Divisive Partisan Prayer and a Better Role for Faith in the Public Square

Millennial writer Daniel DiLeo has a new article at Political Theology Today. He writes:

“Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united.” These are the words that Pastor Mark Burns used in his benediction to open the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Following his prayer, Pastor Burns was excoriated by politicians, pundits, and citizens from across the political spectrum for his ideological and divisive use of religion. Yahoo News senior editor Amy Sullivan described Pastor Burns’s benediction as “the most explicitly partisan prayer heard at a major party convention in modern times,” and as a person of faith I echo the condemnations of Pastor Burns’s perverse invocation of religion….

The case that religion should be kept out of the public square is inconsistent with the Catholic, Christian vocation of “scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel,” as the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes describes (#4). In particular, the case against religion in public is averse to public theology which, as advocated by figures like David Hollenbach and Michael J. and Kenneth R. Himes, is the discipline by which believers seek to shape public discourse and policy through appeals to Christian texts and teachings.

In light of the legal and theological justifications for the presence of religion in public, what might Christians do to appropriately bring their faith into the public square? In my opinion, Christians should take at least four steps.

First, Christians should avoid what H.R. Niebuhr calls the “Christ of Culture” type of social engagement and instead employ the “Christ the Transformer of Culture” model. The former works to demonstrate how Christianity is wholly harmonious with popular culture, and in so doing employs a shape-shifting theology which makes unorthodox adaptations as necessary and fails to prophetically challenge society (on my reading, Pastor Burns’s benediction was implicitly animated by the “Christ of Culture” model). In contrast, “Christ the Transformer of Culture” seeks to help shape society into an entity that enables God’s love to flourish for all, and is arguably the mode of social action for which Gaudium et Spes calls.

You can read the the full article here.