“Migrations of the Holy” is a term coined by British Historian John Bossy, and used as the title of a book by William Cavanaugh. The book by Cavanaugh will be my “dialogue” partner as I reflect on God, Politics, and the meaning of the Church in the political sphere.
For years it had been commonplace to assert that the role of religion in society would become more and more implausible – finally reaching a place where it would slowly “fade to black.” This idea has been called the “Secularization Thesis.” And, this thesis was true (to an extent) for some time, especially in the West as religion became less important in the public, political sphere.
What, I think, is more true, however, is that religion didn’t so much “fade away” as much as it went and hid somewhere for awhile. Covering and reknitting itself in a way to make it new and convertible to today’s political landscape. And, as we can see now (with all of the events going on today), the “secularization thesis” is slowly being unwound, as there has become a resurgence of religious vigor on a global scale. Religion is back.
And, it’s back in a new way as it relates to people in the Church.
This is where I want to settle in – especially with the church in America. For years, Christianity was considered a public and private fact. By that I mean that it played a central part in a country’s leadership and within their homes – most accepted its place in their lives. They saw the church as an important institute within a high functioning society. It was the currency often needed to be elected, to govern, to rule and to parent, grow families, and live as private citizens. But, this is no longer true. Christianity is not a public fact (i.e. not accepted as a part of the public, political or private discourses), and the church’s acceptance and necessity within society has become obscured. This new place for Christianity and the church would have been unthinkable to those living in Medieval Europe or 19th Century America. Instead, what has replaced Christianity as a public fact is optionality. One must now choose to make them central to one’s life. And, Christians are choosing in a strange, new way.
Here’s what I see: many are choosing to replace the church and Christianity with religious commitment tied to their Nation. In other words, what we have now are mass migrations of individuals moving out of the church to a new realm that is defined by their National commitment and political party. Religion has now become something different than what it used to be. It is putting its trust in the State instead of the Church.
Religion has now become something different than what it used to be. It is putting its trust in the State instead of the Church.
Further, religious affiliation and commitment is no longer seen through acts of charity, kindness, love, and grace, but through upholding and fighting for those political ideologies that are most similar to their Christianity values. Take for example the debate about homosexuality. Most Christians are looking to their particular political parties as the agents to bring about the changes they feel are necessary within society. The church has been relegated to some reactionary position. Never does it lead.
A change has taken place where the church is no longer looked as the agent of change in society, so its constituency has migrated to a sphere that does effect change: politics.
One of the things I have found strange about this shift, is the shift that has taken place in the meaning of terms. For example, it seems that “evangelism,” is no longer seen as “telling people about the Good News of Jesus,” but as fighting for and championing (no matter what the public says – a new type of martyr?) the perceived morals the bible teaches in the public sphere. Evangelism is no longer about transformation, but about right political thinking and adhering. It’s about conversion to parties not to a new life in Jesus. You can, it seems, be saved by the State.
How did this happen? We’ll try to figure it out in Part II.