This was written in 2016. I placed it on hold, not sure whether to release it. It has been edited for grammar and spelling, but is essentially my thinking from this timeframe.
I’m assuming most of my readers live here in the USA. So, when I head into this discussion about God, religion and American politics, you will have a fairly good understanding of certain assumptions. I grew up in a political household. My father is now a retired political philosophy professor. He and my mother met because of their mutual interest in politics. I’ve swum in those waters the whole of my life. I grew up a political animal of sorts. We watched debates and election results like the “average guy” watches his favorite sport.
I pray that you bear with me as I venture into this dangerous forest. This piece has been written over a span of three weeks, with my mind churning on it regularly. I started a little before the Iowa caucuses and am finishing just a little after the South Carolina primaries. I am not writing to push my particular political party, this blog is about Faith in Christ Jesus. Politically I am a very conservative with strong libertarian tendencies. So, if it seems to you that my biases are showing, my apologies, it is not intended that way.
I’ve lived in two other countries since my birth, Guatemala and Mexico. I have much more familiarity with the former over the latter. And politics is nothing like it is here in the USA. Firstly, involvement in politics has been known to have deadly consequences. And although their constitutional makeup is similar to our own (President, Congress, Supreme Court vs Parliamentary system in most of Europe) we are quite unique. The Latin countries suffer from a constant desire for the perfect leader, the great strong man who will defend the people and launch them to greatness. IMHO this stems from the overbearing machismo culture. But that is a piece for another day. Spending time away from the United States allowed me some perspective that I might not have had living here continually. So with this long winded introduction over, let me roll into the topic.
Since the times of the Ancient Greeks, there has been an understanding of the need for civic virtue. Many believe, myself included, proper and good government occurs when government acts in an unbiased fashion, when they act Justly, that all are equals under the law. Aristotle’s Ethics and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations both present discussions of civic morality. The Ten Commandments are the foundation blocks of Hebrew culture and Judeo-Christian views on the same. Prager University has an excellent series that does a great job of walking through each commandment. God tries endlessly to teach the Israelites Justice. But they can’t keep it up.
Amos Chapter 5
Let Justice Roll Down
18Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25“Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.
The United States of America
Our US history has several intersecting stories. Columbus braved the Atlantic to find the East Indies and instead found land between Europe and the East Indies. I shall not brave the waters of this event as it has been rehashed innumerable times. Suffice it to say, it happened and there were ramifications. I think most people will agree that amongst them were at least the two following inevitables: unknowingly unleashing European diseases upon a population lacking immunity (diseases have no morality) and focused the attention of European powers who saw new ways to expand their power.
The “Old World” as it is sometimes called was notoriously unkind to those who sought to worship God in a way that the Government/Church did not see fit. While the conversion of Emperor Constantine may remain a hotly contested event, the introduction of this active Christianization into the political scheme of government is not. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, the Great Schism, (I know, I know, jumping centuries at a time) it all led inexorably to the Holy Roman Empire and then the Kingdoms of the 15th century all bound up with a State Church which were so prevalent in Western Europe when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Exactly 25 years later Martin Luther would nail his list of 99 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. The shockwaves of that theological grenade reverberate down to our time.
I believe Luther had no intentions of starting anything. He wanted to talk about his deep theological concerns with the Roman Catholic Church’s practices, because of his love for the church. The most egregious of these was selling of indulgences. The conundrum he faced was how do I respect those who have been placed in positions of authority over me yet clearly the two positions are not reconcilable?
The Pilgrims came looking for a place to worship GOD as they chose. Now, there were of course other settlers looking to “make it” in the New World. A few hundred years later there’s a rebellion against Mother England. Revolution sweeps the land to make us free of domineering England.
Preceding the war was what the historians refer to as the first great awakening, a monumental movement of the Holy Spirit which was carefully documented by Jonathan Edwards, a prodigious (and prolific) theologian of the time. This religious quickening is seen by many historians as part of the fuel for the rebellion. Therein, I think, lies the string that ties American politics together over three centuries.
The second heat awakening was is the early 1800s, reaching its peak in the middle of the century. It was a movement toward emotionalism, diametrically opposed to the rationality of the Enlightenment period which was the foundation of the political philosophy of the American Founders. Hot on the heels was the third great awakening. This event is a little more historically debatable. But it’s the progressive movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Prohibition, labor movements and pushes for more government regulation of industry.
My thesis here is that American politics is and has always been, a proxy for Christian religious sensibilities.
Consider the rise of the moral majority political bloc in the the 1980s. Based on the description of the third great awakening, this could be described as a fourth awakening. Regardless of your political agreement with either the third or fourth, their similarities are striking. Political and social action based on a very particular and focused set of biblical principles.
