A friend of mine recently pointed me toward a statement made by Tony Campolo that I think perfectly sums up the current state of the evangelical church:
"Politics has changed religion - it's like mixing ice cream with horse manure. It doesn't do anything to the manure but it ruins the ice cream. This has caused great harm to religion - we will live to regret the error."
As conservative Christians have allowed themselves to become increasingly identified with a particular political agenda, they have ceased to be the salt and light that they still see themselves as to the point that they have become little more than another political interest group.
As I was considering Campolo's statement I thought of another analogy which, while less precise, speaks to the situation in a similar way. In the universe of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, the world is undergirded and sustained by the True Source, which some individuals can tap into and wield in seemingly magical ways. During the last great battle against evil, however, the Dark One managed to introduce a taint into saidin (the male half of the True Source). Although the power of saidin was not diminished, any man who now accesses it will eventually be driven mad and destroyed by the taint.
That is where the analogy begins to break down (not to mention that Jordan's worldview is not specifically Christian), but the image it provides of people being driven mad from the use of tainted power (in our case the authority of the church intermixed with political force) is still useful.
If we've learned anything from history we should already understand that a militant church inevitably commits atrocities that would have otherwise horrified its members. And yet we see a large segment of the American church, alarmed by the loss of the privileged position it once held in Western society, once again taking up arms (at least figuratively) and seeking to impose "Christian values" on an unreceptive world at any cost and by whatever means necessary.
And so conservative Christians, who were once more likely to be defenders of individual rights, are now better known for their moral crusades than for their love. Instead, we now have almost daily stories along the following lines:
-Television preachers calling for the assassination of foreign leaders and the overthrow of sovereign governments.
-Ministry leaders becoming power brokers more interested in tinkering with legislation and political nominations than in the actual ministry work they were originally called to.
-Local activists willingly abandoning the right to form Christian after-school clubs that they once fought so hard to obtain, for the sole purpose of blocking gay students from forming their own clubs.
-Exodus (and some of its local affiliates) aiming an ever-increasing stream of invective at the group of people it ought to have the most compassion for.
If that's not madness, what is? It's difficult to imagine a more self-destructive path that the church could take. And destruction is the only real fruit of our drive for power as people walk away from the church by the thousands, looking elsewhere for the answers they seek.
One last thought to consider: If we, as Christians, feel justified in forcing others to conform to our standards through the force of majority opinion, what's to stop some future non-Christian majority from doing the same to us?