WHERE GOES AMERICA?
C. Ermal Allen (1)
Jesus rebuked his generation because they were ignoring the signs of the times. I’m not a prophet. I don’t know the future. But we can look at the present and ask ourselves, does it bode well for the future of America?
The 2015 Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage gives us grave concern. Several times in recent years even some of the justices considered to be conservative seem to give more weight to the direction of popular culture than to the Constitution. The future of America and the church’s place in America call for us to wake up and get down to serious efforts to understand and give a proper response to the present political and cultural predicament. Here are three reasons we need to wake up and get to work.
Ideologies That Make Political Compromise Nearly Impossible
Political compromise has always been a necessary part of the legislative process. Except in those rare occasions when one political party controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Presidency, nothing gets done without compromise. In the past, most of the issues at stake were of such a nature that compromises were frequently reached. In the current state of affairs, however, America has become dominated by two ideologies that are so far apart, so mutually exclusive, that compromise is practically impossible.
People in the middle, that is, those who have not subscribed to either of the prevalent ideologies, do not have a clue as to what is really at stake. They think that the politicians just need to compromise and get something done. Of course, many of our congressmen and senators fall into this category. They seem to take sides when running for election but soon abandon the principles of their ideology for the sake of “crossing the aisle” and getting something done. Unfortunately, the “something done,” more often than not, results in great distress among those who voted for them.
Why, then, is it not good to encourage less ideology and more compromise? The problem is that our culture has been radically changing for the past fifty years, moving leftward toward an ideology that is inherently incompatible with principles that have been a part of America from the beginning. In other words, the struggle now is not just for political goals but rather for the moral foundation without which republican democracy cannot exist. We see this point illustrated in our efforts to foster democracy, that is free and fair elections, in countries that do not have such a moral foundation. Several nations in the Mideast and in Africa have, for this very reason, failed in establishing true democracies.
Before the cultural revolution of the second half of the twentieth century, both major political parties had in common a belief in basic Biblical morality. Now, however, those on the extreme left have all but left many elements of this basic morality which was common to American culture prior to the 1960's. Three caveats need to be made here: (1) This assertion does not mean that those who hold to this extreme left ideology have no morals, only that they have abandoned select moral positions. See the section below. (2) To assert that there had been a common belief in basic Biblical morality for most of the history of our country does not mean that our people were always faithful to that moral foundation. They did, however, uphold it as the ideal; and when those who failed to live up to it were exposed, they often felt ashamed and were publicly condemned. This is usually still true for those on the right and many on the left or in the center who fail to live up to their principles. Furthermore, (3) the assertion that basic moral principles have often been abandoned by the extreme left does not necessarily apply to those who vote for the left. Many of those who vote for them either do not understand what they really stand for, or they cast their votes for merely political reasons, just as before the movement to the left.
Those who are on the right are often criticized for not compromising. They are castigated for moving to the extreme right. However, the right have not really moved further right; they have just been forced to defend positions that were hitherto unchallenged. They have had to speak up for positions that had previously been more or less common to all.
What then are the elements of the current ideologies for which compromise is not a viable option? First there is the equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity. America was founded on the principle that all are equal under the law, that all have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, however, America is seen by many to be at fault when all are not equally happy. The “redistribution of wealth” is a principle that seeks to take from the successful and give to the not so successful. This principle has been shown to be a failure wherever it has been tried. Without the prospects of “getting ahead” few people will work hard for the common good. If their needs are taken care of regardless of effort, they tend to make less effort! For example, consider the first two years of the people who came to America on the Mayflower. The first year was a disaster because they had a common storehouse. When people were allowed in the second year to profit from their own efforts, nearly all worked harder and reaped the benefits of their labor.
Of course, Biblical morality endorses equal opportunity, not equal outcome. Those who are able must provide for themselves, while showing mercy to those who are not able. Those who are able may even become wealthy, although they are admonished not to put their trust in their riches (1 Timothy 6:17-19 – see also the other conditions laid upon them in these verses). The rich, young ruler was told to sell all he had and give to the poor, but that was because of his particular attachment to his riches (stronger than his desire to please God). Many other wealthy disciples–such as Mary and Martha, Aquila and Priscilla, Lydia, and the owner of the house where the last supper was held–were not told to divest themselves of everything. The wealthy have opportunities to help the needy, opportunities that those of modest means do not have.
