The past year has seen many instances of Christian leaders forging their own political path.  While this suggests a decline of the right’s monopoly on Christianity, it does not suggest a rise of a religious left so much as a return to pragmatic Christian politics.

Part 1: The beginning of the end of the right’s political monopoly [1]

The past year has seen some early splintering of right’s monopoly on political Christianity.  As Michael Wear recently wrote in the Atlantic, “2013 was a year defined by Christian leaders seeking to realign themselves politically to meet the challenges of a new century and changing culture.”[2] On issues ranging from immigration to income inequality and social justice, Christians from across the more conservative denominations have challenged their usual political partners and have taken on a more independent political stance. Traditionally conservative evangelical leaders are vocally advocating for gracious and compassionate immigration reform, the likes of which few if any Republicans stood for even just one year ago.  Likewise Pope Francis attacked capitalism as “a new tyranny” and used his platform to promote social justice.  Similarly, it has been a relatively quiet year as far as social issues like marriage and abortion are concerned with little political action at the national level (note: relative is an important word. If you disagree, tell me in the comments).  As such, political Christianity is beginning to split from the Republican party.

However incipient this split might be, Americans of all ages but particularly the young may find it oddly disorienting to see vocal Catholic and evangelical leaders declaring independence from the political right.  After all, the rhetoric of the right often seems to elide eternal truths from scripture with conservative political values.  The right’s interpretations of the “God-given” natural rights in our founding documents and moralization of small government suggest that the right is the only way for Christians.[3] In recent times valuing life and traditional morality-based culture systems have likewise made the right and Christianity close associates.

But times are changing. To win political office, Republicans are more often de-emphasizing social issues, and instead focusing on the right’s economic message of free markets and capitalism.  However, in that shift towards economics, the right has given many political Christians reason to rethink their political association.

A quick look at history might help explain.  While Christians have more or less always advocated for conservative personal morality, Christianity has a mixed history when it comes to economics and society-wide issues. While the past forty, fifty or even sixty years have seen vocal American Christian leaders and the political right aligned on economic issues including the size of government, personal responsibility and the general social order, it was not always so. In the years before WW2, many prominent American Christians were socialists. The biggest social justice activist and advocate in the early 20th century were arguably Christians Jane Addams and Walter Rauschenbusch. Even Harvard’s social service organization eponymously honors the 19th century pastor Phillips Brooks. In American history, Christians have at least as often been on the left as on the right on economic justice issues. Beyond American politics, Christian thought is by in large more in line with social justice and serving the poor than with the political right’s ideals of personal liberty and freedom.  Most Christian thought ultimately boils down to the gospels, in which Jesus does not talk about one’s natural right to own property or to choose one’s career or to the returns of one’s capital, but Jesus often talks about how money can steal a man’s heart and the importance of loving generosity and service. (for more, see Kelly Maeshiro  and his recent post on socialism in the gospels)

While the political right certainly does boast many Christians in its pantheon of heroes, it does not inherently hold the monopoly on political Christianity, particularly when it comes to economic issues.

Thus, this past year’s move of Christian leaders away from the Republican party brings into question where political Christianity will align itself? The answer is yet to be determined.  The world changes too quickly to know with any certainty, but there are some hints and clues.

For the time being at least, there is likely to be a continuation of the separating of political Christianity from the right, but, in contrast, no alignment with the left.  While the right seems likely to continue to focus on its economics (which does not inherently make Christians an ally), and while the left seems to be on track to continue embracing an expansion of secularism and amorality (push back in the comments if you disagree), Christianity does not have a clear home in the political realm.  Political Christianity may very well be non-aligned with the right or the left in the foreseeable future.

Up next: Part 2: The causes and consequences of non-aligned political Christians (title subject to change)


[1] The right does not and never has had a true monopoly on Christians in politics.   A large majority of America politicians on both sides of the aisle identify as Christian, and likewise many Christians have been and are actively involved with the political left.  However, America’s most vocal Christians, notably Catholic and especially evangelical leaders, have been aligned with the right for some time.  Thus, when this article refers to “political Christianity,” it does not refer to all Christians involved in politics but primarily the louder voices of particular Catholic and evangelical leaders.

[2] Wear, Michael. “The Changing Face of Christian Politics.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2014. <>.

[3] See Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, particularly the selection found in The American Intellectual Tradition with David Hollinger and Charles Capper for a good example of the moralization of small government. Witness was Chambers’ autobiography.  Chambers was known as a former communist in the middle of the Alger Hiss trial.  His autobiography links the struggle against communism with a struggle for God.