“The indemnification of church and world is the mutual approval and support exchanged by Constantine and the bishops. The church is no longer the obedient suffering line of the true prophets; she has a vested interest in the present order of things and use the cultic means at her disposal to legitimate that order. She does not preach ethics, judgment, repentance, separation from the world; she dispenses sacraments and holds society together. Christian ethics no longer means the study of what God wants of man [sic]; since all of society is Christian (by definition, i.e. by baptism), Christian ethics must be workable for all of society. Instead of speaking sanctification, ethics becomes concerned with the persistent power of sin and the celebration of the lesser evil; at the best it produces Puritanism, and the worst simple opportunism.” John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2003), pp. 65-6.
Religion plays a significant role in American life. With an overwhelming number of people, roughly 70%, who claim to be Christian, religion is significant. Part of the reason that this has been the case is that people have been free from the constraints of government on what religion should be. Unfortunately, government isn’t free from the constraints of what American religion thinks it should be.
American Christianity has had its own evolutionary cycle. In the early centuries of American Christianity, much of the theology and training was done in Europe and the two had a great deal in common. While it was influenced by European Christianity in its early days, in the late 19th century, it started to separate itself from the biblical studies that were being done in Europe. This distancing has allowed American Christianity to move in a direction that can easily support someone like President Trump.
As Christianity in America started to take on its own form, it gradually started to take on the influence of its culture. In order for the church to connect with the people that it was trying to reach, it needed to make itself available and reasonable to the understanding of those same people. As people moved west to newly opened territories to farm, ranch and get away from the structures of the growing cities, the evangelists soon followed.
What was often missing in the new areas was access to education. Many of the people who moved out west approached life as one of survival and hard work. Education, beyond the basics of reading and writing, was something that was of little use to people who needed to tend fields and animals for their livelihood. Plain and simple became the operational ideology of the west.
When the churches were first set up in early America, the 17th and 18th centuries, the pastors were expected to be the most educated in their communities. But, this approach to the Bible and the church fell flat in the newly opened territories. Since plain and simple was a reasonable understanding to those in the newly developing areas, plain and simple became the rule for evangelists and preachers to apply to the biblical text and to the Christian religion. The plain and simple was promoted by William Bell Riley, T.T. Shields and many others to create a new form of Christianity called Fundamentalism.
But, plain and simple was insufficient in getting people to respond to the call of Christianity. They needed to experience something, as well. There was an emotional plea that reached out to people, one that captured many peoples’ attention. It was this approach of plain and simple, with the emotionally charged call that worked its way back to the cities of the east and made the likes of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and others very famous.
The idea of a plain and simple message with an emotive call was something that many politicians quickly learned would help them get into office. This is an idea that seems to be more true today, than it may have been in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What politicians really learned is that the plain and simple approach seems to work even better when it is couched in the words of the conservative Christian community.
While the conservative Christian community believed that since the politicians were claiming to be one of their group and using their language to back that up, their agenda of making America a Christian nation was coming about. What they didn’t realise, however is that they were actually being co-opted by the political establishment to advance a different agenda. Take a look back at the theological positions that many pastors shared for supporting President Trump in the 2016 election. What many shared was the Republican Party platform with selective verses to show support of an agenda that has little in common with the teachings of Jesus.