America’s Christian conservatives ponder a ‘Babylonian exile’ (ANALYSIS)

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From an article in RNS News: “From the moment they set foot on North American soil, the Puritans who came to the continent viewed their “errand into the wilderness” through a biblical lens, seeing themselves as modern-day Israelites building a New Jerusalem in the New World.

But today, the culture war descendants of those Puritans are feeling increasingly alienated and even persecuted in the society they once claimed as their own. They’re shifting to another favorite image from Scripture — that of the Babylonian exile, preparing, as the ancient Judeans did, to preserve their faith in a hostile world.

“We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs,” Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, wrote in the latest edition of the conservative journal First Things.

Rampant secularism and widespread acceptance of sexual mores once deemed taboo, Trueman said, mean that “the Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.”

Trueman was so convinced of that reality that he didn’t argue whether internal exile was an option. Instead, he wondered which form of Christianity was best equipped to survive this inevitable relocation.

His answer, perhaps not surprisingly, was that his own Reformed Protestantism was superior. That prompted a number of well-known Christian commentators to weigh in and champion their particular denomination.

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative argued that his own Eastern Orthodox tradition was best suited to survive the “internal exile.” That, in turn, prompted a post by Baylor University humanities professor (and Anglican) Alan Jacobs, who also dinged Trueman for encouraging sectarian “braggadocio.” Jacobs and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (a convert to Catholicism) then went back and forth on Twitter, and so it continued.

Leaving aside the confessional competition, the very premise of the exile narrative might be surprising to those who see Christian conservatives as driving, not leaving, the nation’s political dynamics.

For liberals, the religious right is pushing the U.S. back to a cultural and religious Dark Age. For conservatives, on the other hand, the religious right holds the promise of restoring American society to a Golden Age that has been tarnished by years of mainly Democratic malfeasance.

But there is another strain of culturally conservative Christianity that views the political path to renewal as putting, as the psalm says, too much trust in princes. In fact, Christians in that tradition see (and many political scientists agree) that the electoral and cultural trends on issues like gay marriage are moving inexorably against their values. And they don’t put much faith in the Republican Party to save them.

Hence the comparisons of American Christians today to ancient Israelites who were sent into exile in the sixth century B.C. by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, after his armies sacked Jerusalem. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion,” the psalmist records.”

Read the full report on RNS News

Royce Christyn
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