A second element in the left’s ideology is the contention that religion is to be relegated to the personal (read: private) part of our lives and banned from the public arenas. In a famous Supreme Court case the Court declared that Louisiana could not teach creationism alongside evolution as possible explanations for the existence of life simply because creation was taught in the Bible. Because it is taught in a religious book, creationism cannot be taught in public schools–even if it really is how the universe and life came about! When George W. Bush was running for President, he was roundly condemned by the left when he asserted that Jesus Christ was the philosopher who had influenced his life the most!
Morality is a loser in this context, for morality is largely considered to be inextricably tied to religion. For that reason, the courts sometimes do not consider morality to be a legitimate basis for legislation. For example, abortion cannot be deemed illegal if the only argument against it is that it is morally wrong. We are constantly lectured that we should not consider other people’s personal decisions or lifestyles to be immoral. For example, television shows are constantly asserting that there is nothing wrong with homosexual relationships–it’s a “personal” choice.
Shrinking Moral Codes
On one hand, in many areas we are still a moral people. In spite of the assertion that “there are no absolutes” in morality, some actions are considered immoral. Spouse and child abuse are universally condemned. Discrimination is wrong. Sex with children is wrong. Adultery (for most people) is wrong. Stealing is still considered to be wrong by the majority of Americans.
On the other hand, the sexual revolution of the sixties has taken over the American culture. Sex between “consenting adults” is frequently considered the norm. Teens are encouraged to “wait,” but no one seems to expect them to–so teach them about “safe sex.” We used to wonder when to kiss our date, on the first date, fourth date? Now it is a question of how many dates before going to bed with each other. Many girls and young women think that they owe their date sexual favors in return for his springing for the cost of dinner and a movie. Texting your boyfriend a nude photo of yourself is common. What? You haven’t slept with your boyfriend yet! Oral sex is not really sex–after all, just look at Bill and Monica! Sex between persons of the same sex is okay as long as it is consensual and done “safely.” Moving in with your boyfriend is less complicated than getting married. After all, who wants to buy a pair of shoes without trying them on? (Of course, who wants to buy a pair of shoes that have been worn by someone else?) Pornography–nothing wrong with that–just keep it out of the hands of small children.
This casual view of sex has resulted in an epidemic of STD’s, no-fault divorce (and accompanying dysfunctional families), abortion (as a way to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and accompanying increase in child abuse), families without marriage (and accompanying poverty), and acceptance of homosexual practice as normal (and accompanying disdain for Christians and churches who condemn it).
As pointed out above, morality is not seen as a basis for legal framework. For example, the California Supreme Court, affirmed by a federal court and now affirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court, held that there was no rational basis for denying homosexuals the right to marry.
Times That Try Our Souls
Will God punish (or is he punishing) us for this state of affairs? Without a revival we will continue to degrade in our morality; and it will not be pretty. See Romans 1:18-32 for a description of the downward slide into the abyss of immorality. God “vomited out” the nations of Canaan because of their wickedness. Does he still do that in this age of the new covenant? If so, how long do we have? Will the presence of faithful, moral people hold off any such judgment (as it would have with Sodom and Gomorrah)? We have no definitive answers to these questions, but should not the church wake up and do something about it?
Our souls are being tried because of the distraction of personal, family, and other assorted troubles. We are bombarded from within and without. How can we make a difference when we have our own worries?
Our souls are being tried because we do not like the messy process of learning to distinguish between the political and the philosophical differences in our country. We prefer to stay affiliated with the party (whether Republican or Democrat or some other) to which we have belonged. We prefer to stay with the party that promises us a free lunch. We do not want to examine our party on the basis of its foundational principles. We do not want to consider abandoning a party that has a platform with so much in it with which we personally disagree. We do not want to consider abandoning the politician (whether Republican or Democrat) who votes with those who stand against the Judaeo-Christian principles upon which our country was founded.
Our souls are being tried because we are being confronted with putting God’s kingdom and Christ’s church ahead of personal desires and opinions. It is just so easy to think that God is on our side regardless of how faithful we are being to the teachings of Scripture. It is just so easy to ignore the word of God and follow the crowd.
These are “the times that try our souls.” Are we like Lot, “a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:7-8) (2)? If so, we should heed the words of Peter (1 Peter 4:1-5):
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body [i.e., has died] is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
Call for Action
Rise up, O Church. Keep watch – pay attention – with constant prayer and submission to the will of God. Rise up, O Church. Keep watch – pay attention – with immersion in the word of God. Rise up, O Church. Keep watch – pay attention – with priority to the work of God. The future of America depends on us!
1Revised from original version published in Restoration Herald (Cincinnati, OH), July 2014, pp. 5-6.
2Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. ©1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.