"When the politics of the church is first and foremost viewed as forging alliances with the state and playing power politics in the halls of government, the message of the gospel and the mission of the church are undermined. Indeed, when such alliances are forged and power games are played by Christians who have come to believe that the political action is in Washington D.C., America becomes the functional church for such Christians on the religious right and the religious left."
Two extended quotes by two different writers make the point well. The first by Douglas Harink, the second by Scot McKnight:
All discourse about God, faith, and the church is so thoroughly co-opted into the project of making America a better nation, that it is never allowed to fundamentally disrupt the solipsistic discourse of the American social and political project. In other words, there is something fundamentally idolatrous about [Jim] Wallis's theological discourse; it is certainly no less idolatrous than the discourse of the Religious Right which Wallis is very good at exposing. Unless Christian discourse about God, faith and the church is allowed in the first place to be absolutely free of its usefulness for Americanism, it will always be idolatrous.
The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is God's radical and decisive invasion of our humanly constructed worlds, and God’s deliverance from and destruction of the powers that hold us in bondage. The American nation, or the Canadian nation, or any other nation for that matter, is a humanly constructed world; it is a power that enslaves human beings and makes us serve its ends. Every nation is in the first place an idolatrous regime to which God comes in the Gospel to set his people free. Before the church and its discourse can be of any use to American people, it must learn that it does not exist in the first place as America, or to be of use to America, but it exists as the church, constituted in its worship and service of the one true God.
And now, Scot:
Christians become idolatrous when they believe more in the State than the Church (not to mention Christ), when their focus for change is on what the State can accomplish instead of the church locally embodying that change, when their energies are spent electing one candidate vs. another instead of on the ministries at their church, and when they find their time spent at their local church less than time spent reading news about the State/election/parties or working for political change.
Patriotism is idolatrous when our hope is in the State and when our “agent” of change is the State, or the election and a specific candidate.
Patriotism becomes idolatrous when our politic becomes State and not Church.
For the follower of Jesus, the hope of the world is Jesus Christ and his embodiment in the Church, the People of Jesus.
Historically, the warnings to the church are obvious. The problem is not that the church and the nation cannot work together, but that is not the primary way in which the church should be political. When that happens the church loses its unique identity as God’s nation in this world and its witness becomes irrelevant. Since the fourth century, the political job description of the church has been reversed, with the politics of nation state power being primary for Christians and witness being secondary. But it is that agenda that has seriously undermined the church’s witness. Is it any wonder that George Barna’s research revealing that the way of life for Christians in the West is basically no different from their non-Christian neighbors? Once the state functionally takes the place of the church, there is no need for a distinctively Christian way of life, there is no need for a distinctively Christian witness. The Christian moral life is reduced to nothing deeply profound; it is an ethic reduced in substance to nothing greater than being nice to our neighbors. But if the church can recover the politics of witness as its primary political task, then its alliances with the nation will have to be severely qualified and the way of life of the followers of Jesus will have to stand out as an alternative to the world and its ways. If not, its witness will be ineffective.
So, what has led the church in America to all but forget its nationhood status? The one-word answer is "Christendom." That is the subject of the next post.
Allan R. Bevere, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World
Douglas Harink, "God's politics? A response to Jim Wallis (Part One)"
Douglas Harink, "God's politics? A response to Jim Wallis (Part Two)"
Scott McKnight, "Our Hope and our Politics."