When Peter Leithart speaks, astute Christians listen. His Friday essay at First Things is a good example of why. Leithart examines the political, moral, and cultural landscape at the dawn of the second term of President Obama and concludes this is not the time for Christians to cower in fear or compromise their principles.
There is a time for peace, but in my judgment we’re not in such times. For the next four years, perhaps longer, social-issue Christians must recognize that smoothing differences is a temptation, and must learn to resist the temptation. Christians have to be willing to follow the example of Jesus, who came not to unify but to divide father from son, mother from daughter, brother from brother. Division was essential to the social renewal he came to accomplish, because those who followed him, torn from comfortable networks of kin and religion, formed the nucleus of a new kind of community. For Jesus, division was the means for achieving a new unity. Christians have to be willing to imitate the Prince of Peace who declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
It was not that long ago that the "Religious Right" (the remnant of which forms the core of what Leithart refers to as the "Bad Republicans" who will not bend to Obama's liberal social agenda) held sway in politics and culture. The rapid rise and fall of that movement is itself a testimony to the perils of compromise against which Leithart warns. The illusion of political power is a mask for the reality of spiritual weakness. The Religious Right wore that mask for several decades, being willfully blind to the fact that it was, in the eyes of the political power brokers whose favor it sought, just another special interest group to be placated with promises never kept.
The advent of Obama is the legacy of a compromised Christianity so blinded by the illusion of political power that it never saw him coming. He may succeed in the short term merely for lack of any principled opposition. Like all messianic pretenders, however, he will fail in the long run. Lofty rhetoric and the illusion of national unity are no substitute for the reality of a culture rotting from the inside out. That is a lesson the faithful remnant should have learned from experience; a lesson it will need to remember when the time comes to pick up the pieces and rebuild.