Political evangelism can only hurt the Church

Mia DeRoco, Contributing Writer

The phrase “evangelical” has, in the past several years, become synonymous with a particular kind of political distinction. This brand of Christianity has been historically traditional and conservative, but in the wake of the Trump campaigns and administration, members have become inextricably linked to Republicanism, dogmatically attached to Trump and his political followers. 

Another term often associated with evangelicalism? “Disillusionment.” Although the evangelical front often appears impenetrable from the standpoint of voter turnout, in reality followers are leaving the movement in droves. Although still largely a traditional Christian nation, fewer and fewer Americans are willing to identify with evangelical doctrine – younger Americans especially. Many cite an increased mistrust of, and dissatisfaction with, the movement’s leaders and their often idiosyncratic values. Popular theologian Russell Moore argues that, rather than a disbelief in the actual ideals of religion, people are being driven away from the church by frustration with the hypocrisy of its public figures. He explains that, “[w]e see young evangelicals walking away not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what it teaches.” 

This understanding of hypocrisy has always been present, but it has been exacerbated by the politicization of the church. The “us vs. them” narrative of extreme right-wing politics is hard to reconcile with messages of welcome and understanding supposedly declared from the pulpit. The jarring disconnect between words and actions has been a catalyst for many young religious members’ desertion of the church. For many the culminating moment came on January 6, 2021, when thousands of protestors responded to Trump’s televangelist-like call to action by storming the U.S. Capitol building, many carrying religious signs and imagery. A number of protesters would later invoke evangelical teachings and reasonings to defend their actions. One youth pastor who left his church following January 6 sees this as evidence that Trump had taken on a “saintly status” among evangelical Christians. He stated in an interview with NBC, “When your God loses, you have to find a way to get him back on top. The whole idea was his man was supposed to be in the White House. What do you do when your God loses?” The answer to this question, of course, is that you defend your faith – by any means necessary. 

Witnessing the words of a politician supersede the teachings of Jesus was the final straw for some. For others, it was the process of gradual radicalization that they finally realized had turned the Church into something it wasn’t. Ex-megachurch pastor John Pavlovitz writes about this process in which people drawn in at the beginning end up on the opposite side of where they started. Himself disillusioned with such political beatification, he describes watching in horror as former friends and people he agreed with and understood now exhibit an unrecognizable theology. “[Their] Jesus and mine,” he writes, “bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore.” 

So the evangelical movement is fast losing its (especially young) members. Does this mean it is dying anytime soon? On some level, it seems stronger than ever – with every new event and debate, its followers become still more deeply dogmatic and invested in its hyper-politicized beliefs. However, the more radical it gets, the more newer and younger members are alienated from its embrace. Although the institution has been far too ingrained into the culture and holds too much political power to be destabilized very quickly, it is inevitable that this polarization will eventually cause a collapse.  That is unless the Church can find a way to depoliticize and return to religious ideals its congregation can support.

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