Evangelicals' witness suffers due to political maneuvering
By Jason Hines, PhD, JD
As a church-state scholar, I am a fan of Roger Williams. While Thomas Jefferson popularized the concept of the separation of church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, Roger Williams is the first American colonial figure to advocate for the practice. Williams originally settled in Massachusetts in 1630 but was banished in the winter of 1635-36 because he disagreed with the principle of creating a Christian colony. He traveled south and eventually founded Rhode Island.
Williams described the church as a “garden” and the world as the “wilderness” and warned of intermingling the two. In 1644 he wrote, “when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world… God has ever broke down the wall … and made his Garden a Wilderness.” What has always struck be about this statement is that Williams was not concerned about the effect of religion on politics, as we often seem to be in our modern context. Instead, Williams wanted the separation of church and state because he believed that intermingling the two would have a corrupting effect on religion. After the events of the past week or so, both in our country and in my church, I tend to agree with Williams.
The issue in our politics is clear to see and became even clearer with the release of audio and video of Donald Trump admitting to attempting to seduce a married woman and making other disparaging comments about women. About two months ago, Jonathan Merritt wrote a piece for The Atlantic in which he argued that Evangelical Christians needed to apologize to Bill Clinton for their attacks in the 1990s, based on their support for Trump today. So it isn’t like we didn’t know who Trump was.
Last week's video bombshell just drove the point home in his own voice. Despite this fact, the silence about or outright dismissal of Trump’s sins by Evangelical leaders has been astounding. I want to feign shock, but I am not surprised. For almost 40 years Evangelical Christians, under the guise of the Religious Right, have courted political power specifically through the Republican Party. As a political group, they have accomplished little of what they desired. Instead, their witness for the cause of Christ suffers because of their political maneuvering, which often comes across as a naked power grab. Christ’s kingdom is a supposed to be a kingdom not of this world, based on freedom and the love of a self-sacrificing God. The culture warriors of the Religious Right, on the other hand, depict God as a cold unfeeling tyrant, hell-bent on forcing everyone to bow to His law through the discipline of the statutory power. The wilderness has corrupted the garden, and it was the gardeners who tore down the wall.
 I’m surprised I found a way to respectfully describe that video. It is quite possibly the most disgusting thing ever to happen in the midst of a presidential campaign. I don’t even think it’s fully sunk into me that I just heard a candidate for President of the United States admit to sexual assault. And I cannot even begin to express my sorrow for the women who know this as a real experience as opposed to my tangential horror.
The complete article including the author's application of these principles to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is available at TheHineSight.
Jason Hines, Ph.D., J.D., is a professor in the Health Science Department at Adventist University of Health Sciences, Orlando, Florida. He is an associate editor at ReligiousLiberty.TV and also blogs at TheHineSight.