“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” -Helen H. Lemmel
I have a love/hate relationship with America. Now before my patriotic friends pick up the torches and pitchforks, allow me to explain. I love our nation in the sense of I believe we are the greatest nation on earth in which to live. I embrace the freedoms that our forefathers dreamed of and worked so hard to achieve. I am immeasurably grateful for the sacrifice of so many brave soldiers who fought, bled and died to preserve those freedoms. I have found inspiration in the words of godly men like James Madison and Patrick Henry. My heart swells with pride at the playing of our national anthem and my eyes brim with tears whenever I hear Taps at the graveside of a hero. So, in the patriotic sense, I do love my country.
But I hate what our country is becoming. This has nothing to do with big government vs. small government, pro-life vs. pro-choice, gay rights vs. traditional marriage, gun rights vs. gun control or democrat vs. republican, although these battles, and others are symptoms of the bigger problem. I hate that our country is drifting off her moral moorings into a sea of popular ethics. (Translation: I hate that we as a nation value what is popular over what is right). We no longer judge right and wrong by a canon of truth, we judge it by popular opinion (after all, that’s how a democracy is supposed to work, right?) The result has been a holy discontentment welling up inside every Christian. The “Religious Right” has proven to be a movement of behavior modification with a “conform or perish” message that rings hollow (if you don’t vote like us you are not a real republican/Christian/Conservative/American). The “Liberal Left” has an equally empty message of idealism that can’t hold water in the face of real-world problems (it would be great if all millionaires were willing to distribute their wealth to everyone, regardless of work ethic. It would also be great if chocolate had no calories.) The Christian is left with little to no choice when national elections come around. It seems all the candidates are crooked, and the candidates are too busy pointing fingers at each other to ever compromise. And what is sadder still is the finger-pointing doesn’t stop after the elections (two words will prove my point: “fiscal cliff.”)
But I have noticed many Christians are starting to make a choice. They are turning. They are turning away from the mythological “American Dream” that for so long was equated with American Christianity. They are turning away from politics and the empty promises of politicians. They are turning away from the lie that has often been conveyed to masses of people waving miniature star-spangled banners, that America is somehow God’s chosen nation with a “manifest destiny” to excel, be great and be the hope of the world. They are turning from the ever changing ethics of public opinion in search for something, or rather, Someone with a firmer foundation. They are turning to Jesus Christ. Right now it is more of a mental turning, but make no mistake, the hand is gripping the steering wheel and getting ready to move, in fact I think it already has started to move, which is one reason why the conservative turn-out for the last election was so low. Christians are starting to make their choice, and it is no longer Americanized Christianity first, but Christ and His bride, the Church, that take priority.
The reason for this turning is simple: American Christians are dissatisfied. I hear it in everyday conversations. I see it in their eyes, when they speak of inflation, unemployment and social issues that it seems the church is losing ground on inch by inch, every day. I see it when they talk about abortion, not whether or not it should be legal, but how in the world did we get to a place where the killing of an unborn child sounds remotely reasonable? I hear it when they talk about the uproar over anyone who speaks out against gay marriage, and again, it’s not merely the issue, but the fact that Christians aren’t allowed to voice their opinion on it in the public square. I feel it in my own heart when I realize that the Bible promises that the Church will always be at war with the world, and yes, that includes my native country.
My “turning” has been happening incrementally over the last several years. I don’t know when it started, but I do know it is happening. Maybe it’s the blood of 55 million unborn that cries out for justice. Maybe it’s the politicizing of faith. Maybe it’s the realization that the Church and America will never see eye to eye on some issues. Maybe it’s the ever-widening gap between my world-view and the pluralistic, post-modern worldview that our nation is beginning to embrace. Most likely it’s all of the above plus an ever-deepening commitment to Jesus as Lord that has caused me to turn.
My prayer and my hope is that this great turning will be followed by another “Great Awakening.” America has had two great revivals in history, and I hope that there will be a third. Both Great Awakenings were followed by prosperous times. But there is another possibility, and one that history has seen repeated time and time again: great turnings are usually followed by a great awakening or a great persecution. If the latter is the case, then my prayer is that God’s Church will be purified and strengthened and that she will stand firm as she has for 2,000 years.
But before either revival or persecution breaks out, may I give some advice to those of you who may be in this process of turning away from some form of American idealism?
- Insulate but don’t isolate– Often, in order to shield ourselves from the trials and temptations of this world we put up barriers to protect us. Some of these barriers are good. Internet filters, accountability partners and the like serve to protect as well as help us grow. The danger, however, arise when we use these barriers to isolate ourselves from the world which we are called to save. Don’t be afraid to exit the ivory tower and rub elbows with the ‘lost’. It’s the only way they may ever see that Jesus is really alive in us.
- Avoid “us vs. them” thinking– Non-Christians are not the enemy, Satan is. Just because we are dissatisfied with the direction our nation is moving in does not mean that the secular professor or the liberal politician is our enemy. They too are souls made in the image of God and we are to love them as such. Instead of blaming them, pray for them.
- Remember God does not measure victory by how many arguments we win– It is very tempting at times to focus on the argument at hand rather than the soul at stake. Remember, we are called to win souls, not arguments, and sometimes that means learning to walk away before you alienate someone from the Gospel.
- It’s still OK to love your country- I love America, that’s why I strive to be brutally honest about where she stands. She is not the savior of the world or the hope of nations. She is, however, my home and mission field. I can’t reach her citizens if I despise them. Also, I still vote, pray for my leaders and stay informed of current events and issues. In doing so I can serve not only my nation better as a citizen, but I can serve my King better as a servant.
- Err on the side of grace- I realize that not everybody who reads this has come to the same place that I have. Not every Christian is dissatisfied and disgruntled. Some of you reading this might even be more energized to serve your country, run for office, etc. You may even be upset at me. That’s OK! It may be tempting for those of us who are in the process of turning more towards God and away from country to look down our noses at those who haven’t, and vice-versa. But faith is a journey, and not all of us travel at the same speed. So if you feel compelled to disagree with another Christian, do so with grace and wisdom. The kingdom of God never benefits from quarrelsome Christians, and neither will the land I love.