In a new case of the tail wagging the dog, recent research indicates that Americans, whose political views were previously driven by their religious and ethnic identities, are now seeing those religious and ethnic identities being driven by their politics. Reporting on a paper by Patrick Egan, the website 538 summarizes:
...people shift the non-political parts of their identity, including ethnicity and religion, to align better with being a Democrat or a Republican...Increasingly, the political party you belong to represents a big part of your identity and is not just a reflection of your political views. It may even be your most important identity.
This also seems to match the sea change in how many in the American church view the personal ethics of political leaders. In 2011, 30% of white evangelicals believed an "elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life." In 2016, that number rose dramatically to 72%. Similar but less dramatic increases were reported among other religious groups.
What can we make of this? For those of us committed to Jesus and His bride, this mysterious change does not speak well of us.
The increasing tension and political divide in America represent significant opportunity and significant temptation to the church. I believe that, at the bottom, both the temptation and opportunity have to do with identity. Whether we will, through the ministry of the gospel, lead people to find their root identity in Christ alone or whether we will confirm their worldly identity as primarily political animals is the question. Whether or not we will show how the gospel provides the only foundation for true unity, that Republicans and Democrats can worship together, that no political party will be allowed to inform our ethics when the Word of God is sufficient, that no political party can count on the wholesale support of the church, that no one deserves ultimate allegiance other than Jesus...these are the questions put to us by the moment.
Let's be blunt. Most readers of this blog are part of conservative, Protestant churches, which are mostly peopled by those who lean Republican or at least politically conservative. If the research quoted above is accurate, it indicates that we have much more work to do in understanding who we are in Jesus, so that we can understand how Jesus would direct our involvement in politics. We aren't those who throw out their Bibles, but we often are those who read our Bibles through the lens of our political views, rather than submitting to Jesus by letting His Word dictate who we are, how we think, and what Jesus' kingdom is supposed to look like. If our politics have, in any way, changed the way we listen to Jesus, may God lead us mercifully into repentance.
So let's search our hearts. Let's regard Christ as holy and daily, prayerfully recognize His place as Lord of our life. Let's hear God more than we hear the news. Let's walk briskly away from any person, party or view that demands we abandon our identity as followers of Jesus.
This moment in this place and time demands we love our nation by committing every more fully to our identity in Jesus Christ. Anything less will be more of the same.