The resignation of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson as president and board member of the Christian Coalition pulls the plug on a comatose religious-political body that effectively died more than a decade ago.
The meltdown marks the second time in a century (the first being Prohibition) when an attempted marriage between church and state failed both institutions.
Religious politics failed the church because believers were told they could improve the morals of a nation through legislation and politics. It failed the state because time that might have been spent preaching a gospel of redemption -- that would have had the collateral benefit of elevating culture -- was wasted in a futile attempt to reform the unconverted.
It wasn't that the so-called "Religious Right's" diagnosis of societal decline was wrong. The voices and beliefs of conservative Christians are urgently needed in a nation fixated on pleasure and making money. Sept. 11 changed some attitudes and priorities, but absent a changed heart, most people will revert to their old selves when security and prosperity return.
Some leaders of the religious-politico movement say things would have been worse without the (mostly Republican) political activism of conservative Christians. But the counter-argument might be even truer: Things might have been better if, instead of sending money to the national headquarters of religious leaders and pledging allegiance to their preferred politicians, conservative Christians had been busy feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for widows and orphans and -- most notably absent from the movement -- loving their enemies.
The decline of the Christian Coalition and other religious-political groups does not mean that people who worship an authority higher than the state should return to the political catacombs. They should vote intelligently, take an active role in the party of their choice, even run for office. Robertson and others have done a good job awakening Christians to their civic opportunities and privileges. But Christians should realize that while political power is limited, and often disappoints, the power of God is unlimited and ultimately pleases the one who taps into it.
In re-directing their energies, conservative Christians would do well to re-read the Bible and stop relying on the "spin" others put on it for their own temporal purposes. There is no biblical mandate, or expectation, for reforming the world through government. Government can, and usually does, reflect the moral attitudes of its people. However, government cannot heal broken marriages (the primary cause of most social ills), nor can it force parents to invest the time necessary to properly rear a child. These things are personal, not political.
There never has been a "coalition" of Christians, because Christians don't agree on all things, especially politics. Neither was there ever a majority of Americans who were "moral" ("All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," writes Paul in Romans 3:23).
Where should the legions of people go who are disappointed, even disenchanted, with politics' inability to redeem the country from its collective sins?
In our 1999 book, "Blinded By Might," Dr. Edward Dobson and I quote former Sen. Sam Nunn. D-Ga.: "The human inclination to seek political solutions for problems of the heart is nothing new. It is natural. Two thousand years ago, another society found itself in deeper trouble than our own. An oppressive empire strangled liberties. Violence and corruption were pervasive. Many of the people of the day hoped for the triumphant coming of a political savior, a long-expected king to establish a new, righteous government. Instead, God sent his Son, a baby, born in a stable. Jesus grew up to become a peasant carpenter in a backwater town called Nazareth. He condemned sin but made it clear that he loved the sinner. He befriended beggars, prostitutes and even tax collectors while condemning the hypocrisy of those in power. He treated every individual with love and dignity and taught that we should do the same. He also put the role of government in proper perspective when he said, 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.'"
The time is ripe for conservative Christians to spend less time trying to influence Caesar, to consider what it means to render unto God, and to start rendering.