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January 27, 2023

A Quiet Existence

American Christendom at the local level is American Christendom at its best.

Last week, I wrote about the “He Gets Us” campaign. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I had identified the wrong Servant Foundation that funded the campaign. It was not the one controlled by Methodists in Oklahoma tied to a church, but rather a donor fund operated out of Kansas.

Subsequently, I have been informed a single family has fronted the money for most of the ad campaign. A number of denominations have refused to help, including my own Presbyterian Church in America. That piece did, however, provoke a conversation about the path forward for Christians in a nation that seems to be coming apart at the seams.

I have often cited Jeremiah 29’s admonition to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon to seek the welfare of the community in which they live, for there they will find their welfare. A few rich conservatives have funded private schools in the country that open their doors to poor kids in failing public schools. The minds being wasted in the indoctrination of many failing public schools could be harnessed in settings like that. It seems a multimillion-dollar campaign to fund scholarships for kids into classical Christian education schools would be a better resource than an unpersuasive, quasi-woke ad campaign.

More importantly, there is a growing strain of American Christian that wants to use the government to advance Christian values in the country. I am not opposed to that, but I think that must come from Christians getting elected and using their moral values to shape their votes and public policy. This is how the country has always worked. People win elections and use their positions to advance causes they believe in.

Unfortunately, there is a strain of this on the Right that, in subtle ways, is increasingly authoritarian. These Christians flirt with strongmen in Europe and Asia. Their policies and plans hinge on winning elections and working to never have them again. American Christians should resist this. The political Left is working overtime wrapping all Christians in America into this, and foolishly some very online Christians are embracing labels like “Christian nationalist” that make it even easier to smear the entire project of Christian liberty in America.

When part of the intellectual Christian Right embraces the Russian and Hungarian leaders and praises President Xi Jinping of China for his social programs, and other parts of the intellectual Christian Right embrace the phrase “Christian nationalist,” an American Left that hates all of orthodox Christendom and an intellectually uncurious press that knows no difference between Baptists and Presbyterians have no incentive to use nuance with both those visions and general Christendom in the United States.

Instead of ad campaigns, books designed to troll the Left, and word-salad theology designed to say one thing to some while others misread it, American Christendom at the local level is American Christendom at its best. Feeding the hungry, providing for widows and orphans, educating our future generation and sharing the gospel with people hungry for the answer to that voice in their head asking them why they exist — these are the best uses of the Church and its resources in America.

Several times in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells Christians to seek a quiet life. American Christians have had the comfort of a society that largely has agreed with them for a long time. But those times are fading away and old hostilities against Christians have started trickling back into the national dialog. A YouGov religion survey shows Democrats prefer agnostics and atheists to either Catholic or Protestant Christians. More specifically, Democrats have a higher view of Wiccans than of Orthodox Jews, Lutherans, Southern and National Baptists and Anglicans.

The early Christian church did not spend its money telling the Roman Empire that Jesus understood them. Nor did its members stand in the town square to demand their right to be heard. Americans have those luxuries. But they should also consider that the early Christians put their local communities ahead of national conversations and took care of the voiceless and powerless. They converted an Empire with care, not commercial appeal.


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