According to social commentator Bill Muehlenberg, “The fate of a nation is intimately tied up with its moral and spiritual condition.”
If this is true, would it be wrong for conservative Christians, within the parameters established by our Constitution and laws, to do everything in their power to take the lead in the political and educational and media and business sectors of our country? Or does the very thought of that send shivers up your spine?
In support of his thesis, Muehlenberg points to statements by leaders and thinkers ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Will Durant to Alexis de Tocqueville. He can even cite General Douglas MacArthur and Joseph Stalin to back up his claim.
MacArthur said, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.” As for Stalin, the atheistic dictator observed, “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”
Some sociologists have argued that it was the secularizing of America in the 20th century that lies at the heart of our national decline, while even non-religious educators have pointed to the destructive, anti-God mentality so prevalent in many of our higher learning institutions.
Why then do so many Americans have such a visceral reaction to the notion of a “Christian” America, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans profess Christianity? Why is there serious concern that Christian politicians are covertly (or even overtly) trying to impose a theocracy?
One answer is that some Americans are secular to the core, and they would rather see freedom from religion than freedom of religion. The further we are from God, the happier they are. For them, separation of Church and state means that the only legitimate place for religious expression is within the four walls of a church building (or synagogue or mosque).
Others have had it with “Christian politics,” even though they themselves profess the Christian faith. Among them is David P. Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia. He writes in an op ed piece for USA Today, “Once again a presidential race is becoming a piety contest.”
He continues, “As an American and also as an evangelical Christian, I can hardly bear to watch this nightmare unfolding all over again. It’s bad for America. It’s bad for Christianity. Christian politics is corrupting both Christians and politics. Our nation is in too much trouble to endure another round of this sorry spectacle.”
What then do we make of comments from our founding fathers that underscore the importance of the spiritual vitality of the nation? George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams was even more emphatic: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
How do we sort this out? Does vibrant faith contribute to the health of the nation, or are we unwisely trying to mix the spiritual with the secular? Here are some important principles to keep in mind.
First, there is a difference between true faith and political rhetoric. Talk is cheap, and empty religious talk is downright offensive. But if a politician’s life has been positively impacted by his or her faith, if it helps them find a stronger moral base and gives them wisdom to govern and lead all the people, then the more faith the better.
Second, Christianity is not Islam, by which I mean that true Christianity does not succeed by imposing its version of Sharia law on a populace or by following in the footsteps of Constantine who “Christianized” Rome. Instead, it succeeds by transforming lives, by demonstrating the superiority of its ways, by serving the needs of the society with tangible acts of love. It is true that Islam also believes in these principles (at least, to some extent), but it also believes in advancing by the power of the sword.
Third, if it is right for secular (or anti-religious) educators and politicians and movie producers and business leaders and judges to rise to influential positions in our society, it is right for religious educators and politicians and movie producers and business leaders and judges to do the same. How could anyone raise a legitimate objection to this? The very foundations of our nation argue against keeping religion in the closet.
The bottom line is this. If we believe the biblical maxim that “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34), then we need to prove it. What’s stopping us?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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