Pastor’s Perspective – Summer 2022
As we prepare to celebrate another Fourth of July, we face several critical issues that threaten to unravel the very fabric of our tenuously United States. War in Europe, rising economic concerns, and the erosion of public morels and civic peace are causing the American people to worry about the future of our nation. The fears are appropriate. We are indeed in a perilous moment. In the aftermath of an international pandemic and due in part to a series of unforced errors caused by the fallout from those pandemic years, we have over-whelmed both our economy and our citizenry.
During this time of isolation and partisan bickering, our young people and our overseas enemies have been left unattended and have grown mischievous and violent. Separation from our traditional communities and responsibilities has left us prone to increasingly violent outbursts and a loss of the camaraderie (both foreign and domestic) that allows for the peaceable exchange of products and ideas.
Personal and international isolation has allowed us to ignore the butterfly effect of constant shut-downs, school closures, and work stoppages. As we have crawled from our isolation chambers and re-entered the world, we are discovering that two years of zoom meetings and the ability to shield ourselves from unwanted opinions has radically diminished our tolerance for unexpected conflict.
Young people and the emotionally fragile have been succumbing to self-harm, addiction, and externalized violence in alarming numbers. They have lost hope in the future and have been bullied by partisan media and politicians into seeing the world as irredeemable and stacked against them. In the quest to remove ourselves from responsibility we have resorted to recklessly blaming ‘the other’ for all the problems of the world. Russians blame Ukraine; China blames Taiwan; Red blames Blue; Blue blames Red; and on it goes. This vilification has exacerbated the loss of our traditional teams; at work, at church, at school, and in friendships and organized activities, and has stoked our post-modern tendencies toward depression and lethargy.
As we experience the explosion of violence, runaway inflation, and supply chain crises, we are looking to our State and Federal governments for leadership and stability. These leaders however have not been trained to lead, as they have found their way to power based on their ability to stoke rage against those on the other side of the aisle. So, they raise their voices on cable news as cities burn and we bury more young people who have succumbed to the rising flood of melancholy.
The Washington mindset is thoroughly corrupted by militaristic imagery. From the time I was a child we have waged wars on poverty, racism, communism, inflation, foreign oil, drugs, AIDS, and COVID-19. Even the pacifists are taught to wage war against the military – industrial complex (they say they are waging peace, but the anger and vitriol betrays the war-like nature of their quest). War after war. Enemy after enemy. A nation that is constantly raging against the injustices and flaws of the world will in time succumb to the rage itself.
As we prepare to celebrate another year as a free nation, we must acknowledge that we no longer can solve a problem without attacking an enemy.
This is what happens when a people forget their covenants. Covenants are mutually beneficial rules and laws that help us to protect, not only our interests, but the interests of both sides of a treaty. The Ten Commandments are a classic set of mutually beneficial laws that protect the relationship between God and the people and the community of believers living together.
One does not restrict theft because it benefits store owners, one restricts theft because theft violates the peace of a neighborhood, the family, and the economy at large. A thief will make children cry for the loss of a bicycle, will cause a rise in grocery prices, and will inevitably force a violent response from the strong. Adultery and covetousness create the same slope that inevitably descends into darkness and violence.
The sad truth is that as long as we ignore the covenantal (and mutually beneficial) nature of God’s law, any new laws that we create to enforce the peace will inevitably target one group for the sake of another. Think for a moment how gun laws are articulated; we attack a style of weapon, or the age of the owner, we look at crime based on peoples and ethnicities, with one group being targeted over the other (Cf. Republican versus Democratic visions of the problem of gun crime). How about the war on drugs, or how we communicate taxation? Each shift in the law targets one group over another. Each trumpets the victory of one side over the other. And we all get in line to support our side.
I remember in my halcyon days of collegiate in seminary school, the argument would often be made that we were or that we were not a Christian nation. Liberals would intensely argue that we were never supposed to be a Christian nation. Conservatives would argue that we clearly were a Christian nation with the understanding that we still should be. My response to both sides was that we were a nation of Christians, and we were never intended to be a Christian nation. Our constitutional founders intended for us to be a pluralistic nation who lived with the guidance of Christian morality. The functioning of our nation does not demand a theological adherence to a doctrine, but it is contingent on a moral agreement amongst the people. Our laws only work if our people are moral because our freedoms can only be extended if we are bound by covenant to respect the rights, values, property and lives of those who are members of our community and nation.
But here’s where it gets tricky. And here’s where we currently are. Our nation is morally broken. We have a significant percentage of our population permanently incarcerated for crimes against the covenant. These men and women will not be deterred by new or old laws. They must be transformed. We must be transformed.
We are at a crossroads in which we can solve the problem of crime by imposing order violently or seeking to change ourselves and our communities through the rebuilding of the covenants that made us great. The simple truth is that changing the law is easier than changing the heart. That’s why our politicians are always reorganizing around new laws, new obstructions, and new enemies. Our politicians are people of the law, not people of the covenant.
We are a people of the covenant. That is what we provide to the nation. That is our purpose. To remind this nation that we seek a more perfect union by becoming better people. We shall restrain our impulses for the sake of the weak, the young, the innocent. We shall show love by doing unto others… We shall live with a color-blind sense of justice and sacrificial understanding of grace.
When Alexis De Tocqueville travelled the United States in order to understand the reason for our success, he discovered a people who lived in community, respected each other, and were fundamentally good neighbors and friends. They did not need to be forced to help those around them. They willingly assisted those in their communities and volunteered to make their world a better place. The pull quote was, “America is great because America is good.”
Regardless of your opinion of our past, there should be little doubt that America can no longer be called good. That is something that we can in fact change. We do not need a law to change it. We only need the will. If our nation is to survive, the Church will need to seek to change the hearts of our citizens. We will need to devote our time and efforts, not to defeat sin and crime, but to show love and grace. We do not need to attack evil; we need to be good. For the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the nation, we need to be a people of the Covenant in Jesus Christ.