I really enjoyed a recent interview with Tim Keller at The Atlantic, especially one section that deals with politics, faith, and how Christianity flourishes when it moves away from the centre of power. It highlights, for me, how when we mix Christianity with politics we come out with something that no longer looks like Christianity but is just another idea struggling for its own place in this world. The power of Christianity is sucked out of it when it deliberately mixes with earthly power.
Here’s the excerpt:
If you think about it, Christianity was, maybe 150 years ago, very dominant in all the big cities. Peter Drucker—do you know who he is? He was a management guru. He wrote a bunch of books—he wrote The Effective Executive. Anyway, I was at a talk he did where he was talking about how the big cities of America had become more like Europe. He was saying that when he moved from Austria in the 1930s. … He was already an intellectual, he was a professor, and he got a job at NYU. And he was moving to the New York area—I think Hoboken or something like that—and he was trying to buy a house, and the banker said, “I’d like to speak to your rabbi or your priest or your minister.” And being Austrian, he was surprised, and he said, “Why?” And the banker said, “Well, we would never lend money to someone that doesn’t go to a synagogue. Why would we trust you if you weren’t a member?”
And when Drucker told that story, he was trying to say things have changed, in his own lifetime. Things have really, really changed in a place like New York. There was a time at which, you had to, essentially, profess to be an orthodox Christian, to even really be in power, to work your way up, to get a loan.
It’s the other way around now. Frankly, if you are an orthodox Christian in Manhattan right now, it’s a social problem. People are nervous about you, they feel like you’re bigoted. And so actually right now if you are a graduate of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, and you’ve got your MBA, and you’re working on Wall Street, or being a downtown artist or something like that, and if you are an orthodox Christian, that’s very, very subversive. It’s very transgressive. And in that setting, to some degree, it’s tough to be a Christian here. But in other ways, it is the kind of soil in which Christianity does well. And that is: Christians are out of power.
I know what you’re saying is, “Yeah, but New York is a power center, and if you have an MBA from Harvard and you’re working on Wall Street, then you’re part of the power.” Well, yeah, but if you’re a Christian, at this point, that still puts you somewhat on the outs. Certainly not in my lifetime is that going to turn around. Which means, it’s not a bad soil for Christianity to grow here.
This is an interesting perspective: that the Christian faith actually does well in the kind of soil where it is not favoured. Keller seems to be right, as far as history is concerned. I think that gives us a good sign of how we should treat politics in our churches.
I explored the concept of separating faith and politics, church and state, in a series of posts last year. Here are the links to these posts:
I tend to find this a liberating concept not only in allowing me to have a clearer view of what my job as a Christian in this world is, but also has allowed me to have clearer political views since I know that my faith isn’t attached to these views (it strengthens my faith as I’m not doubting if I’m really a believer.)
Moreso, I think it helps us to see where even in our own personal lives we are mixing the philosophy of the world into our faith’s worldview.
The posts culminated in a sermon I preached at my church (Church on the Square). If you’d like to give that a listen, download it here:
(Right-click and choose ‘save target as’ to download the file rather than stream it).
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.