There’s always been a tension within Christianity regarding what kind of a relationship the church should have with politics and the state. The early Reformers unfortunately adopted the Roman Catholic viewpoint that the state was the divinely ordained agent of the church. That concept still lingers in varying degrees throughout the West but especially in the United States. European countries still have official state-supported denominations although few people attend services.
In American evangelicalism today, at one end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the church and state should work hand in glove; elect Christian-friendly politicians, ensure the appointment of Christian-friendly judges, and legislate laws that reflect Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the job of the church is to evangelize and disciple and not to become entangled in worldly concerns. We are ambassadors of our Father in Heaven on a mission to evangelize, not to be deeply-rooted, nationalistic patriots.
My wife and I accepted Christ back in the early-1980s and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church that patterned itself after Jerry Falwell (pictured) and his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell and his Moral Majority were so focused on championing conservative causes that the Gospel was relegated to the back seat. Co-belligerency alongside religious unbelievers (e.g., conservative Catholics) eventually contributed to an “ecumenism of the trenches” as Chuck Colson once approvingly noted.
Our pastor regularly mixed the Gospel with politics from the pulpit. America was presented as a Christian nation that was in a covenant with God in the very same way as was ancient Israel. Old Testament passages meant only for Israel were regularly misapplied to the United States. Our church was heavily involved with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a political advocacy group supported by IFB and conservative evangelical churches in the state (see last article below). During election years, candidates from both parties were invited to our church to discuss their political positions but only Republicans bothered to show up. That church’s heavy involvement in politics and the constant harangues about the culture wars from the pulpit led to our decision to leave, among other reasons.
I don’t know exactly where the line is regarding the church’s involvement with politics and the state but I’m quite happy politics are never mentioned from the pulpit of our current church.
I’m currently reading “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald, which was published in April. It’s a history of evangelicalism in America from an unbeliever’s perspective. It’s not always complimentary but the facts are fascinating, especially regarding the struggle to determine the church’s relationship with the state. Review to follow.
Below are a few articles that touch upon this church-state dichotomy:
With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics
Don’t compromise the gospel in social cooperation
Evangelicals gather in Albany