Matthew Lee Anderson over at Mere Orthodoxy notes something important about the nature of Protestants — particularly evangelical protestant, but not not exclusively — and their relationship with the state and politics:
For the past thirty years, evangelicals have sowed an anti-political wind, and now in 2016 they are reaping the Trump whirlwind. Having stoked the affections of alienation and disenfranchisement, evangelical leaders have this cycle scrambled to prevent the laity from voting on them. But those political passions have deep roots, which is why popular evangelical support for Trump has not (yet) diminished. In 2010, James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World argued that the Religious Right’s political approach has been shaped by a Nietzschean will to power, which aims to enforce its will through “legal and political means or to threaten to do so,” rather than persuading others or negotiating compromises. This interdependence between the evangelical world and the government has a long history in American life: From Prohibition to the Comstock Laws, evangelicals have been particularly keen to pursue legal remedies for moral problems. Paradoxically, then, while evangelical Protestants have made much in recent years about maintaining a sphere of life beyond the reach of the state (the family, the church, and so on), they themselves have been an instrumental part of the politicization of everything.
This is particularly evident in how Protestant churches approach marriage.
On marriage, the recent source of so much consternation within the evangelical world, the problem of how the church and state interact is particularly acute. As University of Chicago legal theorist Mary Anne Case has observed, evangelical Protestants are uniquely dependent upon the State for their marital practices. As they do not have their own formal divorce or annulment proceedings and courts, evangelicals have outsourced such statuses to the states. Such intimate integration of the church and state, Case argues, has a historical lineage: The Puritans themselves viewed marriage as a political contract, rather than a sacrament, to the extent that in some cases preachers were not present so as to not confuse the church and the state.
Protestants have no proper theology of marriage that does not involve the civil magistrate. “[W]eddings and the married estate are worldly affairs, [so] it behooves those of us who are ‘spirituals’ or ministers of the church in no way to order or direct anything regarding marriage, but instead allow every city and land to continue their own customs that are now in use,” wrote Martin Luther in his Marriage Booklet for Simple Pastors (1529), with an exchange of vows in front of (and not in) the church. Because of this, the Protestant understanding of marriage as solely a civil and worldly affair (though one ordained by God and one which men and women should take very seriously), demands that the church and the state sing in close harmony from the same hymnal, so to speak.
Anderson also notes what happens when this arrangement goes awry:
This narrow identification between the religious community and the political order, however, has generated a strong sense of grievances at the shifts in political opinion, grievances that the Roman Catholic community and Black Protestant churches do not feel as acutely given their long history as outsiders. As Case writes, for evangelicals, marriage law “could be put in service of sectarian ends by groups that substituted capture of the state institution for development of their own clearly religious alternatives.” When those institutions were lost (as the public schools were in the 1960s), an acute but understandable sense of oppression gripped the evangelical political life. Hunter’s analysis concurs, identifying ressentiment as the corollary of the political will to power. For evangelicals,“injury—real or perceived—leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on whom they see as responsible.”
Protestants need what Catholics and Orthodox already have — a theology of marriage that pays no heed to the civil order. That can pronounce a “marriage” absent any legal declaration that a marriage exists. Lutheranism, the confession to which I still rather begrudgingly belong, has the tools to do this if Lutherans so chose. Philip Melanchthon, in his systematic theology Loci Communes, came close to pronouncing marriage a sacrament. And this would have helped Protestants think more clearly on the subject. Protestants treat marriage as if it were a sacrament (“it has God’s word on its side,” Luther wrote), but do so largely for sentimental, and not solidly theological, reasons.
(Though to be fair, you can find a lot of tawdry sentimentality about marriage among conservative Catholics as well.)
One of the reasons I am not convinced much of Protestantism will survive its encounter with Modernity is that Protestantism identifies too closely with the means and ends of the nation-state and with liberalism, the governing ethos of the nation-state. (Even the illiberal nation-state.) Protestants seem unable of conceiving of a social order in which they are not active, meaningful, and even powerful participants. In doing this, Protestants have surrendered any understanding of church that is separate from nation and state (this led 19th and 20th century Protestant theologians to focus exclusively on society and state as God’s agents in history, relegating the church to mere social club in mass democratic society, a meaningless relic from a bygone age in which divine agency in history passed to those more powerful than the church), and even as they herald a separation of church and state (at least from the standpoint of governance), they still need the state in ways Catholics and Orthodox don’t — because the churches of Rome and Constantinople created their own governing institutions (to either rule, as Rome did, or to survive conquest, as the Orthodox did). And Protestants fight for the state, for their influence and control.
Because they are theologically lost without it.