Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, published in 2008, and Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
Mainline Protestants were once commonly renowned for their stately spiritual care for the nation. Dating back four centuries of our history, Mainliners traditionally exuded a unique sensibility regarding American democracy.
United Methodist megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton of Kansas City recaptured some of that sensibility in his Election Day commentary. He cited New England Puritan leader Jonathan Winthrop’s famous “city upon a hill” vision for the new land, which both JFK and President Reagan commonly quoted. It called America to a special lofty mission.
Hamilton noted that Jesus’ “city on a hill” primarily was aimed at The Church. But Hamilton does not dispute the soaring vision as a helpful guide for the nation. And he wisely notes:
It is difficult to build Jesus’ city upon a hill unless you’ve first dealt with the human condition – by nature we’re selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic, prideful, and often indifferent to the needs of others. Theologians speak of this as our sin nature.
There are two ways to overcome this for the common good: One is government compulsion through laws and taxation. The other is spiritual conversion and sanctification that leads to a willingness to give sacrificially and to demonstrate compassion for those less fortunate.
Unlike many Mainline Protestant utopians, Hamilton carefully distinguishes between the vocation of state and church, both of which are essential:
The Church plays a critical role in creating citizens of the state who are selfless, compassionate, and loving. And because ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, when a significant number of our citizens are followers of Jesus we would expect that our nation’s policies, too, would strive to reflect this picture of a city upon a hill.
Hamilton says he will vote for persons who advocate the common good without expecting the government to create the city on a hill, which requires “Christ-followers who will live as salt and light in the world.”
It’s fashionable in some religious circles to scoff at such basic Christian teachings about good citizenship and political realism. But Hamilton reminds us of what Mainline Protestants once assumed by consensus, to America’s and The Church’s advantage.
Here’s Hamilton’s blog.Google+