David Sessions thinks that the GOP ought to rethink its alliance with Evangelicals, not because it is wrong necessarily, but because it is bad for business. Judging from recent studies, the merger of religion with politics has been demonstrably bad for religion; Mr. Sessions thinks that it is only a matter of time before it is likewise bad for politics.
Sessions isn’t the only person raising this particular question. He cites American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, but Ross Douthat included the same point in his list of reasons that American mainline churches collapsed. Even our buddy Darryl Hart has written about this, though his concern is that Evangelicalism has tended to lean centrist. And there is certainly something to these concerns. Christians should certainly reject any direct partisan identification, especially given the state of America’s two parties. Still, I have some questions.
How “new” is this disenchantment? Mr. Douthat located the mainline collapse in the 1970s and 80s. That didn’t seem to slow down the move into faith-based politics, but rather increased it. And is the falling away that we’re seeing among “young people” really permanent, or will a good many of them make their way back to the church over time, for weddings, their children’s baptisms (and possibly education), and even funerals? In other words, how helpful are the statistics for the big picture?
Also, this sort of framing of the concern is best understandable from the political angle: if Jesus is bad for the numbers, then he needs to go. But it’s not quite so easy from the religious point of view. Popularity really can’t trump principles, even if it is strategically important to be aware of. And so for every query like that of Mr. Sessions, about whether the union of faith and politics is a success or failure, Christians need to ask the more basic question about what is right. Theologically and politically, we need to define what is proper and prudent. And we need to be able to do this with a level of honesty and sobriety that has seemed to elude many of us in the past.