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Remember when you could go to Chick-fil-a or Burger King without feeling like you were making a political point?

Or when you could buy a few things from Walmart, stop in at Whole Foods, and check out the sales at Target without wondering how either your support or boycott would affect public policy?

Or when you could watch an award show on TV or a sports event without hearing political speeches or seeing protests?

A couple weeks ago, I nearly tore my hair out when the news broke that Chili's had an affiliate who wanted to help diners donate a portion of their meal's proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Chili's is where my family eats most often. (Yes, Chili's--to the jeering of my foodie friends who like to mock!) Thankfully, within just a day or two, Chili's issued a statement to assure their patrons that the restaurant was not supporting Planned Parenthood and that donations to the abortion giant would not be taking place.

But the news made me tired. For a moment, I thought, Will I no longer be able to enjoy a meal on Sunday afternoon with my family at Chili's without thinking of the politics of abortion?

These days, the political realm has begun to infringe upon every other aspect of our common life together: sports, religion, retail, and art. We should resist this development, because this infringement flattens our ability to love our neighbors.

Two Developments

What's going on? We're witnessing a convergence of two developments.

Development #1: Consumerism as a Religion

The first development is the lifting up of our consumer choices to the level of religion.

In American society, we are more and more inclined to define ourselves by what and how we consume. We no longer buy things to meet our needs, but to become something, or to express who we are.

"Brands are the new religion," says Douglas Atkin, writing about customer loyalty. People express their own identities through what they buy.

With an endless sea of choices, Skye Jethani says, "individuality is the new conformity." Choice is a powerful factor in a consumer society, because more choices provide more ways for consumers to demonstrate their uniqueness.

Development #2: Politics as Religion

The second development is the lifting up of our political views to the level of religion.

In American society, we are more likely to see political views as non-negotiable aspects of our true selves. This is why recent research shows families having a harder time with a son or daughter who wants to marry someone from an opposing political party than from a different religion!

In a secular age, people expect faith to stay at the margins of public life. It's something private, something you can turn to for therapy but not for policy.

But something will take the place of religion as the ultimate loyalty. If not God, then government. If not religion, then politics. If not evangelism, then political activism.

I write about this development in This Is Our Time, because it is one of the most important things to note about our era. Columnist Peggy Noonan gets it right:

For more and more Americans, politics has become a religion. People find their meaning in it. They define themselves by their stands. . . . When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.

Frightening Convergence

Put those two developments together: (1) the idea that your consumer choices express your identity and (2) the idea that your political views are the essence of who you are. What happens next?

Everything gets politicized.

More and more people invest their shopping or entertainment with political significance. Political evangelists believe they are helping their cause by sticking with this brand instead of that one, by boycotting this designer or that retailer because they associate with heretics (like Ivanka Trump, for example).

People then look for ways to assert their political righteousness or press for their cause everywhere they can. You signal your virtue by your stances on social media. You show that you belong to the right church (ahem, party) by how you align with the celebrity, or the athlete, or the retailer who affirms your position. You signal your outrage by your boycott of the heretic.

Gospel's Effect

The gospel challenges this convergence. The announcement that a crucified Messiah is the king of the world must lift our eyes and our allegiance to something more ultimate than a policy proposal or a political party. The gospel, of course, has political implications, but it demotes "the political realm" to a lower place.

The gospel also demands that we see in others--even our political opponents--the image of God that dignifies all humanity. Understanding the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin and selfishness should engender a sense of humility in how we engage the world around us.

There's no question that Christians have often been involved in helping create the two developments we now see converging. We recognize that our choices always have a moral dimension to them. Retail support or boycotts, protests and shows of support are appropriate from time to time.

But surely we must resist the tendency to flatten out the various spheres of life (retail, art, sports, and so on) by subjecting them all to political urgency. Politics is one sphere of life, not the ultimate.

"Not every wave of political enthusiasm deserves the attention of the church," says British scholar Oliver O'Donovan:

The worship that the principalities and powers seek to exact from mankind is a kind of feverish excitement. The first business of the church is to refuse them that worship. There are many times . . . when the most pointed political criticism imaginable is to talk about something else.

In a world that is increasingly polarized and politicized, we have an opportunity to show by our attitudes and actions a different way. If we, as Christians, don't show the world that there is something bigger and more important than politics, who will?

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7 thoughts on “Do We Really Have to Politicize Everything?”

  1. Hospes says:

    Good article.

