Barack Obama's former faith advisor has spoken about the future for Christians in politics after the divisive and shocking events of the 2016 US election.
Why did Christians in America overwhelmingly support Donald Trump? Why has politics become so divided? What is the future for Christians in the public sphere? Speaking on a visit to the UK, the former faith advisor to President Barack Obama Michael Wear has addressed these very questions.
"I have never seen an election so destabilising, so filling people with a sense of anxiety than the election we've just been through...I'm convicted that politics is doing great spiritual harm in the lives of people." Wear said, speaking at a 'leadership breakfast' in London, hosted by Krish Kandiah and the Good Faith Partnership.
Wear quoted a study that had been done on polarisation in society. In a survey in the 1960s, parents were asked who they would not allow their child to marry. Many answered that they could not let their child marry someone of a different religion, or a different race. The same question asked in 2014 yielded a different response: Republicans couldn't let their child marry a Democrat, and vice versa. Party politics is the new social divider.
"People don't want to talk about politics at the dinner table because they stake too much of their identity in politics," Wear said. "Our most intimate social relationships are driven by politics and party ideology."
Wear highlighted how we can now select media and entertainment outlets that confirm our ideological presuppositions, and then go to social media to find 'echo chambers' where we only engage with those who agree with us. "And then we wonder why our politics is so polarised," Wear said.
He then turned to the outcome of the 2016 election. Trump's highly controversial platform, which was defined for many by incoherence, bullying, inflammatory, divisive rhetoric, and boastings of sexual assault, was thought by many to be an automatic disqualification, especially for Christians for whom character and virtue were surely essential qualities. Trump received some severe denunciations from prominent evangelicals such as Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, and yet white evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. Why is that?
Wear, who directed faith outreach for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, says that many Christians have increasingly felt "embattled" by a rise in secularism. 1 in 5 Americans now declare themselves to be religiously unaffiliated; for millennials, that figure is 1 in 3. This alongside rising tensions around religious freedom, provokes "a growing sense that the assumptions that once provided the backdrop for American life are no longer there."
Wear says that Donald Trump actively played into this fear, effectively saying to Christians: "I am the only one who cares about you. I am the only one who will protect you against these pressures." Meanwhile, Wear says, "Democrats had nothing to say. They were virtually silent to these voters," thus exacerbating the sense of isolation that many Christians felt. Wear, who has written about this previously, clearly laments this and calls it "A profound case of Machiavellian politics."
What next then for Christians in politics? Wear says that the test for American Christians was not election day: "The test will be in the next four years." Now the Church must truly show that it stands for the common good: "If the government moves to deport millions of immigrants, will Christians stand up? When and if the government suggests creating a registry of certain religious groups for immigration purposes, will the Church stand for religious freedom for all?"
Wear says Americans need to move from defensive, culture war politicking to "A view of politics that is about more than serving their own self-interest." He calls this a moment for Christians to show that "We are not beholden to a political agenda, but the agenda of the King."
Wear, quoting C.S. Lewis, said that evangelicals in politics, particularly due to ties with the Republican party, have often "Spoken where God has not spoken," and also declined to speak up on issues – such as social equality and racial injustice – where God clearly has spoken.
Concluding his thoughts, Wear rejected both political utopianism which emphasises human enlightenment and progress, and a dichotomy between the messiness of life 'now' and the Christian 'thereafter', the hope of the life to come. In his words: "Hope is not about a march of progress or a political program...hope is about God crashing into our existence in the very here and now...the 'thereafter' is the here and now.”
(c) Christian voice newspaper