Religion and Politics: Which Is Master? Which Is Servant?

Religion and politics keep intersecting, at home and abroad. Too often, of course, the combination raises questions…and hackles. It should instead raise hope.

It’s bad enough when people’s religion isn’t strong enough to overcome more basic drives: nationalism, for instance, or economic privilege, or sexism. Nigeria continues to fester and bleed, not only with Muslims and Christians fighting each other over what are clearly tribal grievances, despite their religions’ teachings not to do so, but also with Christians attacking Christians.

In fact, this past week a pastor of a church with roots in the Christian Reformed tradition was killed by members of the neighbouring tribe who also were evangelized and churched by…the Christian Reformed tradition.

Was the lethal dispute over religion? Of course not. It was over land and money and tribal solidarity.

Did their mutual Christian commitment restrain the antagonists’ age-old enmity and guide them to peaceful resolution? Not yet, alas.

Worse, however, is when religion reinforces any of those primal drives. Sociologist Andrew Whitehead and his colleagues have shown recently that white evangelical support for Donald Trump is best explained in terms of white evangelical support for Christian nationalism. In fact, surveys show that in the last election those people would have supported with equal fervour Mitt Romney, John McCain, or any other standard-bearer for the Republican Party.

As they did regarding Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes, such self-identified evangelicals want from their presidents two things in particular: anti-abortion promises and conservative Supreme Court appointments. And if their leaders can also reinforce American exceptionalism—America’s sense of itself as a nation uniquely called and equipped by God to dominate the world for the world’s own good—along with the marks of a godly nation—sexual purity, male leadership, white supremacy, military power, and public piety—then it doesn’t seem to matter what else they do or don’t.

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