I am mourning for America today. I am mourning because so many have abdicated the values that already make America great. Now, granted, we have never kept these values perfectly, and we have often rationalized abandoning them. Nevertheless, these values have called us back over and over again to freedom, decency, and human rights. Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote:
America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
De Tocqueville said this because he perceived the Christian faith and freedom to be inseparable in the United States of America, not by force but by consent. While I recognize that I have a number of atheist friends who are firm defenders of freedom and strong advocates for human rights and morality, I do believe that the Christian faith has made an important, deep, inseparable contribution to American society that accounts much for its particular goodness in this particular time and space context. However, only to the extent that that Christian faith is practiced faithfully, with considerable dedication to self-reflection and repentance among the faithful themselves, can America claim its grounding in the Christian faith.
For years and years, Christian leaders have decried the moral lapses of the culture–sex outside of marriage, same-sex marriage, abortion, liberal policies. But now the moral rot within much of the Christian church is being revealed for what it is. We have spent an inordinate amount of time saying that the problem in America is the other guy, the secularist or liberal. And yet, as Jesus told us, we have been so focused on the speck in our brother’s eye that we have ignored the plank in our own eye. Until repentance comes among the Church, I have little faith that America can be saved.
When religious leaders and self-professed Christians embrace leaders who espouse racism, violence, and crudeness, we relinquish our hold on the true greatness of America–goodness. There are many Americans who call themselves Christians who are dissatisfied with the liberal direction of America. That in and of itself is not necessarily wrong; people of good intention can certainly disagree about policy in good faith. However, when Christians who find themselves dissatisfied with the direction of America engage in rancor, violent speech and activity, defense of lies, speech and actions that make the vulnerable feel unsafe … we have relinquished our hold on what makes America great–her goodness. The way to fight that with which a Christian disagrees is through better ideas, through love, through service on behalf of neighbor, through truth, through listening, through being slow to anger. When we defend those who oppress, abuse, and bully, we are not following the example of Christ, who emptied himself of his power and rights for the sake of each of us poor sinners.
As I view new reasons to grieve the lost goodness of America each and every day, I have to remind myself of what God is calling me to do, of how I am called to walk a different way. What is happening in our country is evil and oppressive. I feel my anger and deep frustration grow each day. There are a few times I have spoken hastily and angrily out of my deep frustration, but I am called to grieve instead. I am called to model a better way of discourse. I am called to model love for enemies, even those who stomp on what makes America great. I am called to stand up for the oppressed and to think of them more than myself.
I do not have a great deal of hope for the immediate future in America. This is not just because of one outrageous candidate run amuck, but because I see among so many Americans (and especially worrisome, among some Christians) a lack of interest in goodness, even as they lambast others for their perceived moral problems (some real, some not). There is only one way forward for Christians: for each of us to confess our own moral failure at goodness and to seek empowerment from God to walk in the good path, in the right way, even when times are tough, even when we don’t get our way, even when we feel angry and disempowered. There may not be a great deal of collective hope for America in my heart right now, but I do have hope that some individuals may be provoked to moral dedication in these dark times and to embrace of character and humility by seeing where the lack of these lead. I hope and pray for revival for America, revival among Christians, humbling of our hearts, change and love.
God, we cannot change everyone else, but we ask you to change us. Live your goodness through us. Break our hearts with the things that break your heart. Use us to bring life and peace to a broken world, instead of more hatred and anger. Amen.
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P.S. Please also note that I am not a scientist, but a person with expertise in theology and the arts. While I am very interested in the relationship between science and faith, I do not believe I personally will be able to adequately address the many questions that inevitably come up related to science and religion. I encourage you to seek out the writings of theistic or Christian scientists to help with those discussions.
Image source: CC License Attribution 4.0 International. Andre-Pierre du Plessis via Flickr.