On minority Christianity

David Bentley Hart wonders if the loss of political power could be a good thing for the church.



David Bentley Hart wonders if the loss of political power could be a good thing for the church.


All in all, the loss of political power, and even to some degree the loss of general cultural sway, is a good thing for Christian life – for the church and the churches. It’s a delicate balance one has to strike here. One can lament Christendom, and I think validly, for all it did to corrupt and compromise Christian principles. One can praise it for all it did to humanise and deepen the moral expectations of Western peoples and peoples around the world. But if one does either exclusively, one of course distorts the story in a dangerous way. 

But at the end of the story of Christendom, now with Christendom in eclipse, it’s potentially a golden age for a smaller but more genuinely principled, committed Christian community – Christian minority, ultimately, perhaps. It’s not a minority here in the States yet but … well, I question just how Christian American Christianity is, but that’s … but it is the case that the earliest Christians understood themselves as having here no enduring city. Christ suffered outside the gates, and this is more than just a symbolic thing. Paul in Romans advised Christians to be obedient to secular – to state authority, at least to the degree that it was just, but had no expectation that Christians would ever wield such authority, assumed they were always going to be politically and socially a weak faction who had a message that was best promoted and best preserved and best lived out in weakness. 

So to me, even when I’m at my most cynical regarding the moral resources of modernity and what I sometimes take to be its kind of fatuous complacencies, at the end of the day I am quite happy that the throne-and-altar accommodation was shattered, and that the church does not wield that kind of power. And as a result, has the opportunity to reclaim its Christian essence rather than its mission for Christendom.