A New Vision for Virtue in Public Things

Despite a surge of political interest in Protestant intellectual life, there is still a fundamental misunderstanding about how to bring Christian influence to bear on politics. For those Christians who are interested in transforming society, the main stock notion seems to be a deluge of “thinkpieces” critiquing our sinful culture. There is currently a flood of websites and articles explaining the downgrade of modern America. Such articles are necessary, fine and dandy, even, since Christians need to learn to think Christianly about all of life. The problem is that the entirety of political engagement for Christians has become nothing but voting and reading articles about how politics is corrupt. What has this created? A bunch of intelligent Christians doomed to the dismal drudge of perpetual complaining within a fundamentally passive role.

There is the mistaken notion that complaining about how society has turned looney will somehow fix it. Christians have narrowed their course into the well-worn path that leads to the echo chamber of grumbling. The problem is that it’s a path to nowhere: no change, no Christian influence, no sanctifying the civitas. Yes, pastors must preach the Word of God. Yes, the church must administer the sacraments. Yes, ministers must disciple congregants. But reform that doesn’t eventually burst into law and institutions will remain merely a private affair. Some orthodoxy or other will prevail over our politicians. It doesn’t honor the Lord when the church willingly becomes the Groom of the Stole to godless and wicked authorities who demand our obedience.

We need a new vision for the church to influence politics, a vision that can startle the faithful into a solid imagination of political clout. There will always be aspiring Christian authors writing thinkpieces in search of a book deal. They can write their articles and we can read them. But what if the next group of smart and talented Christians blazed a different path? What if the Lord assembled the right cluster of panurgic people with work ethic, talent, and patience, absent an ego while seizing a shared vision? It starts with several motivated and gifted individuals who are willing to build and collaborate.

What are they building? What is the new vision? It starts with remembering that all culture-making is local. If politicians cannot be watched locally, they cannot be watched at all. We live in North Alabama, where is found the city of Huntsville. There is a mayor and a city council. There are meetings and hearings, votes and decisions, all of which affect all of us. What happened at the recent city council meeting? What do you know about the local officials you voted for in the most recent election? During election season, why does one commissioner have more signs than another? Where did he get the money to buy 10x more signs than his opponent?

There is currently no good source of information about Huntsville politics. There is no good way to examine the record of local politicians running for reelection. What if a team of committed Christians became the source of that information? They attend city council meetings (in person or virtually), take notes, organize the information, and disclose it. They track all the votes of city council members and catalog them so their real record can be easily examined. Word starts to spread that if you want the low-down on city politics, you go to this website.

If the Lord can send watchers down from heaven (Dan. 4: 13, 17, 23), why can’t he send watchers from the church to city hall? Respect is not gained through the honors of high office, but through providing useful and organized information. Imagine a website that helpfully documents what that name on a campaign sign actually says at meetings. Imagine a website that becomes the go-to place for information about Huntsville politics. Imagine, then, that this website starts writing editorials that subtly guide the conversation. Imagine during the voting season they make a reliable voter guide for Christians based on the accumulated information.[1] Imagine the website has enough influence that local candidates need their endorsement and mayoral candidates wouldn’t refuse an interview request.

The vision is to create an organization that becomes the central hub for information for local citizens, especially Christians. This means, first, watching, learning, and chronicling. Then it means addressing policies and practices, building key alliances, writing with intelligence, engaging with charity, and speaking with informed conviction and rhetorical artfulness.

The goal is to influence on a local, practical level, because, as Matt Carpenter has written, “The rulers of Huntsville, Alabama should honor God in the way they rule. They should act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. They should remember that Jesus Christ rules over them as king and they will give an account to Him one day for how they ruled. Because we love our city and seek its peace, the church should remind our city fathers of these things, whether they want to hear it or not. But the church as an institution does not bear the responsibility of forming and trying to implement a detailed political agenda. Trying to do so risks compromising the mission of the church and turning Scripture into a political manifesto.”[2]

Trinity Reformed Church will help get this mission off the ground by providing vision casting, organizing, funding, and recruiting. But eventually, the organization needs to stand on its own two feet as an institution separate from the church. The vision is for the long term. It might take several years of work before any meaningful influence is noticed. But this is how substantial change happens, through intentional and persevering institutional resistance. We are looking for five people who are committed to getting this vision off the ground. Five people who are good writers, sharp thinkers, joyful servants, and wise as serpents. Five assiduous people with august levity who are willing to start something small and see it grow gradually. And hopefully, five people is just the beginning of a small army of watchers, who aren’t just watching but are DOING SOMETHING more than just grumbling about politics.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Jason Cherry at office@trinityreformedkirk.com.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

[1] Unfortunately, most “Christian” voter guides are made by nameless, faceless people who have little knowledge of the local scene and are just as beholden to some special interest group as those they beckon we vote against.

[2] https://trinityreformedkirk.com/2021/09/06/theocracy-the-christian-hope/