There was a time when I believed America to be a “Christian” nation. I don’t believe that anymore. Whether or not it ever was can be debated, but what is clear is that it’s currently nowhere near “Christian”.
Yet as a Christian in this country what should my interaction with national and local politics be? Should I bother with building a morally upright kingdom here on earth when I’m already involved with a heavenly one? The two extremes bounce between heavy involvement (it’s a democracy after all) and out-right aloofness of current events (maybe the Amish are on to something). In high school, when I believed America to be Christian, I leaned toward the former. But as I came to college and grew disillusioned with the way the US actually is, the latter became my camp. In recent years, however, I’ve been moving toward a medium that seeks to get involved while understanding that America isn’t the church and won’t last for eternity.
A book I’ve read recently that’s helped push me in that direction is A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Schaeffer was a major Christian thinker most notable for books like The God Who Is There and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. His Manifesto came toward the end of his life in 1981 and was largely a response to the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court (legalizing abortion) and the increasing lean of Western culture toward secularism.
Schaeffer opens his work with some chapters examining how objective Truth is attacked and a result of which is the fall of faith and freedom. He warns of the dangers of allowing the Supreme Court to make decisions for the nation as a whole, such as the Roe v. Wade case, as this takes the power away from the elected representatives of the people and stores it with non-elected individuals who will probably rule based on their own opinions and not from the Constitution. We see the fulfillment of his warnings today with the Court increasingly getting more attention in crucial matters, most notably the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Schaeffer traces these attacks and shifts of power to the increase of humanism in the West. He defines this as “the placing of Man at the center of all things and making him the measure of all things.” Humanism has replaced Christianity as the major religion of American politics and it has systematically begun stripping away religious freedom, not just for Christians, in our nation. Evangelicalism has been helpless to stop it, often focusing on the wrong fronts or failing to address the root issue behind the two religions, namely, what is the absolute Truth about reality? Is the world self-existing or did God create it? In the end, humanism destroys human freedoms and skews what makes us human. Christianity, however, encourages the flourishing of freedom and rightly defines humanity.
When Schaeffer wrote, there was a conservative resurgence happening in America and he viewed it as an “open window” for the church to fight back against humanism. He discusses the limits of civil obedience and when to employ civil disobedience. On the latter point, Schaeffer believed that when a government views itself as above the law and acts in a way harmful to its citizens, namely when its policies go against the Bible, it is a person’s moral obligation to resist. “Resistance” is seen most viably as non-violent protests, such as picketing outside a Planned Parenthood. As he closes out, he points to a Christian influencing his/her community “by teaching, by life, by action”.
The battle between Christianity and secularism is real. We see a secular society forcing it’s views upon everyone through media or outright judicial pressure. We’re living in a time when you could be refused the opportunity to help in the foster care system if you don’t believe in LGBTQ agendas. We find people being bullied out of business because they refuse to participate in something they disagree with. We come across talking heads in the news who view Christianity as a fairy tale and not a respectable worldview. In short, get on the bandwagon or get marginalized.
But Schaeffer’s trifecta, “by teaching, by life, by action”, offer a practical response to this pressure. We can influence the culture “by teaching”, knowing what is biblical and how certain issues are handled in the Bible. “By life” we consistently and lovingly live out what we believe. Finally, we get involved “by action”, getting beyond our own selves (and living rooms) to take part in the political process and make our voice heard.
I would encourage you to seek out a copy of Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto and read it for yourself. He is scarily prophetic at times, yet intensely practical. The church in America needs to pull itself from the two extremes of political involvement and make a difference in society today.