Andrew Sullivan has spent much of his professional life fighting for the redefinition of marriage and the marginalization of the Christian faith that forbids it. Now he’s having second thoughts.
Reflecting on the collapse of Christianity in America, Sullivan observes that the liberal social order “has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar.” Sullivan adds that that in recent years our politics has gotten nastier as people have transferred the focus of their innate search for meaning from God and salvation to Caesar and what is known as “progress.”
So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.
Sullivan points to “the cult of Trump” on the right and the social-justice “Great Awokening” on the left as evidence of his thesis. Regarding the latter, Sullivan says, “A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.”
Regarding the former, he says, evangelical leaders “have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal.” He adds, “And because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion.”
Sullivan is a man of the left, a longtime advocate of “marriage” between homosexuals. Responding to his article, Samuel James trenchantly points out that Sullivan played a role in undermining the transcendent faith that he now says the West needs.
Sullivan yearns for a Christianity that supplies meaning and destiny, even as he’s spent the better part of his public life rigorously advocating for a Christianity that reinvents itself in the image of modern gods. For years Sullivan was one of the most influential and impassioned advocates of legal same-sex marriage, and his “conservative case” for radically redefining matrimony drew extensively on his progressive Catholic sensibilities. During the George W. Bush administration Sullivan eviscerated traditional evangelicals over their stance on LGBT issues, even coining the term “Christianist” to evoke Islamic extremism when describing Christians to the right of him.
That’s all true, though pointing out Sullivan’s hypocrisy—or change of heart—does little to repair the damage.
Even now Sullivan seems not to understand that a Christianity that, as he says, is “tamed” and accommodates itself to the latest cultural fad—such as same-sex “marriage”—is no Christianity at all. True Christianity confronts as much as it comforts. Christianity must transcend and critique our politics, not be their handmaiden. Christianity must be “untamed” if there is to be any hope for the West.
A domesticated faith that lines up with our postmodern preferences can never provide what sinful men and women really need. When asked whether Aslan was “safe,” Mr. Beaver answered quite rightly, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Jesus Christ, for all the undeniable benefits that His followers have bestowed upon the world, didn’t come to build a liberal social order, as wonderful as that is. He came to inaugurate an everlasting kingdom.
That’s what Christmas is all about. The angels told the lowly shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Yes, Christ—or Messiah, anointed one—is Savior, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. But He is also Lord—the good, and decidedly unsafe, King. As such, He demands (and deserves) our loving and obedient worship. This the wise men from the east gladly offered.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10
What about Andrew Sullivan? And what about you and me? Will we, like the shepherds and the magi, bend the knee to the Christ Child, the King who is born Savior and Lord? It our a duty, of course, but it is also a joyous invitation, which promises not only to redeem a society that is turned in on itself, but to fill up our empty souls.
Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is an editor at large for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us.