This past election in America may well prove to be a watershed in the Christian Church. Ever since the heady days of Ronald Reagan – darling of the Christian Right – evangelicals have in increasing percentage backed the Republican Party. In this last election evangelical Christians actually voted for Mitt Romney in a larger percentage than did Mormons themselves according to a recent article in Christianity Today, a statistic that is testimony to the desperation of the Christian Right, rather than any revelation concerning the purity of Mormon doctrine or its alignment with accepted Christian theology.
I read an insightful piece in the Washington Post this week about a typical campaign worker for Romney; a devoutly Christian woman who is more than simply disappointed by this past week’s events. She is shattered; her worldview coming apart at the seams as she sees what looks to be the end of Christian America. The writer was not critical of her view; indeed he seemed profoundly moved by her plight and wrote from a sympathetic perspective. I too grieve for her situation, but from an entirely different perspective. My view is informed by decades of working with Americans in a number of Christian endeavours over the years and is coloured by lifelong friendships with Americans based on a common faith in our Saviour. They are lovely, hard-working and dedicated people; but they seriously misunderstand their role in Christian history.
Americans are justifiably proud of their secular history; it is storied and heroic. Although its founders were not Christians in the strictest sense – their theology was more Masonic and Deist than anything else – there were enough Christians among them to ensure a rich heritage from which a modern evangelical tradition has arisen. This has led to the view among many in that nation that God has chosen America to be His special people in a way not experienced before in human history. Mormons would go even further and claim that the lost tribes of Israel actually wandered over to North America, making America the inheritor of the eschatological promises to the Jews.
Not only does this fly in the face of sound exegesis of the Bible, it also contradicts much of human history. Alexander the Great can lay better claim to being the chief architect of the spread of the gospel, since if he hadn’t conquered the known world there wouldn’t have been a unified language to translate and propagate the gospels. The Romans have equal claim as their conquest of the Mediterranean and their engineering superiority provided the roads for the gospel to travel freely. It was the monastic order, not the Americans, that preserved the gospels through the darkest ages of barbarian destruction, and it was the Germans that gave the world the Reformation that propelled the gospel to prominence again. Finally it was the British, not the Americans that carried that gospel to the far corners of an empire on which the sun never set. Certainly post-WWII America has been the flag-bearer for Christ, but that was a relatively short-lived period of Christian history as already missionaries from Asia outnumber Westerners and have for more than twenty years. More to the point, however you see America’s involvement in the spread of the gospel, it is still not in charge. The Holy Spirit overseas the development of His church, and He does not cede His work to any nation. Christ was not Caucasion; His church has no nationality.
This is not to discount the contribution of America to the cause of Christ, but only to put it in perspective. Those that see the destruction of the church as coincident with the decline of the Republican Party or even the decline of America itself forget that it was the Christian Left that elected Jimmy Carter to the presidency (still the godliest man to ever hold that office regardless of how you view his political savvy). In Carter’s day evangelicals were evenly divided along political lines. Now they vote four to one for the Republicans, a party that is seen as being increasing unconcerned about the plight of ordinary Americans and increasingly committed to a program of toxic “rugged individualism” at the expense of communities and social cohesion. Let the 47% rot in their hovels; I want to get rich! It is a profoundly disturbing trend.
Bryant L. Myers in Walking With the Poor writes, “As Christians we can no longer simply view the world as a collection of individuals. Instead we need to view each individual as embedded in families and communities as well as being participants in the whole gamut of institutions – economic, political, cultural and religious. This [holistic] view of self will not validate metaphors like the lonesome, self-contained ‘I don’t need help from nobody’ cowboy; the entertainer who ‘does it my way’; or the entrepreneur who gambles with corporations without regard for the people that work in them and contribute to their true value. It will not create the full human self of the Bible” (Myers 44).
Evangelicals in America are in for a dry spell politically. They have cast in their lot with a party that is dominated by ‘old, angry, entitled white men.’ I dare say that they are finding that not only are the demographics against them; the God of the Bible is as well. A humbler view of their own position in the development of God’s kingdom on earth aligned with a more compassionate understanding of the hurting communities around them will bring the church huge rewards in terms of godly witness to the nation they love and long to see fulfill its promise. They may at present feel like they are in the wilderness. But it was out of the wilderness that God spoke, and it was in the wilderness that Christ began His earthly ministry. In other words, we need to pray for a genuine spiritual revival. God bless America.