Policing what is and isn’t Christian is not a new undertaking. While present battles lack the murderous inclinations of prior epochs, debating something as significant as what opens the door to eternal life is inherently a hotly contested matter.
It’s also one that requires humility in spades, and love above all, at a moment where both seem to have fallen out of fashion. But that doesn’t mean it’s a battle not worth having, or a solipsistic exercise where we can never get closer to the truth.
And at our present moment, there are serious reasons for concern about, and a desperate need for correction within, the modern state of American Christianity. Lukewarm religiosity that ignores scripture on both the political left and right threatens to subsume public witness beneath the waves of partisan factionalism.
On the left, a watering down of Scripture in certain churches to a point where it can’t reasonably be called Christian is taking place, one that denies the bodily resurrection, a physical Hell, and other central pillars of the Bible. In an effort to be expansive and welcoming, it minimizes or excuses sinfulness and contrition altogether, and elevates liberal priorities to religious convictions.
There are many good and noble things to call an association of people who care deeply about human justice. But lacking a connection to (or flat out rejecting) the most basic, fundamental Christian doctrine and scripture, it’s a stretch to rightly call them Christian. And there’s a darker side as well, punctuated at times with a seemingly blatant disdain for the faithful, be they parents, bakers, or everyday people.
On the right, the Jerry Falwellization of the Christian Church has been similarly bad. The President rivals Moloch in the devotion he receives from his adoring faithful. Religious leaders line up to lie prostrate before him, ignoring or forgiving (without a pretense of reconciliation) his worst impulses, past and present. And all the while, clear commandments go ignored by way of hard-hearted, inhumane policies toward the refugee, the alien, the poor, the widow, the least of these.
No one – least of all this author – has a silver bullet solution, or a set of ironclad principles and precepts to live by. It’s far more difficult than that.
A better articulation of Christianity, through an intellectual contest in the public square, is the only self-correcting mechanism that can allow the body of Christ, like Peter, to stand firm against destruction. It’s a tall order, and one that believers left and right need to handle better, but that sort of long road and narrow gate is the nature of Christian witness.
Without it, not only will the role of Christian values in public life continue to diminish, it will be in no small part because what the public sees as “Christian values” don’t reflect Christ. This would be – and, tragically, already is – a self inflected wound of the highest order.
Instead, we need to keep endeavoring to improve Christianity, without allowing our partisan biases to hijack the truth of the Gospel. Otherwise, our most existential threat, the one staring back from the mirror, threatens to devour us.
Drew Holden is a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C., and a former Republican congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives