WHEN I was on Christmas break from college in 1980, I wrote a letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper, The Tri-City Herald. It was published soon after I began to embrace Christianity, a gradual rather than a dramatic process that didn’t come all that easily.
The letter was a response to a man who had written that Christians were obligated to support a long list of conservative policies. (This was in the immediate aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s election and the rise of the religious right.) “Mr. Mays appears to believe that Christianity and his personal views are synonymous,” I wrote. “Conceivably, they are not. Christianity does not identify with a political ideology or party.”
I was politically conservative at the time, and believed that my religious faith, carefully understood, should inform my politics. Yet I was also troubled by what I believed was the subordination of Christianity to partisan ideology — the ease with which people took something sacred and turned it into a blunt political weapon. It was only years later that I learned that one of the seminal intellectual figures in my journey toward faith, C. S. Lewis, shared a similar approach and concern.
In 1951, Lewis — the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Oxford don, medievalist, lecturer on philosophy and the leading Christian apologist in the 20th century — declined an offer from Winston Churchill to recommend him for an honorary Commander of the British Empire. “There are always knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance on the Honours List wd. of course strengthen their hands,” Lewis replied. He would not allow vanity and misplaced political ambitions to discredit his public witness.
As this dispiriting election year has shown, there are many politically prominent Christians today who should think and act more like Lewis.