To improve my mental health, I decided to stop reading stories about Christians and U.S. politics. High anxiety and loss of hope were affecting my work. I’m glad, however, that I couldn’t resist the Christianity Today editorial just before Christmas. It was a bold call for evangelical Christians to end the un-questioning allegiance to Donald Trump. Two things made this a prophetic moment and lifted my spirits. First was its focus on the impact for the gospel message, not for U.S. politics: “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?” (Mark Galli, Christianity Today, Dec.19, 2019).
Second was the decision by Christianity Today to raise a flag of warning and set a table for soul-searching dialogue among Christians about our gospel witness in the current context. Thoughtful dialogue has been in short supply in the highly polarized context in both the U.S. and Canada. The flag was a statement by board chair Timothy Dalrymple that repeated Galli’s main judgment: “Out of love for Jesus and his church . . . we feel compelled to say that the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness.” The table was inviting contributions from Christians across the political spectrum for on-going discussion. It is more than a one-shot opinion piece. That gives me hope.
On the Canadian side, we know and still live with the impacts of another case of Christian nationalism, the term used to describe the current fusion of evangelical Christian identity with the current government in the U.S. The Quiet Revolution in 1960’s Quebec was a reaction to the oppressive fusion of the Roman Catholic Church with the Duplessis Regime. The collusion of church and state in that oppressive period in Quebec history is still a deep cause of the resurgence of the Bloc and Bill-21 which restricts public religious expression in Quebec. Churches also continue to pay a heavy price as Quebec went from a highly religious society to the most secular province as a result. When I asked some thoughtful women from Quebec why they supported Bill 21, I heard a rush of stories about how Roman Catholic priests came into their homes and ordered them or their mothers to have more children for the sake of the francophone church and state, remembered with a visceral “never again” passion many years later.
There are other historical examples as well. The question is whether we learn from history. Now is an important cultural moment for North American Christians to stand up and be counted by explicitly rejecting and taking distance from the practice of Christian nationalism, south and north of the border. The Reformed branch of Christianity has a contribution to make to the discussion, but it will require a more robust strategy of engagement than I have seen in Christian Reformed circles in 2019. Dare I hope that I may be less embarrassed to be labeled a Christian in the public square in 2020? That would improve my mental health more than withdrawal from the field.