Recently, the internet has been full of inflammatory and incendiary rhetoric (surprise surprise). However, I have had several conversations in person as well that have also become both highly toxic and politically motivated. Many of my friends are expressing their dismay with the recent SCOTUS decision and are going as far as to prophetically pronounce God’s judgement on our nation for its decision making. My social media feeds are full of all sorts of sensational posts that span the entire political spectrum both conservative as well as liberal. In a conversation this weekend my Dad expressed his dismay with our country’s apparent “backsliding” from its Judeo/Christian “values” and he wondered if God’s patience with America would soon “wear out”. I saw another social media post by someone from a prominent evangelical ministry which exclaimed that God’s glory is departing from this country because of the Supreme Court ruling. Many of these types of posts are leading to a hysteria that produced Christianity Today’s recent publication on false accounts of conservative persecution. Going beyond the questionable theological assumption that God deals with America as a special corporate entity, I wonder if this type of rhetoric is helpful, constructive, or even biblical?
All of this chatter has lead me to do some reflection on the interesting and sometimes inconsistent relationship between evangelicals and the state. It has also been a cause for reflection on when we (evangelicals) choose to protest this relationship and on what issues we decide to take offense. Even more striking is where evangelicals choose to put their faith in terms of achieving Jesus’s Kingdom efforts. Evangelicals seem to be fixated on being seated in positions of power at the banquet of the state. Conservative rhetoric is predicated on having control of the state’s power in order for Christians to effectively implement Kingdom values in society. This assumption reminded me of an important book that I read a few years ago by William Cavanaugh called, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. In this work, Cavanaugh, explores the differences between the sources of power for the “state” and the “Body of Christ” and what methods they use to proclaim and exercise that power. He illustrates the primary methods of these power structures through typologies of Torture (state) and the practice of Eucharist (the body of Christ). Two entirely different ways of conceiving, wielding, and establishing power. John Oliver’s recent episode on the CIA torture report was a prophetic piece of satire revealing the way the state conceives of wielding power and just how shockingly different this is from Paul’s theology of the cross is in Phil 2:1-18. It is also shocking how little evangelicals spoke out against practices such as forcing pureed hummus into prisoner’s rectums. Ironically, this method of torture was made possible by a piece of legislation written by a self-proclaimed evangelical president.
I wonder if conservatives took a moment to charitably analyze methods of torture, institutional racism, and the corrupt foreign policies employed by the state, if we would be so hasty to (1) claim ownership of these activities as central practices indicative of our “christian nation” or (2) continue to see the recent SCOTUS ruling as such a big deal in light of other such sinister practices. Perhaps the time is ripe for the Church to begin discovering the power of the cross and the call for us to be a humble and loving alternative community that conceives of power differently than the world. We advance the Kingdom through being conformed to the pattern of the cross. We do this in order to expose idolatrous desires to hold positions of prominence seated at the table of the state. Through the practice of cruciformity the Church declares, “the manifold wisdom of God to the powers and principalities” (Eph 3:11). America is a wonderful place to live but her agenda should not be conflated with Christ’s Kingdom vision. Instead, we have our own banquet to look forward to at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Until then, we identify with the poor, the minority, the widow, the sinner, and the illegal alien. We do this most effectively by inviting them to rehearse Christ’s death and anticipate His coming in a simple meal of bread and wine.