I used to get a magazine many years ago, called Transformation. It was a Christian magazine on ethics. I’m not sure I remember much of it now, but one article I do remember. It was a study of Christian churches in Africa that had either supported the political party in power or had sided with the opposition. The survey found that Christian churches that sided with one or another side of power politically, in the long run, usually did worse (in terms of growth, pubic approval, etc.) than churches that didn’t side with either party too much. They took a stance in the middle, approving of power on some issues, and disapproving on others. The point of the article was that our own church in America should be wary of becoming too aligned with one party or the other.
What I want to say is not that the church should not be involved in politics, but it should be wary of buying into the process so much that it’s own interests, however you want to talk about them, are not served. I am especially concerned about the Protestant or evangelical church’s buying into the Republican party. But even so, there are other churches, especially the Catholic church, that have not so completely bought in.
Different denominations have different histories and are greatly affected by them. Conservative Protestant churches often have come from the evangelical movements, the great revivals across America in it’s early history. They are pro-life, conservative as opposed to modern in ethics and theology, slightly anti-science or anti-intellectual, but very positively pro-business. The Catholic church may also be pro-life and can be very conservative, but with it’s history of immigrants, sides more with the poor and with the underprivileged, and so may be more Democratic than Republican in inclination; it is also not expressly against science to any great degree.
In any case, there are differing ways to be Christian in the political environment. The two parties also have different policies that could appeal to Christians. The Republicans are pro-life. The Democrats are for support of the poor and disadvantaged. Both of these emphases can be seen as Christian, or as attractive to Christians.
If it’s all determined by history, why even write about the subject then? The problem I see in some churches is that there is an assumption that there is only one way to see the issue. You are either on God’s side – and God prefers party “A” – or you are against God. Reasoning like this surprises and disappoints me. Both parties do some things right and some things wrong. In the long run, for such simplicity, the church may end up paying a price.
Now, I don’t consider myself a Christian, so Christians can take or leave my conclusions, as obviously they will, but I think the church needs to be aware that political conformity is not necessarily a Christian goal.
Someone might say, “You are writing this because the conservatives are on the rise, and you do not like that.” And yes, I admit, there is something to that. The conservatives are definitely on the rise, and that disturbs me. As an environmentalist, I am concerned that conservatism, as it is now playing itself out, could set us back in this country, especially with regard to science and science-related policies. As an environmentalist, I feel it is my obligation to work against conservatism when it espouses such values.
On the other hand, it could be said that there may be forms of conservatism that are very pro-environment and pro-nature. The very word, conservatism, is related to the word, conservation, for instance. Indeed, the two may be somehow mysteriously in alignment.
In any case, one has to hope that some day the Republican party will care more about people and nature than they do about economics alone. One also has to hope that the church itself will become an active player in bringing about a very necessary American transformation – a transformation with respect to nature and the environment. But before it can do that, it may have to work out just exactly what a uniquely Christian viewpoint on politics might be.