America’s Turn for the Worse – Are Christians to Blame?
[In a WND column published at the end of July I began a series on what it will take to reconstitute truly representative government in the United States. I continued it in my WND columns on Aug. 6 and Aug 13. The article that follows is therefore the fourth in the series. Though each piece can be understood on its own, interested readers may benefit from the context the other pieces in the series provide.]
Throughout most of America’s history the Christian citizens of the United States took it for granted that they had to follow the example and commands of Christ in their lives as citizens. At the same time, a majority of them were familiar with the history of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Religious differences caused and allowed rulers, and those who aspired to rule, to rally the core forces required to foment and engage in sanguinary campaigns of conquest and/or domestic oppression. Sometimes they were the excuse for a powerful few to eliminate their rivals. On other occasions, the mask of passionate zeal allowed a self-righteous majority hatefully to despoil and oppress a minority, which they already envied and despised.
Aside from the destruction of life and property these campaigns occasioned, they were generally friendly to tyranny and, one way or another, fatal to liberty. America’s Founders foresaw that the American people could avoid these consequences by forming a political union based on the premises of republican self-government that already united them as a people. The American Revolution distilled the common sense of right and rights Americans developed in the course of their experience with republican self-government in their respective States. During the fight for Independence they proved that this common sense could sustain a mutual allegiance powerful enough to withstand the moral and material challenges of battle, against long odds.
In word and deed, America’s Founders acknowledged that the understanding expressed in the Declaration of Independence played a critical role in this achievement. This explains why they chose to memorialize July 4 (the day the Declaration was adopted) rather than July 2 (the day the move to Independence was approved by the Continental Congress) as “Independence Day.”
These days, ideology and selfish interest lead many members of America’s elitist faction to deny the fundamental importance of the Declaration because its contents make little or no sense except in the context of the theological and moral assumptions of Christianity. The Founders’ desire to avoid religious strife did not lead them to pretend that the Christian character of the America people played no role in the successful experience of republican self-government in the New World. Indeed, they relied on the fact that Christian faith informed and sustained the good will of the American people, both during the Revolution and in the War for Independence it occasioned.
Unlike America’s Founders, however, a significant proportion of America’s elitist faction deny that Christian premises have a crucial bearing on the success of republican self-government. They have encouraged the view that Christianity is hostile to “freedom” and “democracy”; that religion must be banished from our politics and all public affairs; and that the understanding of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”, which presupposes Biblical concepts of creation and authority, must be forcibly suppressed. Though less openly espoused, policies they advocate and now increasingly act upon, reject the Declaration’s view that the primordial purpose of government is justly to provide for the security of those who follow the God-endowed disposition to do right (conscience) by which the laws authorized by God in human nature are made known to all human beings.
In some respects, it’s not at all hard to understand why talented, and/or wealthy, and/or powerful elitists would resent and despise the Christian understanding of right and rights. Christ made it clear that, in the kingdom of God, material wealth and power (and the talents devoted to them) are far from being the standard of worth. They are, on the contrary, quite likely to be barriers to entry. With one critical exception, prideful self-sufficiency, predicated on the can-do, Mr. Fixit mentality of the self-made man, was not much in evidence in the Apostles God led to Christ as companions, ministers and disciples. As Christ’s mother exclaimed, God “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree.”
On the face of it, in a world chiefly characterized by elitist despotisms based on material prowess and power, the implications of Christ’s sovereignty do not verify the notion that such elites are, in fact, ordained by God to be the ministers of His rule. During the temptation of Christ in the desert (Matthew 4:1-10), God’s adversary portrays himself as the dispenser of “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them”. Christ imperiously refuses to bow down to Satan in order to obtain them. People who secretly know that they have bowed the knee have little reason to welcome the dominion of Christ. They expect to be cast down by his imperium, not lifted up to the thrones and principalities they so desire.
So it’s little wonder that the offspring of material wealth and power denigrate, conspire and plot against Christ’s rule. In this respect, the most surprising fact about the politics of our times is that many people who profess to be followers of Christ share this disregard for his God-ordained sovereignty over the affairs of men. There seems to be an odd congruence in this disrespect between those who profess to be the adopted children of God and those who are inclined to be the scions of vainglory and material power. Many people say that Christ will rule, when he comes again, but that, until then, we may give him pride of place in our hearts, but have no choice in the world but to be ruled by the forces of his adversary, which are evil, more or less.
In terms of God’s Word, there is no doubt that when he comes again, Christ will rule for all the world to see. But in the meanwhile, does his kingdom extend no further than the heart? Or, since Christ saw all human wickedness proceeding from the heart, will the actions of the hearts He rules bring good into the world instead of evil? And if there are whole households, villages, neighborhoods or towns in which they predominate whose hearts are ruled by Christ, can such communities bring good into the world instead of evil? And if, in a nation, they predominate, can that nation be a force for good, even while the world awaits the Second Coming of the One whose force the world cannot really resist?
Think this through, and it will give you a new perspective on the meaning and implications of federalism. All at once you will see it as an arrangement that allows households in which Christ prevails to become villages, towns, counties, states and even a nation in which the search for the kingdom of God He offers and represents allows humanity to glimpse His goodwill in the here and now. In the not at all distant past, the actions of the United States of America, and their consequences for good, provided evidence for the view that many of its people had their hearts set on becoming such a nation. What Christian can truthfully pretend that this is so today?
Many of us will admit that it is not. What we are much less willing to admit is that we ourselves bear the brunt of responsibility for this change for the worse. Christ said “unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required….” According to the Gospel, Christians can bring a power to bear on worldly events no force of human talent, wealth or material prowess can match. But in the United States we utterly, adamantly reject the way we have of doing so. What is that power? Why and how have we surrendered the will to deploy it? In the next column of this series, I will address these questions. Thinking them through may be the critical step toward achieving the revolution in political thought Americans now desperately need if we are to restore our liberty to the firmly grounded common sense of our nation’s founding, in light of which liberty is self-evidently included among the unalienable rights with which God has endowed all human beings- if only they prove willing to exercise them.
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