Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that two for profit corporations with sincerely held religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties) do not have to provide a full range of contraceptives at no cost to their employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act.1
As detailed by ABC News, "In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito the court held that as applied to closely held corporations the Health and Human Services regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. "2
Upon hearing the news American Evangelicals broke out in a collective shout of "Hallelujah!" and took to praising God via social media; while in the streets of an otherwise secular society there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.3
And therein lies the problem: the deep animus between American Evangelicals (or more specifically Evangelicals "...for whom American politics and patriotism are the center of Christianity, at least as communicated in public life") and an otherwise secular society.4 Sadly the hostility is today harming our collective cause, hurting our witness, and hindering Gospel advance which is, after all, the very real purpose and mission of the Church.
Make no mistake, when winning or losing on one issue or another becomes more important than representing Christ well via social media, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit in civil discourse, or remembering that we have been called to make disciples of all men (Republicans and Democrats, alike), Christ is not honored.
To be clear I am not at all suggesting that Evangelicals should refrain from political debate, social engagement, or running for office. I am suggesting that such involvement is more a civil right afforded to us as Americans than a biblical one; and that we should understand it as so. In other words political victories should not be publicly construed as spiritual, or necessarily moral, in a non-theocratic republic. The continued blurring of this line is not leading to more people being saved, but less; not to more people being attracted to our message but repelled by it; not to more people coming into the church but avoiding it altogether.5
Evangelicals, therefore, should not so much view the SCOTUS decision as a spiritual victory but a civil one, and understanding the difference avoid enmeshing Christ in politics. Anything less suggests to an unbelieving world that God takes sides, or is otherwise opposed to those not with us on one issue or another. Rather than demonstrating humility in the public square, too many among us are championing political positions as if they've been written in biblical stone. In so doing we marginalize those with thoughts or opinions different from our own, even those with whom we will one day share an eternal home. No wonder those for whom Christ also died, those made also in His image, those whom yet He loves, hold such an unfavorable view of Christians and the Church, while yet speaking well of Jesus. The gap between us and them thus widens to the detriment of the Gospel.
In seeking to boldly and publicly stand for Christ, then, Evangelicals should exercise greater wisdom going forward. Before speaking, writing, or tweeting, we should take into account a general populace that increasingly views us as irrelevant, out of touch, bigoted, mean-spirited, separatists, segregationists, and in one way or another determined to impose our beliefs on them through legislation and the courts. It perceives us as reluctant to listen graciously, to speak humbly, or to love as we've been loved… unconditionally, mercifully, gracefully. With this in mind, we should choose our words, means, and methods, carefully to avoid further entrenchment of these perceptions and, rather, to overcome them.
In short, we should remember that the mission of the Church is best fulfilled not through political reform but spiritual reform: not through legislation but transformation; not through coercion but through conversion, in seeing others come to know Him as we do.
2 – Ibid.
3 – As cited by Thomas Kidd, "Steven Miller in The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born-Again Years doesn't work very hard to define it; he says only (in a parenthetical aside) that evangelicalism is "the label commonly given to the public expression of born-again Christianity." See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/07/the-evangelicals-who-are-not-evangelicals/#ixzz370mOZUe6 as viewed July 8, 2014
4 – Concerning American Evangelicals Thomas Kidd writes, "The fourth group – and the one that presents the most critical problem, given the public's impression of evangelicals described by Steven Miller – are those for whom American politics and patriotism are the center of Christianity, at least as communicated in public. We see this problem more clearly on July 4th weekend than at any other time. Evangelicals are grateful for the blessings of the American tradition, not least religious liberty. But we cannot tie our faith to American civil religion." See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/07/the-evangelicals-who-are-not-evangelicals/#ixzz370mOZUe6 as viewed July 8, 2014
5 - Consider that between 1990 and 2009 more than fifty-six million people were added to the rolls of the US Census while only 446,540 people were added to the rolls of the American Church; less than one percent. As researched in a study of more than 200,000 churches by David T. Olson, and cited at the Mosaix National Multi-ethnic Church Conference in San Diego, CA: November, 2013.