Another obituary was written about the “Religious Right,” and as we Christians just passed Palm Sunday on the way to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, it is an excellent time to do some soul searching. Washington Post reporter Kathleen Parker queries in her article “Political Pullback for the Christian Right” whether the movement is dead, ineffective or has lost its way.
“Is the Christian right finished as a political entity? Or, more to the point, are principled Christians finished with politics?” she asks. She then goes on to include criticisms of leaders like Dr. James Dobson as either having compromised too much (according to a Midwestern talk show host she quoted) or are wrongfully involved in politics altogether.
In the article, columnist Cal Thomas asserts, “If people who call themselves Christians want to see any influence in the culture, then they ought to start following the commands of Jesus and people will be so amazed that they will be attracted to Him. … The problem isn’t political. The problem is moral and spiritual.”
He is right … and wrong.
I may sound like a scratched CD, but please bear with me. The major failure of the “Religious Right” (RR) is not in leaders like Dobson, et al. Self-serving “pundits” like Thomas, who rode the coattails of Jerry Falwell and the demonized RR to a handsome position of profit and fame, love to point out in a self-righteous manner the flaws of those leaders and a movement of Christians who sacrificed much to stand when nobody else was.
It’s not that a rational assessment of culture and government from a biblical perspective does not quickly lead to the conclusion that we are losing on both fronts. I have asked many pastors and leaders around the country – particularly those of us over 40 – a simple question, “In our lifetimes have we witnessed the church, the people, our culture and our government move closer to a biblical standard or away from it?”
Unless one is essentially spiritually and morally bankrupt in nearly every possible way, the answer is obvious. The causes and the solutions are what we fight wars over, however.
Let’s start with the Religious Right. Did the RR cause the explosion of divorce, drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, liberalism, governmental corruption, abortion, rights for deviant sexual lifestyles, etc., that rolled through the ’60s and ’70s like a fast-moving cancer?
Were the biblically grounded pastors and their flocks too engaged in contending for truth on the battlefield of faith, values, cultural mores and government during that time?
So who is the culprit? Indeed, the American church was largely the caricature of a number of negative Scriptural parables and illustrations, including Mark 4:3-20, the parable of the sower. The key to the entire passage is in verse 14 when Jesus explains the parable to hard of hearing disciples: “The sower sows the Word” – the Logos – not just words, speeches, flowery sermons, poetic readings or pithy illustrations. We are reaping what we did not sow.
The truth is that we were clearly NOT sowing the Word in any meaningful way that was consistent with the historic Christianity that transformed nations. We were busy doing church. The ugly issues of racism, social upheaval, moral meltdown and political scandal were too radioactive and not spiritual enough for most pastors.
Now, the issues of abortion, multi-sexuality, political corruption, family disintegration, radical Islam, national security, Marxist government, etc, are largely the same – too hot to handle.
How does this compare with our forefathers? Quoting mentor to the founding presidents, the Rev. John Witherspoon:
He is the best friend to American liberty who is the most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down on profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. It is your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, every one in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence to His name and worship, and obedience to His laws.
They clearly understood that personal virtue and character were indispensable to corporate morality and stability, but also believed that the church must be about BOTH. When we abdicated the role of prophet to the nation, the vacuum was quickly filled by darkness and evil.
They did not begin winning until we committed desertion, one of the most heinous of acts in time of war – once a capital crime for soldiers; we fled from the enemy during battle and left our “army” and our “cause” to their mercy.
The very failure to make disciples who redeem the nation brought about the cultural/political conditions that the founding leaders of the Religious Right were reacting to. What they failed to do was focus initially on the root cause of a church that lacked orthodoxy, worldview and courage.
It was not that we should not have been involved politically, but that we should have devoted far greater attention to rebuilding powerful, life- and nation-changing churches in every town and city in the United States that naturally flowed outward and upward to touch every institution with God’s love and truth. Those in American Christendom who became the RR simply stepped up to fill a void left by passive pulpits.
I have an assignment for Cal Thomas and all the evangelicals who are busy trying to save Christianity from the RR – read this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. Read it out loud and often. You know it – “It is not the critic who counts …”
It is not too late; it is just very late. God is still sovereign, still governs in the affairs of men and still laughs at those who rage against Him (See Psalm 2). We, His people, however, are in His way and must begin doing all that He commanded by sowing good seed in good soil, growing a good tree that produces good fruit personally, culturally – and yes, politically.