How Christians Can Aid (rather than hinder) Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Peacemaking is hard. It is harder in a complex conflict in which the parties more than occasionally engage in unhelpful behaviors, and hardest when influential peacemakers take a side. For over six decades, the three realities have made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of the world’s most intractable. As the world awaits the political component of the current U.S. administration’s peace plan, there are genuine questions about whether its approach—whatever it may be—will make any difference. With the legal, political and diplomatic frameworks for the peace process in disarray and a dysfunctional and fractured Palestinian leadership to boot, prospects for peace seem nonexistent. But if they dare, Christians may have the power to change that.

As I wrote in my post on the Golan heights (March 27), support for Israel among U.S. Christians runs deep. Indeed, some might even consider it not just politically risky but un-Christian to question it. Over the years, however, this often unquestioned commitment has blinded enough Christians to the ways in which they may not only be shaping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also arguably becoming an obstacle to the peace they seek. I’ll highlight just two blind spots here.

First, because many Christians tend to understand the conflict primarily in biblical-theological terms, they abstract its daily on-the-ground realities, and ordinary Palestinians are too often the casualties of this abstraction. Not only are the human rights issues they face daily largely unknown to U.S.-based Christians because of underreporting in the major media outlets, the significance of the few that do come to light is obscured by a theological conviction that is too often, unfortunately, tinged with an understated but powerful us-versus-them politico-cultural hue. The result has been an empathy gap that lessens the gravity of the human rights issues Palestinians face, effectively diminishing their humanity. This has, in turn, lessened the sense of urgency that ordinarily accompanies violations of fundamental human rights and delayed calls for resolution.

It’s time more Christians acknowledge and play an active role in addressing the human rights issues confronting stateless Palestinians.

In his 2019 report, the United Nations’ independent Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories presents an especially troubling portrait of Palestinian life in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Among many problems, he notes housing discrimination that makes it difficult for Palestinians to obtain permits to build homes, the detention of Palestinian children usually for offences such as stone throwing, administrative detentions wherein Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons for purported security reasons on secret evidence and without trial, the punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of suspected terrorists that result in displacement, the lack of accountability among Israel Defense Forces for the wrongful killings of Palestinians, and violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

The report also details the dire economic condition of Palestinians. Citing the International Labor Organization’s finding that the unemployment rate in the Occupied Territories is the highest in the world, the special rapporteur notes that partly because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza, which significantly restricts the ability of Gazans to exploit the full economic potential of their resources, two-thirds of Gaza’s estimated 1.8 million inhabitants live on less than $3.6 USD/day and 68% are food insecure. The latter is particularly concerning given that 35% of Gaza’s farmland is, according to report, within an area Israel has designated a “buffer zone.” B’Tselem, an Israel-based non-governmental organization, has also reported Israel’s use of Palestinian land to treat its industrial waste, an issue that is contributing to environmental degradation and posing a threat to people living in the vicinity of the waste treatment facilities.

Water has become a potent symbol of the conflict. With Israel, since 1967, largely controlling the water resources in the Occupied Territories, the UN report notes significant problems in Palestinian access, usage and development of water resources. In the West Bank’s Area C, which makes up 60% of the territory, the Palestinian Authority reportedly does not have access to the agricultural lands and underground reservoirs. And while Israelis in both Israel and the Occupied Territories enjoy access to enough water for personal and commercial use, Palestinians experience frequent shortages because of both technical failures and Israel-imposed obstacles that restrict their ability to replace old pipelines and drill wells. In a 2016 report, the European Parliament Research Service found that residents of Israel and Israelis in Palestinian territories enjoyed three times as much water per person per day as Palestinians in the West Bank.

Gaza’s water problems are much worse. The special rapporteur describes them as “a crisis verging on humanitarian catastrophe.” An estimated 96% of the Coastal Aquifer, Gaza’s primary source of water, has been found “unfit for human consumption” because of over-pumping and the seepage of sewage. And, an estimated third of the monthly wages of the already underemployed and impoverished population is reportedly spent on water purchases, with many simply using the tainted water from the barely operational public taps. The latter occurs at a time when access to healthcare and essential medicines is already a challenge in Gaza due to war-related damage to infrastructure as well as severe Israel-imposed travel restrictions.

