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Last year I wrote about the possibility that Christians face religious discrimination in the United States. We are moving into a post-Christian society and this is reflected in increased expressions of anti-Christian bigotry. My research has confirmed that those with this bigotry are more likely to be white, male, wealthy, and well-educated. So, it is very well connected and powerful individuals who have the type of anti-Christian prejudice that will continue to trouble Christians.

Beyond having financial and educational power, those with anti-Christian bigotry also tend to be non-religious and politically progressive. They fit the profile of those who control the institutions that greatly shape our culture. Academia, the arts, media and entertainment tend to be run by powerful individuals who are not religious and are politically progressive. An important implication of this is that those with anti-Christian prejudice are in powerful positions to shape our larger culture. The messages we receive from our culture are quite persuasive to those not prepared to be countercultural.

This loss of cultural power is critical as Christians consider how to prepare to operate politically in a post-Christian world. While the political position of Christians is not dire today (after all many of them helped to elect our previous president), things are not going to get better. Christianophobic cultural messages will become more prominent which will eventually impact the ability of Christians to gain, or maintain, political power. Even today political leaders feel free to use religious tests in efforts to weed Christians out of governmental service and challenge whether Christians even deserve religious freedom. I expect that over time such efforts will increase, rather than decrease, in a society where anti-Christian bigotry becomes more acceptable.

So, what are Christians to do politically in this new post-Christian world? We cannot act as if nothing has changed. The days where we can expect our Christian faith to be an advantage are behind us, at least for now. In fact, about one in five Americans today will not vote for an Evangelical Christian. I understand the desire of Christians to make our society better through political activism. They envision a society whereby their moral values can be implemented into how our government operates. However, for the foreseeable future, unless God intervenes in a miraculous way, this is not feasible. In a post-Christian world where our cultural institutions are controlled by Christianophobic forces, pushing for public policies based on Christian values is not going to be successful. In fact, it may even spur on further displays of Christianophobia.

Let me suggest that Christians must change their approach. We are not going to “take the society for Christ” so we need to stop talking about doing that. Instead, Christians need to think about keeping a seat at the table. We need to think less about infusing the larger government with our Christian morality and more about keeping our voice active so that we can speak into our society. We need to stop thinking about having the power to do whatever we want in society and more about being able to be one of the voices contributing to the direction of our society.

One way to see how this may unfold is to look at the recent debate between David French and Sohrab Ahmari. French argues that Christians must fight to protect freedom in general while Ahmari calls on Christians to adopt more of a take no prisoners approach. For example, as it concerns having Drag Queen Reading Hour in public libraries Ahmari wants them to end. French points out that whatever rules used to end those can one day be turned against Christians having access to the public library. We need to be on the side of French, not just because it is right to allow others to experience the same freedoms we want, but also practically so that we can protect our freedoms in the future.

Here is another example of how Christians must politically readjust for the post-Christian world. While I have talked about Christianophobia, I have also written about dealing with Islamophobia. I have been disappointed by Christians who do not take seriously the discrimination and hatred that Muslims face simply for being Muslim. We should support the religious freedom of Muslims simply because it is the right thing to do. I do not want people to become Christian because they feel coerced into accepting this faith. They should do so because they have reasoned their way to the faith, their relationships with Christians, their experiences with the divine or one of many other acceptable ways people decide to follow a faith. But never because they must become a Christian to be a full citizen in our society. I know this has happened in the past, and we should lament that it has ever been the case that people had to lie about being a Christian to have their place in society.

I would rather that Christians support the religious freedoms of Muslims, and any non-Christian group, simply because it is the right thing to do. But if they are still unwilling to offer such support, they need to reconsider in a post-Christian world. The same zoning laws used to stop that Muslim Mosque today will be turned around to stop a Christian church tomorrow. If we allow religious criteria to prevent Muslims from coming into the country today, then tomorrow Christianophobes will use it to prevent Christians from coming into the country. A recent court case struck down an all-comer policy that was being enforced on Christian student groups because it was not being enforced on a Muslim student group. If Christians had found a way to drive that Muslim student group from campus years ago, then they would be the ones driven off today. Protecting the rights of Muslims is also protecting the rights of Christians in a post-Christian world.

My research indicates that many with Christianophobia want Christians to be excluded from the public square. As they gain more cultural power, their ability to engage in such exclusion will matter. If Christians look like we are trying to impose our morality on others by attacking Drag Queen Reading Hour or by limiting the religious freedom of Muslims, then we provide cultural ammunition to anti-Christian bigots. We must be politically smarter than that.

This does not mean that Christians need to avoid politics altogether. Indeed, efforts to remove us from the public square should be resisted with every reasonable resource we have available. This is a smarter brand of politics since instead of being seen as arguing to impose our values on others, we are clearly arguing to protect ourselves from unfair treatment. To this end confronting the unfair all-comers policies, legislation that attacks Christian schools and forcing Christian businesses to serve wedding ceremonies that go against their values, unfair firing of Christians for their religious beliefs, and of course combating the imposition of religious tests are political battles we must undertake. But to fight them effectively, we must retain some degree of cultural standing to deal with those cases. Trying to remove drag queens from the library (although trust me my sons will not be entertained by them) works against that cultural standing. Working to deny religious freedom to Muslims does not help either.

In time a smarter political strategy than trying to “take back America for Christ” can pay off dividends. Keeping our seat at the table in our cultural and political conversation for this nation will provide us with ways to impact our society that rely less on our political power and more on our ability to engage in moral persuasion. It can help us to develop the allies we need to protect ourselves and serve others in our society. It can keep us from relying on some political King Saul (yes, I am looking at some of the Christian Trump supporters out there) to protect us, instead of looking to the Lord for our protection.

Finally, it is an approach that reflects the reality that we live in a post-Christian world. We should have always strived to get along with our neighbors, but now it can be a matter of our survival that we learn how to operate in a multicultural world. Fighting for our seat at the table does not portray the arrogance found in demanding that society adopt our values and morality. And that change in emphasis and approach can make all the difference in helping us to survive and thrive in a post-Christian society.

This essay appeared first at Patheos:

George Yancey

Baylor University
George Yancey, Ph.D., is professor of sociology at Baylor University. He’s author of Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (IVP, 2006).

One Comment

  • Philip LaFountain says:

    Hello George!
    I am intrigued by your post and found it thought provoking. I am glad I found you and will be interested in learning more from you.
    I am quite interested in political theology (and public theology).
    I agree that there is a great cultural shift that Christians (especially evangelical ones) need to recognize.
    You mentioned that you have done a bit of research – I would love to know what you have done.
    Any way I could access that?