John Howard is one of the “Greatest Generation of Americans” — those Americans who fought in World War II. When I talked with him, I did not learn that he served in a tank battalion of the First Infantry Division, nor did I learn that he had earned two silver stars and two purple hearts. Instead, he told me about coming home determined to speak out about the cost of freedom and the inextricable link between freedom and faith. Many veterans put the war behind them so that they could live quiet lives of devotion to work, community and family. Dr. Howard was committed to using “his career to sustain and strengthen America’s religious ideas, for which many of his friends had fought and died.”
Having honed his leadership skills in high school, and as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton with a Ph.D. from Northwestern, Dr. Howard was thoroughly grounded in classical education. As President of Rockford College in Illinois for seventeen years, John Howard had a profound influence on students, but he recognized that many colleges and universities were slipping into mediocrity, so he served a three-year term as the National President of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities so that he could influence higher education to embrace the religious ideals on which member institutions were founded.
Dr. Howard later turned his attention to the broader culture where the same sort of renewal was needed. His work resulted in the founding of The Howard Center on Family, Religion, and Society, which was named for him. He currently serves as Senior Fellow. Dr. Howard explained to me the importance of “understanding about the dominant influence of Christianity in the development of the American nation and the American society.” That influence, he said, “has been almost completely omitted in the history courses of the schools and colleges for more than six decades.”
His recently released book, Christianity: Lifeblood of America’s Free Society, is a powerful work that fills the longstanding historical gaps in cultural, traditional and faith-based values. “In this book,” Dr. Allan Carlson, President of the Howard Center and Secretary General of the World Congress of Families, said, “John Howard, an authentic war hero, speaks from his heart and from a lifetime of study, about the country he loves.” The book is just the latest of Howard’s volumes dedicated to renewing America. He contributed to Harper and Row’s Dilemmas Facing the Nation and Regnery’s Churches on the Wrong Road, and he authored, Detoxifying the Culture. John Howard’s latest book continues the path he chose years ago; he looks retrospectively at Christianity in American society to show the role of faith in making America great. Through the lens of history, he developed a strong argument for America’s leadership to once again recognize the inextricable link between faith and freedom.
America was founded and our democratic society succeeded, he stresses, because its roots were grounded in Judeo-Christian principles. Dr. Carlson said, “For about fifty years, there has been a strong campaign simply to ‘write’ Christianity out of American history, asserting that America's story has been strictly secular. Americans, young and old alike, need to learn again how deeply Christianity has influenced America's social and political life.” In an interesting and systematic way, Howard’s book explains the trajectory that American society took over the years that resulted in religion being alien to the ivory tower and the public square.
The purpose of the book is to give Americans the tools and historical understanding they need in order to fight for the Judeo-Christian ideals and rights on which our forefathers founded this country. “If Christian Americans can learn to spread messages of their faith naturally, frequently, amicably, and win with no whiff of superiority, as George Washington did, then the doors may be opened to a renewal of Christianity sooner and more easily than might seem possible.”
Howard declares that, as a nation, we have shifted from a society based on religious principle to a society based on a mentality that prioritizes “whatever is right for me.” This shift was noticed on a broader scale in the years following WWII, when American culture began to “transition away from Christian authority.” Fuel was added to the fire with the steady “withdrawal of Literature and Education from the role of civilizing people.” “In education, as in literature, when Christianity was removed as the underlying foundation, the moral compass of the nation disappeared. Now no direction is forward, and one thing becomes just as good as any other.”
Dr. Carlson addressed that point, “In this election year, BOTH the Democratic and Republican parties will be actively courting Christian voters. It is important for Americans to know the real story of Christianity in America, not the breezy summaries we will soon receive from the spin masters.”
Yet, there is hope for a road back to Judeo-Christian ideals. Dr. Howard proposes that the American people are searching for a way to reduce the stresses of modern life — stresses that they have put upon themselves by not living lives of principle. As Christians, he declares, we have a responsibility to help them in that search. “Our task is to persuade people that Christendom is a far better way of life than the ‘I’m going to get mine, Jack, so get out of my way’ attitudes that now make life unpleasant for everyone. That task is a large one, but that’s all right because it is an important one. It is commonly supposed that you cannot turn back the clock, that social change … simply cannot be reversed. Like many other popular beliefs, this one is not true.”
Overall, America’s leaders need to accept the challenge of leading the country to the moral high ground. Dr. Howard is optimistic that this social change can happen. Thankfully, he has written a book that gives us tools to rediscover Christianity for what it truly is; the lifeblood of America’s free society.
Sarah McQueen, a student of Asbury College who is an intern with Concerned Women for America’s Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program, contributed research for this article.