“Tom” is a lifelong member of our church. He is regular in his worship attendance. He attends a Bible study during the week. He frequently participates in serving opportunities. And yet, he lives each day not with the sure and certain hope that God is in control, but instead under a storm cloud of dread and discouragement, informed and influenced by talk radio and cable news pundits. He says his prayer life does not bring him comfort, just more anxiety.
Jason Clark’s dissertation is shaped by a personal and pastoral question. He writes, “Evangelicals like you and I are supposed to live our lives faithfully around Jesus. Everything we have; all we own, our jobs, homes and relationships, are meant to be given in service of a life lived around Christ. … (But) my research explores why that so often isn’t the case. Why do Evangelicals say that, but then live something different?”
Clark’s work is deep dive into an understanding of why this is. Exploring the history of Evangelicalism and capitalism and the ways these have been linked over the past few centuries, it is an invitation to consider how Evangelicalism could be untangled from capitalism and to understand “how and why the forces of life in capitalism often overwhelm the aspirations and beliefs of Evangelical Christians for faithful living in Christ.”
One challenge today is how Evangelicalism, especially in the United States, is enjoying a moment of immense political influence. Evangelical leaders are courted by the White House and, in many cases, serve as administration and campaign surrogates in media outlets. Evangelicals are not likely to give that power up, nor are they likely to detach from capitalist ideals, especially in light of how that would play in the political arena.
Earlier this month, at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., conservative scholar Arthur Brooks gave a keynote address to call attention what he called “A Crisis of Contempt” in US American politics today. His speech quoted Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies. It included a personal reflection in which he invited the audience to consider that one’s political opponents are neither stupid nor evil. And he reminded a room full of politicians from both sides of the aisle that arguments are not won with insults, but with respect and love.
Brooks’ speech concluded with a hopeful statement about marking the day, February 6, 2020, as the day when the national healing would begin. Despite his carefully crafted words at an event intended to be bi-partisan and prayerful, delivered to an audience of leaders who profess to be people of faith, Brooks’ desired national healing would have to wait.
President Trump had arrived at the breakfast spoiling for a fight and anxious to go on the offensive in light of the Senate’s vote to acquit him of impeachment charges just the day before. He spoke suspiciously about the faith of political opponents and made broad assumptions that most of the people in the room would agree with him.
Here is where we see an example of how deeply entangled Evangelicalism and politics and the forces of capitalism have become as President Trump enjoys broad support among white evangelicals. He can stand before a large group at a National Prayer Breakfast, look them in the eye, and tell them plainly that he does not think he agrees with the idea of loving one’s enemies. Jim Wallis, a champion for Christian social justice noted the disconnect by saying, “Trump’s white evangelical supporters … are willing to trade off and even sell out Jesus for the reward of getting judges they like in the Supreme Court.”
Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress defended President Trump’s remarks saying, “I think the president was completely right in what he said. It’s not politically correct, but he didn’t get to be president by being politically correct.” Jeffress, a leading voice of Evangelical support for the president had cemented his support of candidate Trump in 2016 saying, “I want the meanest, toughest SOB I can find to protect this nation. And so that’s why Trump’s tone doesn’t bother me.”
And so it should not be a surprise that the Church, formed on the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus Christ and launched into the world through the power of God’s Holy Spirit has created a means to allow people to separate their “faith life” from their work, political affiliations, social obligations, even cultural heritage. Church (and religious engagement) is just another “thing” that claims some percentage of a person’s time, resources, and attention, and exists independently of everything else. And while Christians may talk a good game about living for Jesus, being “all-in” for the sake of their faith, living sacrificially, and giving all in service to God, this is not the case.
So what can the Church do? Clark’s earlier work had asked if there were “disciplines of religion and of capitalist market as para-religious activities that are in competition with the disciplines and beliefs of Christianity?” Certainly there are. Clark does not try to put the genie back in the bottle, but he does propose that the same Evangelicalism that found itself capitulating to the forces of capitalism, and the subsequent results of consumerism and commodification that have emerged in the modern Church, also possesses the capacity to resist it.
The answers could be closer than we realize. “Despite the problems it has caused, Evangelicalism contains within itself an affective theological anthropology that is the antidote to the deforming forces of life in capitalism.” Could an intentional return to the ancient spiritual practices of faith communities remedy the economic (and also political?) entanglements that have created an Evangelicalism that seems much more aligned with the ways of this world than the teachings of Jesus? Clark writes, “the possibilities and practice of re-narration are deeply engrained in our worship liturgies, be they singing, coffee, doughnuts, ministry to the poor, praying for the sick, or ‘healing on the streets.’”
Prayer is also one of those practices that has the power to call us back to the way of Jesus Christ. Though the Church probably should not wait for the president to lead it.
 Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (PhD diss, Middlesex University, 2018,) 252-3.
 Clark, 250.
 Arthur Brooks, “America’s Crisis of Contempt: What I Said in My Address to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday,” Washington Post, February 7, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/07/arthur-brooks-national-prayer-breakfast-speech/?arc404=true.
 David Crary, “Trump’s Prayer Breakfast Jibes Jolt Many Faith Leaders,” ABC News, February 6, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/trumps-prayer-breakfast-jibes-jolt-faith-leaders-68807388.
 Peter Wehner, “There Is No Christian Case for Trump,” The Atlantic, January 30, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/there-no-christian-case-trump/605785/.
 Jason Clark, “The Double Movement of Evangelicalism: The need for a reparative account of Evangelicalism and late-capitalist markets,” Academia, June 28, 2011. https://www.academia.edu/751885/Evangelicalism_and_Late_Capitalist_Markets?email_work_card=title.
 Jason Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism,” 243-244.
 Clark, 248.