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,
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.
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While you live in a relatively diverse area, not everyone does. A little under half of all African Americans live in the city limits of 20 US cities. 2/3 of all Hispanics live in 7 states. I heard a number of people tell me that other than me, they didn’t know a single person that voted for Obama. And this is true of the church and their political experience. It is becoming less true over time, but I really do think the experience of this election should be to help the church wake up to demographic realities of the world.
I would have to partially agree with you and partially disagree. I think we do tend to make to much of individual elections, and that politics is not the ultimate solution. But I am disturbed by the “new normal” and where the country is headed long term. Doesn’t this point to a spiritual weakness within the church? And if the climate becomes increasingly hostile toward the church, aren’t we likely to face persecution in the future? But then, Biblically speaking, hasn’t that always been the “normal.”
Also, while it is technically true that the US is not a theocracy, we are governed by the general laws of divine providence and justice just as any other nation, and it could even be argued that the Declaration of Independence does constitute a kind of covenant with God — read the last paragraph carefully. It could also be argued that as a nation we have experienced God’s judgments in the past — the Civil War is an example. So I don’t think that we can just slough off the last election results.
Bob, I do not think you read my blogs in whole or you might see that I “generally speaking” agree with you but I would NEVER put a modern nation-state into anything remotely like the language of covenant. It is simply non-bioblical and extremely problematic. While I believe in the general laws of providence the word providence refers to what God knows and plans in advance, not to what we do in the light of what to us is clearly unseen and unknown. The Puritans sought to follow providence and it back-fired over and over and ended up creating a huge part of our problem, attempting to know whose side God was on in an issue or conflict. Generally, we have no idea.
I guess my question is this: When, in the Declaration of Independence, we “appealed to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” and then mutually pledged to each other “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” did we not take a kind of oath? And if we did, what exactly did we commit ourselves to do? And if we failed to do it, what happens then?
These references are NOT specifically stated in New Covenant language or biblical covenants. These are category differences that are huge to gospel and kingdom. Did the framers take a kind of “oath” as you say? I think they did but they did not do say with reliance on the Triune God of the biblical revelation but rather the God who they confessed; e.g. some were Christians some were not, just simple theists. So did you and I take an oath to these terms of a covenant? Not at all. We inherited a great system of government and, as one founder said to a questioner, “We have given you a republic if you can keep it.” The question now is the same, “Can we keep it?” I have said I think that jury is out. The debate now is how we keep a sound republic when fiscal cliffs loom and laws are not respected in Congress or the general populace.
So are you saying that it was not a valid oath, because it was not taken in the name of the Triune God of biblical revelation, or are you saying that we are not bound by an oath taken by our ancestors? Or what are you saying?
The oath was taken by framers of a civil government, not by a church or by believers. It has nod direct bearing on my conscience as a Christian. I do not take oaths unless they are in Christ. I am a citizen of his kingdom first. Secondarily, I am a citizen of the state and bound to obey its laws unless they conflict with my conscience as a believer; cf. Romans 13. I thought, again, this was quite clear so I hope this makes it more obvious.
Richard Stearn’s quote resonates most with me. Living out our faith in all directions is our mission mandate. To understand this, one resource that helps much is the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement found through the US Center for World Mission. I consider it a pre-requisite class for all disciples of Jesus. It’s a place to build from. We will never influence culture through polemic politicization but through gracious acts that are used by God to penetrate culture from the ground up.