How God Won When Politics Failed

Learning from the abolitionists during a time of political discouragement.

Facing another election year, American Christians are bound to feel depleted. When Jimmy Carter, a born-again, Sunday-school-teaching Baptist, was elected President, many people thought his Christian sincerity would inevitably make a moral impact. When the Moral Majority was founded in 1979, change seemed relatively simple—just get the great silent majority organized. When the conservative Congress of 1994 swept into office, backed by an enthusiastic corps of Christian activists, many thought the real revolution had begun. Now Christian activists are debating the viability of the Religious Right, with former heavyweight activist Paul Weyrich writing that

"politics itself has failed."

Now we know: Christian influence is not going to be easy. Will we ever see the end of hundreds of thousands of abortions? Will we ever see marriage and sexual fidelity restored to honor? Will entertainment ever again be decent? Will gambling ever be pushed back into the shadows? The uncertainty is discouraging.

Still, this is not the first time American Christians have been discouraged in trying to usher in a moral agenda through politics. Our forebears have much to teach us.

A Vocal Moral Minority

For the past several years, in doing research for a novel, I have lived mentally in an America before the automobile, before the electric light, before modern instruments of communication. Yet I have heard the same sighs of exasperation and discouragement from Christian activists as we hear today. These were the men and women who set out to oppose slavery.

Some of the issues they confronted have eerie parallels in our own day. The political establishment charged that their moralistic crusade against slavery stirred up hatred and violence. (Slaveholders ...

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