While selling books at a Kroger store in Mansfield, Texas yesterday, I qualified one of my prospects to discover what kind of reading she likes so that I could pitch her the right book, the one that I thought she might be most interested in. After discovering that she is a Christian who likes reading non-fiction, I began to tell her about my testimony I Am Not the King. Suddenly, she turned the tables on me. I found that she was soon qualifying me.
"Are you a Christian?" she asked.
"Are you conservative?"
After looking away for a brief moment to recalibrate my thinking mechanism, I turned back toward this middle-aged woman of meek countenance, looked her square in the eye, and asked, "What is a conservative these days, anyway?"
I admit, it was a loaded question. A goading one. But she didn't bite. She turned the conversation back to my book and eventually decided not to buy.
This type of interaction happens quite often. Thankfully, it isn't the dominant form of discussion I have with potential readers, but it happens often enough that it is noteworthy.
Of course, I hold no ill will toward the self-appointed guardians of conservative values, but I have noted that in the 32 years that I've been following Jesus, "conservative" Christians have become even more conservative and less interested in honest discussions about true spirituality. It's ironic because they consider themselves quite spiritual. In fact, I've known some to refer to the Pharisees as "religious" while maintaining that they themselves, and all true Christians, are "spiritual." As if there is a difference.
Actually, there is a difference, but that difference isn't manifested in the way that these conservatives believe it is. What's really going on?
Why I No Longer Identify As A 'Conservative Evangelical'
There was a time when I identified as an Evangelical. It was largely a reaction to the legalistic fundamentalism framework in which I was raised. Politically, my internal compass pointed me toward the conservative wing of Libertarianism, but I had some respect for conservative intellectuals who saw themselves as defenders of traditional American values. Then George W. Bush happened.
To me, Bush and his cohorts did not represent traditional Republican values. They called themselves "neoconservatives." In short, they were former liberals who had supposedly seen the light.
Politically speaking, conservativism (in America) is a philosophy that adheres to conserving what proponents believe are traditional American values. Proponents see it as their duty to use every political means at their disposal to ensure that their values are the dominant values in the country. Ironically, their values are often at odds with the values the Constitutional framers themselves held, and they certainly don't resemble anything one might read in the Bible or that the Christian church has believed for 2,000 years. It's as if history got its start in 1788 with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
In 2004, I was a National Guard officer. I had joined the National Guard for reasons which I now consider misguided. When I was called to service to spend a year in Iraq, it was a wake-up call for me. Traditionally, conservatives believed in shunning entanglements with other nations and held a high bar for entering into armed conflicts. The Bush Administration changed that. Conservatives now run toward international entanglements as long as those entanglements bolster the "America first" philosophy they've come to worship. The ends justify the means. Right and wrong no longer matter.
I didn't think the Republican Party could fall any further into the slime pit of its own twisted value system than it did when backing G.W.B. Boy, was I wrong. Conservative Evangelicals will bed down with the devil if it means defeating a Democrat at the polls.
Many of my readers will disagree with these sentiments, but the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world. And if it isn't, then why do so many Christians spend so much of their time attempting to make a nation founded on worldly principles a slice of heaven on earth? Shouldn't we instead be chasing after the spiritual values of God's kingdom?
I quit being Evangelical when I discovered that, for most Evangelicals, politics was more important than His kingdom and that winning in politics was more important than obedience in spiritual matters. I'm not sure when I quit being conservative, if I ever was one, but I simply don't identity with anyone who believes the national religion of the U.S. should be a form of Christianity that our Lord would find objectionable. And if any of this sounds like I'm defending liberalism, or the Progressive agenda, then it's because judgments are clouded by human bias. Progressives are just as guilty of turning a call to advancing kingdom principles into a political call to action. It simply is not what our Lord was looking for, and the only place such thinking could arise with a veneer of respectability is in late 20th and early 21st century America.
We have not only lost our way, but we've lost the ability to discern the way.
In short, I'm not sure that I've ever identified as a conservative Evangelical, but I now no longer identify as Evangelical because the term is charged with political baggage. And I hate that. I am Christian first, American by default.
Is There a Healthy Alternative?
For most of human history, most Christians couldn't read, couldn't vote, and had no political influence. Early Christians were persecuted simply for not worshiping a human ruler. Unfortunately, the Roman Republic had already transitioned into an empire by the time the Jewish Messiah was born. It would be another 1,200 years before the signing of the Magna Carta and the rise of the British Parliamentary system. While there were smaller democracies and republics during the course of that 1,000 years, much of that time was dominated by kings, queens, and war machines.
Still, the Christian church endured, standing fast as a representative of God's peace amid the ever-churning turmoil. It wasn't Catholic, but catholic.
"Catholic" means universal. It is derived from the Greek katholikos. Usually attributed to Ignatius of Antioch as a first use in theology, the Catholic church appropriated the word to establish itself as the successor to the Apostle Peter's alleged Popish authority. The truth is, Christ set up his church through the apostolic authority of his most devoted followers, and He established no rank among them. That is why the Apostle Paul could rebuke Peter for his treatment of Gentile believers in Antioch. The true church of God is decentralized, not centralized. It is led by the Holy Spirit, not sinful men.
If you're wondering what this has to do with politics, a better question would be: "What does human politics have to do with the spiritual authority of a decentralized representative of the prophetic Messiah?"
Answer: Not a thing.
In other words, human political maneuvering is a distraction from the things that the church of God should be accomplishing in the world. When the Romans persecuted Christians in the first three centuries of the church, none of the church leaders suggested the church should choose people to run for political office so that it could increase its influence within Roman circles. Instead, the charge was to live at peace with everyone.
That's not to say that Christians can't participate in the political process. How we engage in that process, however, determines the effectiveness of our witness. In 2024, that witness is grossly ineffective. And it's largely because Progressive Christians and conservative Evangelicals are engaged in a hot war with each other, each attempting to increase worldly power through worldly tactics. We are not following the peaceful way of Christ.
I don't know how I could make that any plainer, nor do I know how our Lord could have.
When it comes to politics, voting, and maintaining influence within society, we should stop thinking of it as a "right" and more as a privilege. When unruly children are disciplined, they are often (rightly so) separated from their privileges. Christians must be careful in the 21st century to not rely on our own political maneuvering but on the sovereign grace and providence of God to deliver us from our self-imposed exile. Instead of seeking power through political strong men and their promises, we should instead seek the favor of our Lord by obeying His command to live at peace with our neighbors. Instead, our fruit is withering on the vine. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.
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