The well-documented violence in the territories persists, and instances of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank are reportedly increasing (and unlikely to stop as Israeli settlement building continues). In this climate of stress, fear and insecurity, the Humanitarian Country Team found that at least 260,000 Palestinians need mental health and psychosocial support.

Whatever differences may exist among Christians about Israel’s domestic politics or the best ways to address the state’s real and significant security challenges, all must at least agree that Palestinians, like all humans, should be afforded the opportunity to live in dignity. Christians ought to be especially aware of and sensitive to the impacts of the kinds of injustices described in the special rapporteur’s report. Christian reticence (and in many cases, silence) in addressing these human rights issues is too often interpreted as acquiescence in the perpetuation of human suffering.

Second, for far too long and consistent with the first problem, many Christians have largely supported one-sided approaches to the conflict—mostly carrots for the Israelis and sticks for the Palestinians—and failed to consistently demand from both parties the hard concessions required to make peace even remotely possible.

It’s time more Christians oppose one-sided approaches to the conflict.

In the last two years, the United States has closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) offices in Washington and cut off much needed aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In the same period, despite the troubling implications and international outcry, it has moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, proclaimed the Golan Heights Israeli territory, ceased to refer to the Palestinian territories as “occupied,” and threatened the International Criminal Court if it ever investigated any matter pertaining to Israel. Nothing appears to have been asked of Israel in return. In the face of such partiality, little wonder Palestinians have come to believe there is much more to lose from engaging in an American-led peace process than from abstaining altogether.

As a group with a peace-making mandate, Christians ought to be aware that successful peacemaking requires that both parties’ concerns are heard and legitimate grievances taken seriously. It also involves disrupting unhelpful entrenched dynamics and making hard and sometimes politically risky choices. It bears repeating that Palestinians are most concerned about their right to self-determination, a right enshrined in the first articles of the U.N. Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Israelis are most concerned about security, also a fundamental matter essential for every state.

To become better peacemakers in this complex and volatile situation, more Christians should (a) begin to see Palestinians first as people rather than as a problem to be overcome, (b) acknowledge the legitimacy of their human rights concerns, and (c) require that Israel, the more powerful party in that conflict, recognize the same. If Christians are unwilling to do this, they might as well simply ignore the oft-quoted biblical admonition to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:6) because through their silences and inaction, especially on the human rights issues, they are effectively working against it.

Evangelical Christians and the Politics of the Golan Heights

The United States recently recognized Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights. As part of its coverage of the event, a Christian broadcaster interviewed Secretary of State Pompeo, asking him, among other questions, whether the U.S. president had “been raised [by God] for such a time as this,” and if he could be likened to Queen Esther—a character in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible—who was instrumental in saving the Jews from genocide under King Xerxes. The Secretary affirmed the possibility, and unsurprisingly, the segment raised many eyebrows, including mine. My concern, however, was not the Secretary’s response; it was the question. The invocation of God in the contentious matter and the obvious presumption that the situation was somehow his doing, seemed to close (or at least attempt to) an important debate that Christians, particularly U.S.-based evangelical Protestants, should be having about how they influence Israel’s domestic politics.

Many Christians feel a strong connection to ancient and modern Israel because of their significance in Christianity’s history, theology and, for some, its future. Although hardly unified across denominations, Israel, both as a concept and a nation, remains an important component of Christianity’s self-understanding. And, although that connection is not problematic in and of itself, it becomes so when it hinders Christians from honestly and seriously considering inconvenient facts about modern Israel. Those politico-legal facts and the tensions they present, however, must be resolved, not uncritically dismissed through questionable references to “God plan.”

In this case, Christians must seriously consider the following: First, Golan Heights is Syrian territory. Second, Israel assumed control of the area by military force in 1967 and, for all practical purposes, annexed it on December 14, 1981 at the adoption of the Golan Heights Law. Third, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 497  (just three days later), declaring Israel’s decision to impose its jurisdiction on the Golan “null and void and without international legal effect” and reaffirming the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force under the U.N. Charter. The UN, of which Israel is a member, has never recognized Israel’s control of the Golan, and continues to consider it an occupation. Fourth, the United States (alone and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council), aware of Israel’s singular and very real security challenges and the Golan’s strategic value to that security, has not until now endorsed Israel’s control of the area. In its yearly human rights reports, the U.S. Department of State has consistently referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-occupied,” until 2017 (compare reports found here).

