Shortly after Pat Robertson resigned his ministry to enter politics, Jerry Falwell resigned his leadership of the politically charged Moral Majority to return to full-time pastoral ministry. Just when one seemingly has had his fill of politics, the other is off and running for the White House. Both events lead me to conclude that it is time we stop trying to save America.
By that I mean it is time to stop trying to save the America of yesteryear—the America often referred to as “a Christian nation.” It is time to give up that expression and come to grips with the America of today and tomorrow.
A Partly Christian Nation
To do that, we must dispel the faulty notion that America ever was a Christian nation. Certainly the Pilgrims came here to be “a city set upon a hill” that would shine the light of Christ’s kingdom. But it is no secret that many of our famous Founding Fathers were deists (at best), not Christians. Their ideal was a land of religious freedom—not a Christian land. They gave us a Constitution that specifically guarantees the freedom to follow any faith—or none at all. And the church flourished here in large part because of its divorce from the civil domain.
This is in full accord with God’s action in establishing the New Covenant. In Christ he has created a new people called out from all peoples, nations, and lands. Part of the genius of the church is its capacity to operate apart from set geographical boundaries, cultural biases, or national governments. We are the church of the New Covenant, not Israel of the Old. So, theologically, as well as constitutionally, there can be no such thing as a Christian nation.
Yet even if we could turn America into a Christian nation, such efforts would not be in the best interests of the church. Impassioned cries for school prayer take little notice that the model prayers suggested do considerable damage to any Christian concept of the Deity and to the practice of prayer. Certain Christian action committees may weigh in as heavyweights on the political right, but their oft-stated agendas calling for a strong national defense completely ignore Jesus’ call to be peacemakers. It is time we recognize that communism may not be as great a threat to the American church as compromise with a nationalistic agenda. Attempts to save a “Christian America” may Well contribute to the church in this country losing its soul.
A Greater Cause
There is one final reason why this cause must be given up. A greater cause beckons: that of actually saving America. For some time the prophets in our midst have been telling us we are embarking upon a post-Christian era in this land. Missiologists claim only three other countries have more unchurched inhabitants than this nation. We must face this reality not with sentimental yearnings for a simpler, more sacred day gone by, but with renewed missionary efforts in our own neighborhoods.
This is not a call for evangelicals to abandon social causes nor forsake issues of morality. Nor is it a call to retreat from the political arena in order to effect justice and compassion. It is, however, a call for evangelicals to become more evangelistic. And it is a call for us to be clear about our goals: It is not “America, a Christian nation,” that we are trying to save, it is Christ’s kingdom that we are seeking to establish. Where the kingdom calls culture into account let us sound the trumpet loudly and clearly. But let us no longer answer to the reveille bugled by yearnings for a supposed simpler day when the church and the nation shared the same agenda.
I find no joy or satisfaction in saying such things. I love my country as much today as I did as a kid when we began each school day pledging our allegiance to the flag. And I am fearful for my nation—for its character, for its values, for its continued presence in a dangerous world.
Yet now I fear more for the church in this country if we do not let go of one battle in order to enter another. We need to abandon a reactionary mentality, a cultural-mission mentality, a national-defense mentality. Our children must see this if they are s to recognize in our faith anything more than an available religious option added to the basic package of the culture’s values. And those whom we are seeking to save need to recognize these differences if they are genuinely to hear Christ’s claim to lordship.
I cannot assess the wisdom of Pat Robertson’s run for the White House. I do hope, however, that his candidacy does not strengthen the church’s platform to save America. Instead, we need to take up the battle of proclaiming and living out Christ’s saving Word in the midst of a pagan land.
By Rick McKinniss, pastor of the Kensington (Conn.) Baptist Church, a member of the Baptist General Conference.
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