This morning I taught the first of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg. We spent most of our time defining politics and examining five Christian approaches to political engagement.
I began with Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder’s definition of politics. Tinder writes: “Politics is the activity through which men and women survey the historical conditions they inhabit.” I like this definition because it challenges us to think about politics beyond electoral politics and political parties. According to Tinder, political engagement requires us to be “attentive” and “available.” People who are attentive ask: “What are people in this world doing, suffering, and saying?” Attentiveness moves from mere curiosity to politics when we make ourselves available. People who are available ask” “Is there anything I can do about it?”
After we played around with this definition, I moved into a brief discussion of Christianity before and after Constantine. I noted how Christian politics changed drastically after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.
We spent the bulk of our time discussion five approaches to Christian political engagement: Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.
Since we had a lot of background work to do today, the discussion was limited. I plan to allow more time for this in coming weeks. I did get some really interesting questions though:
- When did the idea of the “separation of church and state” develop?
- Too what extent with the first-century Christians “atheists?” (In other words, the Romans saw them this way because they did not worship the Roman gods)
- Of the five Christian views of politics, which one was most influential at the time of the American founding?
- In what way do pro-Trump Christians justify their vote using Lutheran theology?
Next week we will consider the following question: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics?” We will try to unpack this question with three related questions:
- What is an Evangelical?
- What has Evangelical political engagement looked like in the past fifty years?
- To what extent have Evangelicals drawn upon these historic models to craft their approach to politics? In what way have they crafted a unique approach to politics?
We meet at 9:00am and 10:45am in room 202 at the church.