God is Not On Your Side: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Next year is supposed to be the election year, but it now seems as though the process is already under way. Democratic debates have been underway for months. Mr. Trump has already launched his re-election effort. Impeachment hearings are currently underway, with public hearings and, possibly, a Senate trial taking place in the coming weeks and months. Yet, not a caucus or primary vote has occurred. Apart from elections, caucuses and hearings, however, many people have already taken sides and few look likely to budge, one way or another. Moreover, on both sides there are people of faith.
As with others in the general electorate, many of these people of faith have already made up their minds. Particularly disturbing, however, is that many of these people of faith, on both sides of the political spectrum, have already decided which side God is on in this political contest. Beyond that, numerous religious leaders on both sides of the political spectrum have not been hesitant to make public proclamations concerning which side God is on in this contest. While this has been especially true among leaders on the religious right, it also takes place, albeit with less publicity, with some centrist religious leaders as well as those on the religious left. I think this is dangerous.
The politicizing of religious institutions has, through the course of the last century and a half, essentially destroyed much of the church in Western Europe. The Church of England has veered between being the “Tory party at prayer” through much of this time, to its current position of much of its leadership embracing a left leaning agenda thereby alienating yet another large segment of the population. For much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Roman Catholic Church in France was perceived as politically regressive, with some elements aligning themselves with monarchist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Franco’s Spain was bolstered by extreme conservatives in the church in a manner similar to the German Evangelical Church’s (Deutsche Evangelische Kirche) support of the National Socialist Party in the 1930s and 1940s. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the fall of the Franco regime, and the 1968 uprisings in France, the Church as an institution never regained its voice, influence or, indeed, the respect it once commanded in most of Western Europe.
There are, of course, numerous reasons which could be considered beyond merely “taking sides” in a political struggle, but it seems to me that the consolidation of religious faith and political opinion in to a “take it or leave it” binary choice is at the heart of the problem. We see it even in nomenclature. Not so very long ago, the name “evangelical” carried a religious meaning. In 2019, it has become a religious/political designation. Similarly, not very long ago, being called a “social justice Christian” could be equally applied to certain theological conservatives as well as to certain theological liberals. Today, the term is almost exclusively applied to those on the left. I think we could cite a number of other examples. Perhaps even worse than what has been mentioned above, we now seem to have reached the point in which it is no longer sufficient to be a person of faith with a particular political view. We now see the ultimate debate stopping statement being used, “God is on our side”.
In reaching this point, and using such a statement, it truly becomes a “take it or leave it” proposition. This is now a binary choice. There will be winners and losers. The “winning and losing” however, is now made to be about more than politics… it’s now about faith and the aligning of God’s favor with one side or another. In the end, I believe that the result will be that all of us who claim the name “Christian” will lose as we are alienated, one from another.
In the fourth year of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, wrote of the North and the South, each claiming that God was on their side and enlisting scripture and masters of the pulpit to bolster their claim. “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” As much as we might want to say that, “God is on our side”, is it worth the price we will pay? Is it worth the alienation of others that it will entail?
For myself, I don’t have any certainty that God is on my side when it comes to my political choices and opinions. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that God is not on your side when it comes to your political choices and opinions. I am, however, absolutely certain of one thing – the appropriation of faith as a political tool will likely end in sorrow for all of us.