    It seems to me politics has become a religion because we have made the state our god. We have looked to our governments to solve every difficulty of life and those in the government have done what they can to oblige our expectations. To some degree, everything is politicized because we have made our government ubiquitous in every area of our lives.

  2. Anthony Gargani says:

    Trevin, I only wish the situation were as simple as you and many others today are making it out to be… The idea that we can all “just focus on the Gospel” and let all this secondary stuff “go” doesn’t work anymore-not in our current situation anyway.

    There may have been a time when identifying “Republican” meant you stood for business or identifying “Democrat” meant you were for the little guy, but those days are long gone. We are well beyond a shared morality, a shared world view, where our political disagreements were relatively petty and easy to overlook.

    Today what I and many others see is no less than a clear-cut struggle of Light vs Darkness. A spiritual battle is being played out before our eyes and the sides are clearly drawn and obvious. Just as obvious as seeing the we are “saved by grace through faith” we see evil manifested in the majority on one “side” and good manifested in the majority of the other “side”. The opponents are not clearly marked as Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, populist or progressive. But rather they are marked by life vs. death, and good vs. evil.

    I, for one, cannot and will not lay aside my convictions for the sake of “unity” among brethren who are not in agreement on issues that, for me, are clearly defined as good and evil. I will not break bread nor fellowship with someone who is too blind to see that Planned Parenthood is a tool of Satan or that the policies of the globalists are destroying all that is “good” in this Nation and the world and putting millions of people in harms way. I believe there is a “strong delusion” upon this Nation and the world causing otherwise intelligent individuals to embrace absolutely insane policies and practices that 50 years ago would have been properly labeled as treasonous and worse.

    To think that these “differences” can simply be laid aside is naive and dangerous. I am convinced that a strong “America first” policy is actually more beneficial for more people world wide than many in the church realize. It seems to be in vogue to dismiss the Lord’s use of the United States to further the Gospel through missionary work and to impart good throughout the world with practical and much needed relief-medial supplies, food, money, and the blood of American men and women. I stand against this tide that would equate love of country with “idolatry” and is overtly working even through the church to stand in the path of the current administration as they contend with the forces of evil that have come up against them to bring order out of chaos in our Nation.

    No, I am not so naive as to “bless” every action of our Nation, and sadly, over the last thirty years we have much to be ashamed of that was committed in our name by globalist-leaning politicians. We have exported evil and caused great harm. But-there is hope. Hope of revival, and hope in those things which did indeed at one time “make America great”.

    Everything has always been “politicized” hasn’t it? I first heard the concept of “there is no sacred and secular” for the Christian it is ALL “sacred” through Reformed sources. As far as I can tell this hasn’t changed…


    Anthony G.

    1. Scott Hoffman says:

      Thank you! I don’t have to write a reply now! You nailed it.

      I wish the world was not as it is, but it is. A Cold Civil War is at hand!

    2. jmj says:

      It saddens me that everything is black and white and you’ve drawn a line in the sand to not break bread with whom you disagree.

      As a born-again, Bible believing evangelical (sad also how I have to qualify this…), I too agree that abortion is bad, and wrong and evil, but understanding why another would disagree will help in eliminating such evils. And that understanding cannot happen when we shelter ourselves with only those we agree and find likemindedness.

  3. Cédric says:

    “Will I no longer be able to enjoy a meal on Sunday afternoon with my family at Chili’s without thinking of the politics of abortion?”

    Oh the irony. Yes, me too I’m tired of being lectured about the (one-sided, right-wing) POLITICS of abortion here:

    This is the top 3 results of “single issue” on the search box of the Gospel Coalition (Results 1 – 10 of about 1420):

    1) Why I’m a Single-Issue Voter: The single issue that should determine how Christians vote.

    2) When Christians Should Be Single-Issue Voters: There is one issue above all others that should determine how Christians vote.

    3) Why I’m a Single Issue Voter: What is the most essential principle of a liberal democracy? What concept is so foundational to Western culture that is must be protected at all cost?

    How about a bit of self-reflection, instead of blaming Chili’s?

  4. Scott Hoffman says:

    Cédric, once you see abortion as killing “The Image of God”, it’s kinda hard not to.

    Years of counseling women, couples, etc… about their abortions and guilty, might change your mind. Having my first child, sealed my perspective for me along with Scripture. IMHO

  5. Philmonomer says:

    It saddens me we no longer eat at Chick-Fil-A. It was one of the few places the kids would eat.

    At the same time, I totally support the decision to not eat there. Why should my money (even just a tiny, tiny fraction) go to support things I fundamentally and profoundly disagree with?

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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