or should zero out their Americanness. When the project of eradication is complete, we will have “just a Christian.” No, we will have nothing of the kind. We will have a translucent, shimmery thing that will look and act like a wisp of morning mist. Real Christianity lands. Real Christianity disciples nations.

Patriotism, rightly developed, is a duty that falls under the fifth commandment. I am to honor my father and mother, and this extends beyond them in such a way as to include my people, my tribe. Ordinary and ordered patriotism is not just okay; it is a duty, one that needs to be cultivated.

Special notice to other readers of my blog. Whites are not a tribe. Blacks are not a tribe. Americans are a tribe — and that, incidentally, is what currently is under assault. Trump is a demagogue who is playing off the fears created by the assault, but the reality of the demagoguery does not erase the reality underneath the fear. But demagogues can’t save. Only saviors save.

So America is a tribe, a nation, and, as such, the Church is commanded to disciple her. The end point we should have in view should be an obedient nation, not an erased nation.

The pit that some evangelicals fall into, even unwittingly, is to become apolitical. Many young evangelicals in America, having observed the inability of a political ideology to win the day, coupled with the moral imperfections of any such ideology, have decided to distance themselves from any set of actions having to do with politics. This is a mistake which will produce “a wisp of morning mist,” as Wilson notes.

The trouble, it seems to me, with such an approach to politics, is that nearly every area of social and civic life intersects with politics (or at least political ideologies). And when a Christian judges anything remotely political to be guilty by association, one ends up with a Christian who is silent. Silent on the rights of the unborn, on the sanctity of marriage, on constitutionally protected religious liberties; but also silent in general. Further, self-conscious political non-engagement engenders a private faith, wherein silence on political issues extends to personal proclamation of the gospel. It is difficult to strike a balance between politically private and spiritually public; sure it can be done, but not without remaining silent on some pretty important social matters about which the bible has something to say. The notion that political non-engagement is a more fitting third way for Christians turns out to be yet another stripe of political correctness masquerading as politeness or even piety.

Eschewing politics is not a more Christian stance. It’s not less Christian either. But it is still a kind of de facto ideology. Christian faith is not meant to be private, and it also happens to regularly intersect with the world of politics. Any attempt to cleanly separate the two is mistaken. The gospel is for all of life, even for those areas of life that can make me and you both squirm.