The beginning of another national election season has provoked increasing comment on our polarized country. The rhetoric between the Left and Right has become alarmingly aggressive over the last several decades, fueled by media outlets eager to retain viewers and attract listeners.
It’s common for evangelicals to turn to biblical rhetoric of spiritual warfare to express anxiety about a culture that seems out of control. During a recent election, I visited a friend’s church. At the end of the service a leader strode to the pulpit and intoned solemnly that we were involved in a spiritual battle for the soul of America. The announcement invited loud “amens.” To engage that battle, he had set up a table in the back with a petition to include a measure supporting traditional marriage on the upcoming ballot.
Such rhetoric frightens the opposite end of the political spectrum with visions of militant Christians calling for a theocracy. A recent report on NPR noted the resurgence of “spiritual warfare” language among evangelicals eager to reclaim culture from demonic influence. Sin, corruption, and poverty are ultimately caused by “a hierarchy of demons under the authority of Satan.” Certain evangelicals “will go into a geographic region or a people group and conduct spiritual-warfare activities in order to remove the demons from the entire population.”
The article’s author does note that this ideology belongs to a fringe group of evangelicals (see this response in the L.A. Times). Relatively few evangelicals believe that overt tactics of spiritual warfare are appropriate for a national election. Many, however, resonate with the rhetoric of spiritual warfare because our conflicted national climate seems to involve a spiritual dimension. We have the sense that larger dynamics are out of control and are perhaps subject to the manipulation of darker forces.
Is it appropriate to speak of spiritual warfare in relation to national politics?