Moreover, despite the fanfare surrounding the signing of the proclamation, it appears to make no practical difference—the United Nations will not change its position; Syria and other Arab states will not accept it, it simply aggravates them as widely reported; Israel will continue to control the area and build settlements there as it has for the last several decades; and the usual flares of violence that have characterized the Golan for years will likely continue. Needless to say, the idea of one foreign country giving (or attempting to give) another foreign country the territory of yet another is highly improper in modern international relations (not “miraculous”).

Given these facts, the administration’s decision is puzzling. Statements that formal recognition enhances Israel’s security are unpersuasive.  So, like everyone else, Christians ought to be asking why the US has decided to do this now or at all.

One plausible and persuasive explanation for this puzzle, as many have observed, is the upcoming elections—the first in about two weeks in Israel, and the second in 2020 in the United States. The proclamation gives the impression of a significant foreign policy achievement and apparently pleases the “religious” or “far right” segments of the relevant electorates. If the interview is indicative, many are pleased indeed.

There are two important lessons for Christians in this episode. First, Christians may have the liberty to support whatever political action they choose, but they must be careful about using God’s name to legitimate their preferences. Second, Christians should examine all behaviors and motives because not doing so is to choose gullibility (not faith) and to become perpetually ripe for political manipulation.

The Christmas Echo

(*poem available for purchase as a Christmas card at Quietude)

‘Twas something about a child this time. Many heard it, but few understood it. The mad men–or prophets as they called themselves–often said unintelligible things, many of them rooted in their fantasies and longings for a better world. But this one echoed: a child would be born; a child would be born …

Time passed and the echo faded. Life returned to its mundane imperfect glory–rising and sleeping, buying and selling, wars and rumors of wars. But hidden in the shadows and silences of the human heart, many longed and secretly hoped to find substance in the echoes of mad men. If only a child is born …

Then one day, in the fullness of time, an unusual star appeared in the sky. Dreamers said it was a sign and swore they had heard the echo again. Many shrugged shoulders of indifference, while others dismissed their tale as utterances of mad men. But somewhere in a manger, angels stood at attention and wise men bowed as they beheld the child who would change the world.

Excerpt from new book Wilderness

Embrace brokenness; it can make you whole

As we go through the wilderness, we have the distinct sense that we have been or are being changed in some fundamental way. Something inside feels broken and we know that even if it were mended, we will never be the same. We may wonder if we will ever be happy again or if we are doomed to spend the rest of our days roaming the earth as ghosts, absent but present. Unsurprisingly, we resist brokenness because the very idea is negative; it means being damaged, fractured, injured, split, demoralized, subdued and many other gloomy adjectives. It has an upside, however.

By fundamentally altering the way we view both ourselves and life, brokenness transforms us, enabling us to effectively live anew. It generates humility and sensitivity to others in a way that few other things can. It replaces brashness with gentleness, being judgmental with mercy and uptightness with the ability to wear life loosely. It also enables us to appreciate the fragility of life and human nature, and the slights that once offended us become as dust that we simply shake off our feet. When we are broken, we can apologize with ease because we recognize that an apology is not beneath our dignity, it affirms it. Brokenness makes us quieter, enabling us to become better listeners who are aware of our own limitations and life’s awesomeness. When Joseph embraced his brothers after his promotion, he was no longer the arrogant kid who was looking forward to being bowed to, but God’s broken humble servant-leader.

Forgiveness in #MeToo Season

The last few months have been rough. Reports of sexual abuses in myriad contexts have started a movement, #MeToo, that is exposing the extent to which (mostly) women are sexually exploited globally. For victims, the movement has presented an opportunity to address painful memories; for perpetrators, a moment of shame, condemnation, humiliation, or the fear thereof; and, for women, generally, a vehicle through which they can address the culture behind a problem they face in one form or another at different points in their lives. Revelations of similar abuses within the church have elicited concerns that Christian teaching on forgiveness tends to cover rather than address the problem, shielding perpetrators and revictimizing victims in the process. Given the centrality of forgiveness in Christianity and its indispensability in human relations, it is important to address three essential, but often misunderstood, features of forgiveness in Christian doctrine.

