I wrote about James Davison Hunter a few times this September, and I was happy to find his critique of American Christianity included in the Christian Science Monitor’s recent article: “Ideas for a Better World in 2011.” Davison thinks that American Christianity is squandering its unique potential to transform American public life by being too political– that (perhaps counterintuitively), American Christianity’s potential to effect change in our culture is compromised by its over-involvement in politics. Davison suggests a different way of being for churches– a way that is public but not political:
Mr. Hunter argues that the Christian community should move away from the “politicization of everything.” Churches are now too often destructive battlegrounds of an ideological right and left. He advocates something called “faithful presence” – a humble reappraisal of what is distinctive and different about church and its public expression. “This is active, not passive; it requires engagement, not an opt-out. It is not ideological, but it is public,” he says.
The title of Hunter’s controversial new book, “To Change the World,” is ironic. While American Christianity often imagines itself a major player in US public life, it is, in fact, marginalized, he says. Despite large numbers, they don’t influence the actual structures of power and culture. Worry that a Christian America is fading has not brought a deeper commitment to church but anger. Political efforts to conform law or policy to narrow or sectarian teaching are often acted out coercively, not compassionately.
The “faithful presence” Hunter calls for transcends politics. The point, he says, is to serve faithfully and well in relationships, tasks, and networks of social influence. “Christians need to abandon talk about ‘redeeming the culture,’ ‘advancing the kingdom,’ and ‘changing the world,'” he said in the magazine Christianity Today. “Such talk carries too much weight….” In the case of abortion, he suggests that 10,000 families could get together in Illinois and announce they will adopt a child of any background and declare no unwanted children in the state; it’s a public but not a political act.