Yesterday I blogged on the post-election discussion about where America is spiritually in 2012. Where do we seem to be going as a nation? For people on the political right this is a time of outright despair. For people on the political left there is hope and joy. I find both positions lacking in perspective. One reason I say this is because elections have rarely produced the hopes and dreams of the people who were elected or who voted. Why? Such a perspective relies too heavily on the outcome of elections as the true test of what is happening in the wider culture. The true test of our character is in our people, in our communities and in our public life, not in elections or the media.
I’ll give one illustration of this point. The young voters who voted overwhelmingly for Obama are more likely to be pro-life than many “Boomers” who voted for Romney. This may shock you but it is true. But for these younger voters their pro-life stance is not about politics. In time their view could impact their politics but I do not see that happening soon.
Many people decry these federal elections. They talk about how dirty and nasty they have become. This seems true on the surface. I would suggest it is true, however, because we have bigger megaphones than in the past. With radio, television, and now the all-pervasive social media, people can be reached in a myriad of ways. Candidates and parties use negative campaigning because it has been proven to work. We had one congressional race in my area in which the negative ads on both sides were so bad that I muted them every time the candidate came on the screen. They were both so patently full of untruths that I am glad I did not have to cast a vote for either candidate.
But if you think this process is awful, or entirely new, then you have no idea about American history. The attacks on President Abraham Lincoln, in the form of harsh statements and political cartoons, were brutal, mean and positively evil. (They may have had some impact on the intense ideological anger that drove his assassins!) Lincoln’s way of dealing with this was through humor and sheer good will. Real political leaders have to expect this and then learn how to cope with it. It is a sad reality in a democracy where partisanship is as old as the nation. It is part and parcel of a two-party system, a system George Washington feared could ultimately divide our nation. But, in my view, it is still a small price to pay for our political freedom.
The Separation of Church and State Is Still Vital
Some of you who read this post are elated about the results of last week. Some of you are devastated. Take heart. Freedom of religion, though threatened by some measures, is still written into the constitution. Our courts are still pretty vigilant about protecting this right. I do not expect us to lose it anytime soon even though some conservatives wax eloquently about how we will lose it in only a matter of years!
Furthermore, the separation of church and state, a legal and political construct which is intended to protect both church and state, is still alive and well in the U.S. Extremely liberal Democrats, and a growing number anti-Christian and secular minorities, wish to use our unique church-state understanding as a wedge against all exercise of religion in the public sphere. This should be carefully watched and properly challenged. There are places to fight this battle (especially in the courts) but there have been many false issues raised in this arena. The present social and demographic reality of 21st century America has made us a very different nation, a nation of more color and ethnic differences. Yet many of these same immigrants have a Christian background. What will we do about them and how will the church relate to their new status as American’s?
For Freedom to Flourish All Faiths Must Be Protected By Law
Finally, we should actively support the free expression of all religious faiths in a land that is less and less Christian. (Millennials, in very large numbers, do not support the idea that religion should be pressed upon the wider society through partisan political force that leads to culture change, thus it is only a matter of time until religion has a much smaller role in public space.) But many on the right still want to use politics to put their “Christian” values into law and to push the government in ways that are contrary to what the country actually is in 2012. We must face this simple demographic fact– America is no longer a white, Protestant (or Christian) nation. (It is now more Catholic as of this year!) You can argue all day long about the past and the belief that we were once a “Christian” nation. You can argue that our role is now to take that legacy back by fighting cultural battles in the realm of politics. But if you do you have adopted a flawed plan that has no real chance of success. Not only is this approach ineffective, it is grossly unattractive and entirely anti-missional. There is no conceivable way that we will regain the days of high church (Protestant) attendance and high impact on culture that we knew in the 1950s. Even a true spiritual revival, something that I pray for daily, would not change the realities of our modern world. I could give you a dozen reasons for saying this but the one that is most evident is bound up with simple realities. We are a nation growing through new immigrants and facing a declining birth rate in the majority (white) demographic.
America in 2020 and 2030 will look even more different than it does in 2012. If I have anything to give to my neighbors it is not political. It is deeply Christ-centered and profoundly hopeful. I can “love my neighbors as I love myself.” More about this response to where we are as a nation next week.