First, forgiveness is not cheap. In Christian doctrine, God is understood as supremely loving and deeply offended by actions that injure people. These actions, which are often “sinful” (the biblical word for conduct that does not conform to God’s standards), offend Him not only because He is perfectly good (or holy), but also because they are destructive. They destroy the moral fabric of society, relationships, trust, lives, and so on. Knowing, however, that imperfect human beings would continue sinning, both against Him and others, He provided a path to receiving His forgiveness that would illustrate both the grievousness of sin and its costly consequences. That path was the bloody and sacrificial death of His son, Jesus, on a cross between two criminals. The cross then stands in the middle of Christianity as a reminder of the awfulness of sin and the enormous price God paid to make forgiveness available to all.

Second, forgiveness does not preclude punishment. God, in Judeo-Christian teaching, may be merciful, but He is also just. His mercy is implicit in His justice and vice versa. That means while forgiveness might free its recipient from the guilt of the offense, it does not necessarily free him or her from its consequences. When beings capable of choosing right from wrong choose wrong and that wrong injures others, justice, as a biblical principle, requires that something be done to not only hold the wrongdoer accountable, but to also restore the victim or bring them as close to wholeness as possible. When what has been taken from the victim cannot be replaced, as happened in the story of King David and Uriah (2 Sam. 11-12), justice still requires some kind of accountability for the wrongful conduct. David repented for having Uriah killed and although God forgave him, He still punished David severely for his conduct (2 Sam. 12:10-14). The punishment was necessary because God’s moral standard had to remain clear: no matter who you are (or think you are), you shall not take advantage of the weak; if you do, there will be consequences.

Third, forgiveness is meant to benefit both victim and victimizer. When people are victimized, much anger is understandably directed at the victimizer and the idea of forgiving seems an injustice, especially when it is understood as precluding punishment and requiring reconciliation. Forgiveness, however, even when the perpetrator does not seek it, benefits the victim by providing a reliable way to release the mental and emotional pain of the injury. When that pain is not released, it can become a source of myriad destructive physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. Left unattended, it often becomes a pocket of latent hostility that will at some point be unleashed on someone else as the victim becomes a victimizer. When Jesus told his disciples to forgive “not just seven, but seventy times seven times” (Matt. 18:22) and to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12), he recognized both the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness.

Victimizers also need forgiveness because it enables them to release the debilitating feelings of guilt (that admittedly not all victimizers feel) and lets them know their wrongdoing was an event, not evidence of their devolution into a sub-human species. It tells them they continue to belong in the community of humans with all its attendant expectations and responsibilities. Jesus’ response to Peter’s denial of him illustrates this point—he forgave the guilt-ridden Peter and after forcing him to reflect on the source of his wrongdoing through repeated questioning, Jesus affirmed that Peter still belonged, then told him to dust himself off and get back to the work of helping others (Lk. 22:31-34, 54-62; Jn. 21).

Humans are Special

I have been struck by how quickly the recent Las Vegas shootings left the headlines and our national discourse. Was the “moving on” somehow emblematic of how we’ve come to view life—something cheap and disposable, the loss of which no longer merits a meaningful pause? Was it a symptom of a soulless market-driven culture, helplessness  resulting from the many senseless deaths to which we have become accustomed, or was something much deeper going on? I’m inclined to explore the last option for a moment. If our mental health professionals are right, a significant percentage of us are unhappy, stressed, and depressed. In fact, many live in that desperate unspeakable place where they not only welcome death, but secretly hope it beckons them. In that condition, it is hard to see the joy or value of life, let alone to appreciate its loss. It’s a miserable hypothesis, I know, but in a nation where suicide and other “deaths of despair” are at crisis levels, it may not be too far-fetched.

That wretched condition stands in sharp contrast to the Bible’s take on the promise and value of human life. While the Bible does not shy away from presenting life’s harsh realities, it is also equally unapologetic in its view that life is an extraordinary gift from God—no one else can give it. Life is presented as the very breath of God breathed into a lifeless creation that then became a living being (Gen. 2:7). The human being stands apart from the rest of creation as a prized and cherished creature, distinct from all others, and having a unique relationship with the Creator in whose image he is made (Gen. 1:27). Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), the human being is endowed with extraordinary talent and capacity (we can figure out exactly when an eclipse will be, for goodness sake!) and is placed on earth for a limited time to use that awesome capacity to show off the manifold goodness and majesty of God in all areas of life.

