Of course, a substantial part of the reason Dr. Stanley has felt led to call for this 140 days of prayer is because most of us haven’t been properly praying for our country up until now. We evangelicals in North America have probably evolved into one of the singularly narcissistic and self-obsessed group of believers the world has ever known. We spend so much money, time, and effort on ourselves that our country has indeed wandered off, like a child at a picnic while its parents squabble with each other about who forgot to bring the mustard.
But, enough about us. See how easy it is to get off-track?
Revival or Revolution?
Dr. Stanley’s media ministry, In Touch, is sponsoring a 20-week, 140-day prayer calendar for evangelicals to bring requests to God regarding the state of the United States. And while I’m not going to officially register and join this latest in a growing parade of “bring America back to God” movements, I am participating in praying for our wonderful country.
However, I’ve said it before and I feel it bears repeating: while America has historically been a “Christian” nation, it has not been a “Godly” nation (see Week 15). The distinction needs to be made because we’re laboring under an enormous fallacy if we think the evangelicalism with which we’d like to see dominate the sociopolitical affairs of our nation can be “restored” through prayer.
Prayer indeed is powerful, but to pray for America to return to roots we believe to be “Christian” – in personal faith, not religious distinction – we need to pray for a revolution, not a revival.
Virtually every patriotic preacher on the revival bandwagon today claims that liberal historians get it wrong by saying our Founding Fathers weren’t Christians. But if you listen closely, many of our patriotic preachers are the ones confusing their terms. Most scholars don’t debate the Christian proclivities of George Washington, James Madison, and other key Revolutionary War figures, but were they people we evangelicals would consider “born again?” Probably not.
That’s pure heresy for many Christian believers today, because they want so desperately to believe in the original sanctity of the Founding Fathers and the inherent goodness upon which our nation was founded. But if you don’t want to live in a fantasy world, you have to admit the obvious.
Plenty of resources exist to prove these points, so I won’t argue them here. Just consider:
- While the original Pilgrim settlements may have been characterized by Godly desires, their Christian influence waned as subsequent settlers – some of them religious flakes – tried to build their own cult-like kingdoms here on Earth.
- As a native New Yorker, it’s to my own shame that the city’s founders included at least one prostitute and a murderer. Not exactly a “Godly heritage,” although many of my Big Apple-bashing friends would probably retort, “well, that explains a lot!”
- Just because during that time slavery was considered normal didn’t then - and doesn’t now - make it acceptable. Yes, God sanctioned slavery of Israel’s enemies and debtors, but not the wholesale selling and buying of a race with the explicit intent of exploitation.
- Most of the anger in the Colonies against imperialist British rule came from landowners angry over increasing royal taxation. Unfortunately, taxation is not a Biblical justification for instigating a revolution.
- Some evangelicals dismiss the widely-accepted correlations between Masonic ceremony and Biblical symbolism as saying the Masons were different back then. And they’re right – the Masons were much more powerful a force in civic life than they are today. While only God knows the true degree of commitment our Founding Fathers had to Him, much of the language and metaphors used in the writings of our nation’s first leaders can validly be ascribed to that time period’s meshing of sacred and ceremonial.
- Even if every one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were true-blue, born-again believers in Christ, they left little wiggle room in the documentation they produced regarding the establishment of one faith as the nation’s religion. In other words, they didn’t enthrone Christianity as the Church of America. What they naively assumed was that succeeding generations of Americans would uphold the moral virtues and civic standards by which democracy can flourish. And yes, the argument that morality cannot exist in a vacuum outside of faith does have merit, but the degree to which the Founding Fathers could not foresee the citizenry’s eventual abdication of religious doctrine (which is possible to acknowledge even without faith) is the degree to which our social structures seem to be collapsing all around us today.
- Back then, we were “one nation under God” by virtue of the fact that virtually all of the white folk from Europe were still perpetuating religious traditions which stemmed from Roman Catholicism. Whether those traditions actually glorified God is open to interpretation. Certainly, nobody was perfect. The Native Americans didn’t view themselves “under God,” and what a sorry way they’ve been treated by intervening generations of European descendants. African slaves were often provided rudimentary religious instruction, but many of them interwove their overseas superstitions and pagan traditions with what they were learning from whites. Even today, the black evangelical church struggles to pull people of color from the wayward fallacies that have become ingrained in their church culture since slavery.
- A popular assumption, espoused by none other that President George W. Bush, is that Muslims worship the same God evangelical believers do. This heresy has come from the pluralistic agenda of religious moderates who like to blunt the authority of scripture, obfuscate the divinity of the Trinity, and otherwise cripple basic tenets of Christ-centric faith. This same watering-down of Biblical truth has created a mythology about the founding of our country that has permeated the thinking of many people desperate for a political solution to America’s current problems. To the extent that Dr. Stanley and others are forcing American believers to make praying for our nation a priority, then the Holy Spirit has fertile ground to help us see that our God does not share His sovereignty and deity with anyone else.
- Even if our country was founded by a bunch of secular, evil, hedonist crooks – which I’m in no way suggesting – we’re still bound by God’s command to pray for our nation and our leaders. When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter if our Founding Fathers had burning zeal for Christ or not; the country they set up for us is our nation that we have an obligation to pray for. Why spend so much time arguing for a return to the “Christian principles” of our Founding Fathers when that’s not the point? The point is that God has blessed the United States, yet we cannot take that blessing for granted, nor should we waste it on ourselves. Ours is but one country where believers have been admonished to pray for those in authority over us. To the extent that we’ve been negligent in that responsibility, maybe our current problems are simply the result of that negligence.
Sometimes I wonder if we really put more hope in our politicians, our political and economic systems, and our Constitution than we put in God. Why do evangelicals seem to disproportionately get so bent out of shape over economic and family issues? Why are we the ones who wrap the cross in the flag so much?
I know, I know: twenty years of "the world according to Rush Limbaugh" makes my perspective positively dastardly to many conservatives. But is it really because I'm completely wrong, and our Founding Fathers were spiritual warriors? Or is it because we can easily find solace in how we imagine things used to be? Do we find it much easier to blame elected officials, media titans, and civic leaders for our problems than to acknowledge our own failures? Failure to pray more? Failure to live out the Fruits of the Spirit? Failure to preserve the sanctity of our marriages? Failure to protect the widows and orphans? Failure to allow the ox to eat as it plows (treat our workers fairly)?
Before we blame President Obama or Congress, maybe we should look in the mirror?
Tomorrow: Part Two