I continue my series , now in six parts, on the recent federal election. I believe the election, and the exit polling results, reveals our current spiritual state quite starkly. I thus begin by making a suggestion that will likely offend some who do not grasp the nature of what I am really saying in this series of blogs.
Stop Worrying About the Decline of America
For fifty years I have heard wave after wave of preachers and politicians talk about the decline of America. Each election has become a referendum on whether we had a future or not. Again, we are a nation deeply in love with the idea of “the city set on a hill.” We believe we have a unique and special place in God’s plan. We promote this theory as if we have obvious biblical support for it. In one pre-election interview I saw Sarah Palin interviewed about this point. She spoke about us having enjoyed a “most favored nation” status because of our Christian values. She then recited 2 Chronicles 7:14. Besides misquoting she had no earthly idea what the biblical-theological context of the passage was all about. She mixed politics and prayer into a deadly idea that this election was about recovering our past so we would enjoy God’s favor in the future.
Whatever you think about America’s past, and I am a historian who enjoys discussing the highs and lows of that past, we were never a theocracy, for which I am profoundly grateful. We are not the “new Israel” following the prescriptions and receiving the promises given to ancient Israel before the coming of the messiah. It is past time that this mythology be shelved inside the church. It is also past time for us to put aside blatant references to our flag and the Bible by putting them side-by-side in the places where we gather to worship God. Patriotism, or love of one’s country, is a good thing. But patriotism mixed with the Christian faith is both confusing and dangerous. Going forward, in the new America, it will prove to be harmful to our message to most non-Christians under 40.
Begin to Practice the New Way to Live
Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, gave a response to the election to Christianity Today on November 7. His words reflect my vision.
While symbols can be important, [Christians] have focused perhaps too much on them instead of the underlying reality they reflect. Instead, we need to go back to the basics of living as disciples of Christ, living missionally for Christ and demonstrating the Gospel in tangible ways within our schools, workplaces and communities. . . . Christians can stop worrying about the symbols of the decline of Christian America and get back to the mission Jesus gave us to show the world a different way to live–a way that demonstrates the great character of God: his love, his justice, his compassion, his forgiveness and his reconciliation.
A very conservative Christian writer suggested that the real problem was the way Republican leaders “shift” on the issue of abortion and the lack of confidence people have in their not having “a strong sense of conviction.” I expect the post-election analysis of many conservative Christians will reflect this viewpoint. If only more “true” conservative and “consistent” people had run for office, and made their position clear, then the results would have been different. If you believe this then I am persuaded you have paid no attention to the changing landscape of the United States.
“We Are Not in Kansas Anymore!”
To quote a famous line from a popular movie of yesteryear, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” There is no way to go back. Christians in America need to think big picture and that big picture begins right in our neighborhoods. Let me illustrate very simply.
Someone recently shared an idea with me called “the zip code next door” syndrome. By this they asked me who lived in the zip code adjacent to my own. The answer is Hindu and Muslim immigrants. Even in my still rather stable, predominantly white neighborhood I was visibly stunned while I sat in a chair at my polling place waiting to use an electronic voting machine. As my eyes scanned the room with 75 or more people I saw diversity, rich diversity. There were so many people not like me. I offered a prayer: “Lord, please give me eyes to see who my neighbors really are and then lead me to stop being so passive about what is going on around me. Help me to pray (personal intercession) for them, to care (personally not just broadly) for them and then to share (my life, my love and the good news) with them.” This is my mission if I love my neighbors. This is the great opportunity in the new America. Will churches and Christian leaders light a candle and seize this moment or continue to curse the darkness? The decision is up to each of us.