Senseless deaths are, thus, not just heartbreaking and sad, they are a waste and a vile robbery. For us to see them, once again, for the grave violation they are, we could begin by searching among modernity’s casualties for that lost piece of humanity that once told us we were special.

The trouble with politicized Christianity

In a scathing article published last month in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-affiliated Italian Catholic journal, a priest and a pastor took on what they view as a problematic intermingling of religion, morals, and politics among Christians—particularly evangelical Protestants and Catholics—in the United States. Using the 2016 election of Donald Trump as a centerpiece, the authors argued that many of the positions taken by these “value voters” reflect a desire for a theocratic state not unlike that which inspires Islamic fundamentalism and warned that “confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.” Unsurprisingly, the article did not go over well in many corners. One writer found it “long, confusing, wildly inaccurate in its interpretation of American Christianity, and an unremarkable critique by uninformed foreigners.” While there are certainly some problems in the piece, the least of which is its overstatement of its main point, its central concern—the politicization of Christianity in the United States—deserves honest consideration, especially as an in-house debate among Christians.

First, it is important to note that the involvement of Christians in politics—the activities associated with how society is ordered and governed—is encouraged in Christian doctrine. Christians have a broad Bible-based socio-political mission that includes fighting all forms of injustice, feeding the hungry, protecting and advocating the rights of the poor and other disadvantaged groups, promoting peace, and so on. That mission requires courageous and zealous participation in politics, and the employment of every legitimate tool to which other citizens avail themselves. Christ, who told his disciples his kingdom was “not of this world,” so challenged the practices of the politico-religious establishments of his day that some of his early followers thought he might indeed establish a worldly political kingdom. But he clearly told them to prioritize his spiritual mission: reconciling people to God by telling them the story of His love as expressed in Christ’s sacrifice—a practice known as evangelism. Aspects of the socio-political mission may further the spiritual, but the two are distinct.

While the goals and priorities of Christian political engagement are clear in doctrine, they tend to be less so in practice. A Pew Research Center Study from the 2016 presidential election showed the majority of Christians voted for Trump: Protestants (58%), Catholics (52%), and white, born again/evangelical Christians (81%). (Let’s ignore, for now, the problematic groupings.) The numbers presented an incongruity of sorts. Popular media analyses concluded several factors accounted for the result—the group’s concerns about supreme court nominees, socio-cultural issues, and the protection of religious liberty. Deeper analyses presented a more complex picture as the economy (87%), immigration (78%) (often conflated with refugee flows), terrorism (89%) (often conflated with concerns about the migration of people from Muslim-majority states and refugee issues), ranked much higher in importance for white evangelical Christians, for instance, than the foregrounded socio-cultural issues (70% for supreme court appointees and 52% for abortion). And, race, rather than religion, appeared a greater determinant as in the case of Hispanic Catholics, 67% of whom voted for Clinton likely out of concern for the treatment of Hispanic Americans under Trump. Although the socio-cultural issues were not among the highest of Christian voter priorities, they were, as shown in the study, still significant considerations in their choice. And, despite these complexities and nuances, in popular thinking, the political association of Christianity, broadly, with “the right” and its agenda calcified even more than it already had in past presidential elections.

The Christian Lobby

Looking back, the “Christian vote” in the 2016 election should have been foreseeable. The groundwork had been laid over the last few decades (especially the last two) by an influential Christian lobby of sorts that had emerged in U.S. politics. The lobby had two broad objectives: preserving Judeo-Christian norms as the nation’s default moral ethic and protecting Christians from real and perceived threats to their faith arising from the steady secularization of the country. Both goals have been widely embraced by Christians, but they are problematic and efforts to achieve them, misguided. To whatever extent the first goal is desirable, it is at its core a spiritual goal achieved, for lasting impact, through evangelism not politics; the second seeks to prevent the persecution of Christians, an eventuality all but guaranteed by the faith’s many counter-cultural doctrinal positions. The pursuit of these goals has mired Christian leaders in the type of political yuck from which they are not easily extricated and unnecessarily politicized the faith. I’ll explain.