The US Constitution was written by men influenced by the desire to worship freely in a Christian framework. John Adams was one of the influencers of the Constitution. He was a Calvinist who became a Unitarian.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
In the mid1800’s a Frenchman by the name Alexis de Tocqueville travelled the young United States. He was trying to understand it. One of the enduring observations was this: “America is Great because America is good. If it ceases to be good, it will no longer be great.”
As I look at my country of birth, I no longer see a good people. And that, unfortunately, starts with me. I ignored the truths given to me by my parents. I rebelled against my father. I argued nonstop with him. I rejected the authority that God had placed in him. I walked away from church and went my own way. My own morality.
My own morality turned out to be an unbearable burden. A dear brother in Christ preached Grace to me. I still remember uttering the sentence “But, I’m not good enough for God.” I was projecting my own inability to forgive on the Lord of forgiveness.
It has taken years of relearning to get me to where I am. Not that that place is a place of perfection or excellence but able to look back and see the pitiable creature I had become. It was an extremely painful journey, to have layer after layer of sin uncovered in my life. Christ Jesus keeps gently, but firmly moving through my heart. He finds the locked doors, places I try to “hide” from Him. About two years ago he broke down my “workplace” door. He has been busy turning my theology of work on its head.
So, you may be asking yourself, is the discussion of God and politics? Well, I’m terrified of writing on this topic. I was raised in a house of politics. My parents met because of their political activity. And supremely contrarian. They were Barry Goldwater supporters during the 60’s when everybody else was going democrat. So, I can usually get into a good political debate when the other person wasn’t really that interested in a big debate.
So, I’m not going to hit any specific policy issues here. What I’m going to hit is, what is greatness and how that intersects with American politics?
God is infinitely great. He is all powerful, all knowing and all present. He is also perfect goodness. Justice and Mercy. Truth and Grace. Perfect balance.
So, what made young America good? I humbly submit that it was self control. We are an experiment in self government. How can we govern ourselves (plural) if we are unable to govern ourselves (singular)?
Now, I know that many will immediately bring up slavery here. And, I understand. But consider the abolishinist movement. Consider also the prevalence of slavery throughout human history and into today. Chattel slavery was a great evil, and we are better for ending it here in the United States. But I submit to you abortion. We allow the wholesale slaughter of innocent babies. The rational for Southerners was that blacks were not humans equal with whites. Abortionists argue that the unborn child is not really a child, a human with rights equal to those already born.
In my position as a citizen of heaven as a Child of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, I’m commanded to “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). The entirety of Romans 13 is appropriate here (The Message translation/transliteration):
Translation’s title for this chapter: Obey Those in Authority
“13 All of you must obey those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. 2 So whoever opposes the authorities opposes leaders whom God has appointed. Those who do that will be judged. 3 If you do what is right, you won’t need to be afraid of your rulers. But watch out if you do what is wrong! You don’t want to be afraid of those in authority, do you? Then do what is right, and you will be praised. 4 The one in authority serves God for your good. But if you do wrong, watch out! Rulers don’t carry a sword for no reason at all. They serve God. And God is carrying out his anger through them. The ruler punishes anyone who does wrong. 5 You must obey the authorities. Then you will not be punished. You must also obey them because you know it is right.
6 That’s also why you pay taxes. The authorities serve God. Ruling takes up all their time. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them. Do you owe taxes? Then pay them. Do you owe anything else to the government? Then pay it. Do you owe respect? Then give it. Do you owe honor? Then show it.
Love Fulfills the Law
8 Pay everything you owe. But you can never pay back all the love you owe one another. Whoever loves other people has done everything the law requires. 9 Here are some commandments to think about. “Do not commit adultery.” “Do not commit murder.” “Do not steal.” “Do not want what belongs to others.” (Exodus 20:13 15,17; Deuteronomy 5:17 19,21) These and all other commands are included in one command. Here’s what it is. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) 10 Love does not harm its neighbor. So love does everything the law requires.
The Day Is Near
11 When you do these things, keep in mind the times we are living in. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. The full effects of our salvation are closer now than when we first believed in Christ. 12 The dark night of evil is nearly over. The day of Christ’s return is almost here. So let us get rid of the works of darkness that harm us. Let us do the works of light that protect us. 13 Let us act as we should, like people living in the daytime. Have nothing to do with wild parties, and don’t get drunk. Don’t take part in sexual sins or evil conduct. Don’t fight with each other or be jealous of anyone. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ as if he were your clothing. Don’t think about how to satisfy sinful desires.”
As Americans were are the rulers. We are the government. We wrote the constitution, we write the laws, we enforce the laws. If we are good, then the laws and the enforcement of those laws are good. We as Americans are no longer good, therefore America is no longer great. True goodness exists only in The Living GOD. Our goodness is but a reflection of His goodness.