…Is it bad that people have more interest in American politics than the church, regardless of whether they fall on the left or the right? Why should they not? After all politics is about determining what the goods are that we have in common and how to produce and distribute them. These are not just identity and cultural goods but also material goods, which means that our politics is closely tied to our economics, and if so, it is also tied to our jobs and families. So why did liberals stop attending church, yet still attend Bernie Sanders rallies with a passion? Why were Trump rallies filled with more numbers and more energy than church? The basic answer is that there is something tangible at stake in what America offers, but not so much in the life of the church today. After all, who makes sure that justice, healthcare, education, welfare, and jobs are provided for? Does the church do that? There was a time that it did. But now the nation-state, America, is the primary holder and distributor of those goods.
So what does the church do now exactly? I suppose it is in the business of saving souls. Because salvation has come to be understood by many Christians as merely making it to heaven, it has become very personal and individual business. The church then seems to have caved in to deal only with private matters such as personal morality, but shied away from public affairs….
Overall, the real problem has been that the church has ceded all political and economic matters to the state… I understand that many would argue that the current state of affairs is the way things should be. After all, the church should not be involved in matters of national defense. Nor should it force a specific religion on its citizens… But I’m just not so sure that that should make the church merely into a private country club. Nor am I sure that economic matters should be divorced from church. After all, the Bible is replete with economic talk from beginning to end. The kind of work people did and how they spent the fruit of their labor mattered to the temple and the church.
In the process of the nation-state taking over these roles, America became the Savior, not Christ through the church. We Christians in America would like to think that we put God above any other. Anything less would smack of idolatry. But our practical lives reflect that we live as Americans first and Christians second. Consider the 2016 elections. About 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Now why would evangelicals do that given that Trump’s lifestyle is anything but Christian? Was it because he was against abortion and taxes? Perhaps in part, but how to explain that the percentage of evangelical voters was lower for George W. Bush when he also stood against abortion and taxes? The excitement for Trump compared to previous Republican candidates was clearly palpable in his rallies, and it was obviously not for the abortion or tax issue. No. Trump’s rallying cry was to “Make America Great Again.”
To those on the left who despise Trump and his supporters as deplorables, they have to admit that many of the issues he campaigned for did stand for recovering America’s place in the world, even if promises were not always kept. Does a nation need secure borders to keep its safety and sense of identity? Had American jobs bled for decades due to outsourcing and trade imbalances? Was the Obama administration’s foreign policy somewhat unassertive? If one were to take a nationalist standpoint, the answer is yes indeed to all of the above….
Yet it is precisely the nationalism of Donald Trump and his supporters what is problematic. The failure of so many of us Christians to see an issue here goes to show the extent to which deep inside, we care more about America and its values than the church and its values. We must now live with the fact that we put someone in power that put our own protection first at the expense of Syrians as they were brutally massacred in their own country… We must live with the fact that we made a role model for our children someone that boasted of grabbing women by the genitals, just because we thought it was worth it to protect our comfortable way of life.
But is it really any surprise that we have done this given that it is America that provides us with protection, healthcare, education, welfare and justice? We Americans, Christians included, are anxious of losing our comfortable way of life, which was provided by no other than America. Because that way of life directly affects the welfare of our families, many valiant soldiers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. But would they also be willing to be martyrs for Christ and his church? Did the church provide any of our lifestyle? Perhaps only a small portion of it, indirectly. We therefore live, die, and vote as Americans first, Christians second. We are thus content to attend a church once a week that merely makes us feel a little better, gives us a little motivation to improve our personal lives, provides a safe community for our children, and licenses and sometimes encourages us to live as Americans for the rest of the week. That there were numerous Christians unfriending each other due to differing political allegiances goes to show where our true loyalties really are. The church should be a place of communion, but we have allowed our very American political loyalties to get in the way.
In this book I will argue that at least for us Christians, the church is and should be our true body politic, not the nation-state. To think along these lines is what I believe will truly make us live as Christians first and Americans second, not the other way around.
Praise for Reclaiming Our Political Roots
“The church as politics has been a theme developed by a number of recent theologians. Yet they have often not known how to make that claim specific and detailed. In short, they have not known how to go on. But Yohan Hwang, who has the advantage of not being an academic theologian but who is dealing in the give and take of high school teaching, demonstrates in this book he knows how to go on. His scholarship is extraordinary. Anyone looking for an introduction as well as a constructive and substantive development of a theological politics should read this book.”
—Stanley Hauerwas, author of War and the American Difference
“America’s best theologian Stanley Hauerwas’s influence on Yohan Hwang is elegantly evident in his book—particularly for the church to be the church in today’s highly public, polarized, and politicized society.”
—Benjamin Toh, Senior Pastor, West Loop Church, Chicago
“Yohan Hwang’s book is extremely insightful and an enjoyable read. He speaks the truth that most people want to avoid. I’ve gotten to know Yohan Hwang extremely well over the last seven years here at Hope, where he teaches mostly low-income African American and Latino students. Yohan is a fantastic teacher who ‘walks the walk.’”
—Bob Muzikowski, Founder, Chicago Hope Academy
About the Author
Yohan Hwang is a Bible instructor, history department head, and robotics mentor at Chicago Hope Academy. He received his MTS from Duke Divinity School.