This is the second part of a two-part series highlighting the changing relationship between evangelical Christians and politics. The first part can be read here.
Forty years of culture war politics have left many Christians weary of engagement in the public sphere.
Donald Trump’s candidacy for president, violence against blacks by the police and inflamed rhetoric directed at immigrants have exposed fissures latent in the American church for decades, fissures that often run along racial and gender lines.
Alan Noble is a member of the new organization Public Faith. (Photo: Contributed)
Public Faith is a new group that wants to broaden the range of issues on which Christians are involved. The founding members of Public Faith are diverse in gender, ethnicity and politics, but all believe “neither political withdrawal or reinvigorated culture wars by Christians will help our nation and communities through the difficult challenges we face.”
“Some of our members have long been concerned about the fact that those of us who identify as conservative don’t really feel like our party is concerned with issues of race-and hasn’t been for a long time,” said Alan Noble, editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture and member of Public Faith.
Race is just one issue where Noble and Public Faith feel affiliation with the Republican Party has limited the Christian voice on public issues. Another is climate change:
Is our automatic response to reports about climate change hostility and doubt? Because if that’s our attitude, we’re going to miss the truth, and that’s going to hurt the world that God has given us stewardship over. In first-world countries, as oceans rise and temperatures increase, we have the resources to adjust. People in other countries that are poorer aren’t going to have the resources to adjust.
Care for the poor, the dispossessed and those on the margins of society infuses much of Public Faith’s thought on a variety of issues.
Noble explained: “Older religious right organizations are concerned with protecting our borders and getting illegal immigrants out, as opposed to saying we have people in our country, we have children who don’t know anything but living in America. How do we deal compassionately and justly, recognizing that these are human beings?”
Noble is quick to defend the many Christian leaders participating in the public sphere who are doing a “righteous job.” He pointed to Russell Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as doing very important work.
But he added that “there are many Christian political organizations which are bringing dishonor to the church through their rhetoric, their approach and their policies.”
As we draw closer to the close of the most contentious election many can remember, the differences between older-line religious right institutions and newer organizations like Public Faith can be seen most starkly in relation to the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Noble doesn’t mince words when it comes to the hypocrisy he sees in the religious right’s support for the Republican presidential candidate:
Behavior, character-I was taught these things matter. Now I’m being told by these same Christian leaders that I have an obligation to vote for him; otherwise, America might end? That’s a profound problem. We will show ourselves to be such hypocrites that we’re going to lose our prophetic voice. If we embrace Trump, we might do damage for generations, and that is not acceptable.
Lack of empathy drives church divide along racial lines
Noble is also concerned by the language, rhetoric and policies of the religious right and how tightly they’ve been tied to the right wing and right-wing media, which “don’t have loving our neighbor as its primary interest.”
The biblical command to “love thy neighbor” is a central theme for Noble as he talks about Public Faith’s mission. When I asked about the disconnect between the white and black church, and how they respond differently to issues of racial injustice, he cited the inability to empathize created by our segregated churches and neighborhoods:
When you get to know people in the African-American community and they say, “I’ve been pulled over 13 times” and they’re people who are just being honest about their lives, I look at myself and know that I’ve been pulled over once, and I’ve been driving half my life. That’s astounding. When you have those personal relationships, you realize, “Maybe I’ve been ignorant to what’s going on around me.” It’s so important for us to be willing to listen and put ourselves in situations where we can see others.
Full disclosure: Though I don’t agree with Public Faith on 100 percent of the issues, I strongly believe in their mission to broaden the range of issues on which people of faith engage. I also believe that 40 years of culture war rhetoric and lockstep affiliation with party ideology has damaged the Christian witness in the United States and across the globe. And I believe that, despite differences, people of goodwill, whether people of faith or not, can partner together to bring about a more just society.
“The reality is we’re not going to be a perfect fit for everyone, and that’s OK,” Noble said. “That’s part of the diversity of our country and the diversity in evangelicalism. Not everybody is going to agree. That doesn’t mean we can’t labor together.”
John Graeber is a writer in Chattanooga who has also contributed to Glide Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jbgraeber. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.