The backlash was so intense that I remember telling my wife that it was easier being a Republican Christian in Cambridge, Massachusetts than being an independent Christian in Columbia, Tennessee. In my entire life, I had not experienced direct and personal hatred and intolerance like I experienced from other Christians, including Christians who’d known me for decades.

It stung. It still stings.

What’s the cultural effect of a very, very Republican Christianity? It’s way too simple to say that it impairs the ability of Christians to reach their friends and neighbors. In some places it enhances the church’s appeal and integrates Christians within their community. In other places it creates a host of challenges and needlessly alienates Christians from their fellow citizens.

It does something else also—something I didn’t see until I was outside of my own tribe. It helps create the illusion that believers can in fact knit and wear a comfortable cultural garment on this earth. It fosters the belief that tightly knitting together religious faith and secular power can create, protect, and sustain a thriving community of believers.