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VOTING/A few updated thoughts on faith and politics

Scott Dodge on faith and politics: identifying with a political party; whether Christians are obliged to vote; and how faith should never be reduced to politics or become an ideology.

(photo ANSA) (photo ANSA)

I was very happy to read an interview that Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, did back in February with The Atlantic’s Eleanor Barkhorn, shortly after the release of his most recent book, The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. I was particularly gratified by his answer to Barkhorn’s question, “How does Redeemer respond to the difficulties of being a church in a place that is skeptical of religion?” Referring Robert Putnam’s new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, in which, according to Keller, Putnam observes “that in the end of the '60s, the mainline liberal churches got very politically involved with liberal politics. They identified with liberal politics. And that put them way out of step with the mainstream. And there was actually a real reaction against it, and people left the mainline. It just turned them off.” In further explicating Putnam’s book, notes “that in the '80s and '90s the evangelical church did the same thing, except with conservative politics. Because it identified so strongly with conservative politics, that also put them somewhat out of step with the mainstream. The mushy middle is kind of moderate about politics, really.” He notes that this alliance has led to a backlash against Evangelicals. An example of this backlash appeared just yesterday in an article for Salon.com by David Sirota, Are evangelicals a national security threat?”.

Keller goes on to note that he has witnessed this backlash firsthand in New York City during his 20 years there. He says that “because of the identification of orthodox Christianity with conservative politics, there's actually more antipathy here than there was 20 years ago.” He attributes the success of his church to the fact that they’ve always put the Gospel first, saying, “We're about Christianity, not politics. And we know that your Christian faith is going to affect your political views. We know that—we're not saying that won't happen. But we also don't think that your Gospel faith necessarily throws you into one party or the other.”