Those who claim that “Christianity is not political” fail to understand what Christianity is. They are but good modernists in pious clothing.
The trick, though, is how to recover this understanding of a “Christian politic” without falling prey to a partisanship either right or left.
But it is possible; and it is indispensably necessary in these days in which we find ourselves. It is possible through a proper recounting of the basics of the Christian narrative:
Christianity claims that history has a direction, a meaning, an endgame in which all things will be set to rights.
More, Christianity claims the end of history has already begun, has been inaugurated in the birth, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
As the blind will receive their sight, the nations will learn war no more, and the dead will be raised, so down payments of the resurrecting power of God have broken into the midst of human history even now.
Those who call on the name of Christ are to be the ongoing incarnation, the body of Christ, embodying this alternative politic in the world even now.
To envision the nation-state – any nation-state – as the primary bearer of the salvific work of God in the world is to bastardize the Christian hope.
But American Christians – because they have too often fallen prey to the spiritualizing or marginalizing of Christian faith – have too often placed such hope in America.
Thereby, the church has served as a sort of patronizing chaplain, a sort of court prophet dispensing spirituality while America goes on its way doing what it does without regard to the claims of the authority of Christ.
Or the church has prostituted itself, dispensing its favors in exchange for a bit of influence in intimate chambers of power.
For Christians to extricate themselves from this theological captivity – often of Christians’ own making – it must be stated clearly: the United States is not the hope of the world.
The United States is not a Christian nation and never has been. The United States cannot be either of these because it is not within the province of a nation to be either the hope of the world or Christian. It would be like asserting that “this water is dry” or “the sunshine is dark.”
Consequently, to place any ultimate hope in the nation-state is foolish. The historical records clearly demonstrate that all empires have fallen.
On historical grounds, and certainly on biblical grounds, we may safely presume that all empires will.
Because such a bastardized hope in any empire or nation-state is foolish, the deep partisan hostilities that pervade contemporary Christianity are a further perversion of Christian faith.
The ideologically committed Christian Republican who can see no good in the Democrat or Green Party has denied the faith. The ideologically committed Christian Democrat who can see no good in the Republican or Tea Party has denied the faith.
To move beyond such an ideologically narrow vision requires forsaking simplistic or selective readings of the Bible. We must stop redacting Scripture. So-called Christian values corrupt Christianity.
Instead, a rightfully informed Christian politic must be adept with a thick accounting of the Christian tradition.
Such a reading of the biblical text and the great tradition of the church will provide a host of riches with which to address contemporary concerns.
This being committed most seriously to the Christian tradition does not mean that the principalities and powers are irrelevant, insignificant or to be ignored.
The New Testament assumes a certain fallenness of the powers that be. Yet it also assumes a created goodness to such powers, namely, located in its purpose to serve humankind. Consequently, Christianity rightfully has a great deal of interest in the relative political goods that the powers may engender or inhibit.
But in relating to the powers that be, Christianity must first understand itself well. Christianity must insist that it is not a privatized set of convictions regarding the afterlife. Instead, Christianity is an alternative politic.
It is precisely the content of this alternative politic that makes it impossible for any nation-state to be Christian. And it is precisely the content of this alternative politic that makes it impossible for Christianity to run the world.
Hankering after political power, the imposing of agendas right or left, will not restore the witness of Christianity in America, but only further deepen its failure.
Instead, the alternative politic – of witnessing, sharing, forgiving, reconciling, extending hospitality – entails exhibiting to the world what the world was intended to be.
So rather than any ideologically, utopian agendas, the gospel frees us to an ad hoc public engagement.
Since any and every partisan platform, policy reform or political agenda will, at some point prior to the consummation of the Kingdom of God, find itself corrupted by the power of sin, we must always be light on our feet, always be ready and willing to repent and always be ready to bear witness anew to the liberating and beautiful and winsome work of God in the world, beating our own swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks and calling all others to the same.
Such is the nature of a Christian politic in our world.