What the church put its faith in

Tim Costello calls out the civic gospel

Frances Fitzgerald’s timely book The Evangelicals points out that in the American civil rights period, the most theologically liberal Christians were the ones most likely to engage in politics. Now it’s the reverse.

The ultra conservatives have adopted what Fitzgerald calls the civic gospel. This is the view that America, founded as a Christian nation, has fallen away and the faithful have to take aggressive political action to safeguard their own rights, to legislate private and public morality and to restore a Christian heritage.

We might have to re-evaluate what we place our trust in.

In this “holy war” against secular humanism, some on the conservative side have transformed evangelicalism from a spiritual to a political movement pushing for greater protection for “religious freedoms” – based on nostalgia for a mostly mythical past – through the raw exercise of political power.

This has resulted in an unholy matrimony between church and state that has, at least in America, placed the cross next to the American flag and wrapped Christianity into a package that restricts abortion and LGBTI rights while championing insular patriotism and greater defence spending.

This is an interesting test of the gospel message. In my understanding, Jesus, executed by the state, did not have armies or argue for greater legislative power for his followers to combat moral decay. The rot sets in when the church places its faith and focus more in Caesar and his kingdom than in Christ and his reign.

We might have to re-evaluate what we place our trust in. What gospel are we faithful to? What must we maintain and defend?

If our security is based on something that we fear can be taken away from us, we will constantly be on a false edge of security. Religions built on fear must keep preaching their fears to survive. They do injustice to the mystery of faith, the importance of a spiritually transformed life and the notion of Christianity as a global rather than nationalistic reality.

The message of hope from the cross transcends nations. Universal faith scares many conservatives so trans-nationalism, abortion and LGBTI rights have them gnashing their teeth.

I am pro-life and pro-diversity because my God created all diversity. The Book of Revelation reveals that the only Christian nation in the world today is the one gathered “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Churches must do more than hold their ground. They will have to fill a hunger for meaning that many feel. And that possibly means returning to the same gritty universal faith that existed in the early days of Christianity.

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