Let’s consider why the lobby may have decided to pursue these goals in the first place. Setting aside the many problems associated with measuring faith, studies show a notable decline in the number of people identifying as Christian in the U.S.—94% in 1951, according to a Gallup poll, and 71% in 2015 (a drop from 78% in 2007), according to a recent Pew study. (These numbers tell only a small part of the story. They say nothing of the quality of Christianity that remains.)  In response to the decline, the Christian lobby has engaged the “culture wars” with ferocious determination, with the goal of ensuring the country at least retains features of “Christian character.” Its formidable opponents have dealt it many defeats and it has, in turn, sought even greater political influence and ever-deepening political alliances. Lost in the lobby’s efforts is the recognition that Christianity is first and foremost personal—there are Christian people not Christian countries or institutions. In seeking to maintain the country’s Christian character, the lobby is essentially trying to impose on a pluralistic state Christian values as political ideology divorced from Christianity’s spiritual roots. This approach benefits politicians, who get elected on the imprimatur of Christian morality (fast fading in the West) and use it instrumentally to further other political objectives that are not necessarily in line with the faith.

Some Christians might argue the culture wars are about the protection of life and the preservation of desirable social standards, not Christianizing the state. The argument is reasonable and persuasive, but it downplays the significance of its core and the implications thereof. The desired standards are moral standards based on Christian theology. In that theology, morality is more than just behavioral and is not imposed externally. It is, instead, a deep transformational process that happens individually (not institutionally) from the inside out. To get people to embrace that Christ-inspired moral transformation, Christians are to share their faith in word and deed (evangelize). They are to persuade others of its virtue not to use the government to impose it on people who find it neither desirable nor useful as do other lobbies.

The Christian lobby is also trying to preserve a social climate in which Christians are comfortable and free to exercise their faith without persecution or fear. American Christians had long found security in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but the social changes of the last few decades have persuaded them of its insufficiency. The many religious liberty cases popping up across the U.S. are evidence, as Rod Dreher pointed out in the Benedict Option, of Christians increasingly feeling they are being asked to choose between being a good Christian and being a good American. While addressing the concern through deeper political alliances may seem a good strategy, and may indeed, as it did for Emperor Constantine’s Roman Christians, stem the tide of persecution (which is negligible compared to that experienced by Christians in other parts of the world), the small gains come at a high cost.

In a pluralistic society, the results of such efforts can only be temporary, lasting only as long as the personalities tasked with preserving them. (In ancient Rome, the steps Constantine took to somewhat “Christianize” the empire through public institutions were, upon his death, reinforced half-heartedly by one of his sons, and, later, Theodosius. It took one determined Julian to undo much of it.) Christians would do well to remember that persecution is an unavoidable feature of their faith—Christ was crucified. The latter observation is not a call for Christians to court martyrdom or to sit idly by while their rights are trampled, but rather a reminder that comfort is hardly a Christian priority, and it is certainly not one worth politicizing the faith over.

Damage to Christianity

The damage done to Christianity through problematic political entanglements tends to last much longer than the gains. The entanglements make it difficult for well-meaning Christians to oppose the myriad areas of divergence between their faith and other positions held by their political partners, so they become silent accomplices to various forms of injustice perpetrated by their partners. It should be no surprise that attempts to preserve the Christian character of the state have also made it easier for Christians, based on a warped cost-benefit analysis, to embrace policies that seek to exclude or marginalize people of other faiths. The alliances also feed extreme elements within Christianity that will seek theological justification for any decision their political partner supports. Most important, when the independence of Christianity suffers, the faith’s spiritual mission, Christ’s priority, becomes even more difficult as people begin to associate it with partisan politics. It should bother U.S. Christians that “evangelical”—a benign theological term—is now politically-charged.

The myriad problems arising from close associations between Christianity and partisan politics have not been lost on thoughtful Christians. In 2008, a group of concerned Christian leaders, careful to note they were not speaking for all Christians, adopted an Evangelical Manifesto aimed at asserting Christianity’s independence from politics and clarifying both the mission and limits of Christian involvement in politics. It might be time to circulate another, if only to remind Christians that no amount of culture-warring can take the place of evangelism, and political institutions cannot resolve humanity’s moral problems, they offer only a temporary solution.