How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Here are the words of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson’s prayer, offered at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, January 20, 2017:
We thank You, Father, for letting us share this great moment together. Let us not take for granted the air we breathe, or the life You’ve given us. We were all created by You with one blood, all nations to dwell on this land together. We’re not enemies; we’re brothers and sisters. We’re not adversaries, but we’re allies. We’re not foes, but we’re friends. Let us be healed by the power of Your love, and united by the bond of Your Spirit.
Today, we pray for our 45th president, the vice-president, and their families. Give them the wisdom to guide this great nation, the strength to protect it, and the hands to heal it. We bless President Donald J. Trump. We ask that You give him the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph, and the meekness of Christ. Solomon, who kept peace among many nations, Joseph, who dreamed better for the people, and Christ who accepted us all. Oh Lord, mend our hearts, and stitch together the fabric of this great country.
In the spirit of the legendary gospel songwriter, Mahalia Jackson,
Deep in my heart, I do believe/ the Lord will see us through, I do believe / We are on our way to victory, I do believe/ we will walk hand in hand, I do believe / We shall live in peace, I do believe/ Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe / America, we shall overcome.
And may the Lord bless and keep America, and make His face shine upon us, and be gracious unto us, and give us peace. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
Read “5 reasons to pray for President Trump (even if you didn’t vote for him)” here: https://bobrogers.me/2017/01/20/bishop-jacksons-inauguration-prayer-for-president-trump/
Christians are commanded in scripture (1Timothy 2:1-4) to pray for the president and all of our nation’s leaders. However, many conservative believers expressed more anger than prayer for President Obama, and many liberal people of faith are doing the same today for President Trump. The same was true when President Bush was in office. Yet it is my duty to pray for my president daily.
My friend and fellow hospital chaplain, Dick Allison, usually votes for Democrats. He tells me that during the Watergate scandal that plagued Republican President Richard Nixon, he would often complain about Nixon’s failures. He didn’t vote for Nixon, and he didn’t like him. One day he realized that he had failed to pray for Nixon. “Since that day, hardly a day has gone by that I have not prayed for the president, whoever it was,” says Chaplain Allison.
I have a fuzzy photo of President George W. Bush taken on August 21, 2006, when President Bush spoke in Savannah, Georgia. After speaking, he went through the crowd shaking hands, and I grabbed my camera and took this picture in such a hurry that it came out fuzzy. As Mr. Bush greeted the crowd and shook my hand, I said, “I pray for you every day.” He looked me in the eye, and exclaimed, “Thanks, it’s working!” A priest who disliked President Bush’s policies later told me, “It must not be working.” Because he disagreed with the politician, he dismissed the prayer. How short-sighted! Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the Old Testament prophets modeled this kind of praying for us. Isaiah said that the Lord “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 49:16), Jeremiah wept over the nation, and Ezekiel called for someone to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) on behalf of the nation. Whatever our political persuasion, we can be patriotic prayer warriors. If the praying prophets of ancient Israel could pray for their nation, even when they had evil rulers, can we do less? Will we stand in the gap for America?
Frank Lambert, professor of history at Purdue University, does an excellent job of surveying this complex topic over a 200-year period. He does so thoroughly, yet concisely, in only 296 pages. While making generalizations at times, he often illustrates his points with quotations from original sources of the time period.
He begins by criticizing extremists on both sides of the issue, and proceeds to present a balanced approach. However, as I will explain at the end of this review, he shows his bias at the end.
Lambert’s thesis is this: America WAS first settled by people who wanted to make it a Christian nation, whether Puritans in New England, Anglicans in Virginia, or Quakers and others in Pennsylvania. These early founders had a vision of making America “a city on a hill,” a model Christian commonwealth. However, two major influences led the founding fathers to establish a government that separated church and state. These two influences were the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. Men like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, who were influenced by the Enlightenment, felt that men should be free to use their own reason in matters of religion. The Baptists and others who benefitted from the rapid growth of “free” churches in the Great Awakening were persecuted by established churches and wished to have no established church, so they joined with men like Jefferson in calling for separation of church and state.
Lambert shows that there was great division over these issues, and gives interesting anecdotes and quotations from both sides. He quotes frequently from religious leaders on both sides of the issue. However, near the end of the book he spends much more time quoting Republicans like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and gives little space to Federalists like George Washington and John Adams. At one point, on page 161, Lambert implies that John Adams was a deist, even though biographies of Adams have shown him to be a devout Christian with a Puritan heritage.
Lambert shows his view in his conclusion, as he criticizes accomodationists such as Judge William Rehnquist and “religious right” preachers like Pat Robertson.
While Lambert gives both sides of the argument, he clearly leads the reader to his own separationist interpretation. Because the book is so full of useful information, I highly recommend it as a textbook on the subject, but let the reader understand that Lambert has his own bias, too.
(In the guest blog below, Bobby Braswell reminds Christians of some important truths we need to hear, regarding the re-election of President Obama. Rev. Braswell is the associational missionary of Middle Baptist Association in Sylvania, Georgia, where he ministers to pastors and churches in Screven County, Jenkins County and northern Effingham County. Bobby his wife Frankie (pictured with him here) live in Guyton, Georgia. They have two children: Emma, 22, and J.B., 20. You can read his blog at www.brotherbobbysblog.blogspot.com.)
Watching the returns and waiting to see who will become the next president is about as compelling as TV viewing gets. It’s no secret that millions of Christians went to bed with sour stomachs last night. Many, though I am sure not all, who would identify themselves as social conservatives and followers of Jesus were outspoken in our hopes that the incumbent president would have a new career beginning in January. Since that didn’t happen, what are some appropriate responses to a second term for Barrack Obama?
Pray for the president – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV) 1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Preach the Gospel – A concern I have had for some time is that a lot of Christians behave as though getting the “right person” elected is THE ANSWER for America. Hello! It’s not! It never was! God changes people from the inside out. He changes the heart. I am not aware of anything that the government can do that can bring spiritual regeneration to people. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can do that (Titus 3:5). People who have experienced the grace of God through Jesus Christ can be a powerful force for transforming North American culture by radical obediennce to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That is really the only way that God has ordained to change societies. I want upright legislators and leaders, but if the Gospel is not the focal point of the energy of Christians we will share the largest part of the blame for the disintegration of North American culture (Matthew 5:13-16).
See People through God’s Eyes – I think a less angry, less shrill, less paranoid perspective of our fellow human being would be extraordinarily helpful. It is easy to have a hateful attitude toward people who don’t share our worldview and our faith, but where in Scripture are we given permission to think and act that way? And what is the good in that? The truth about me is that I was a wreck of a person before God’s grace found me, and I still struggle and fail and have absolutely no right to look at anyone else’s failures as being more scandalous or wretched than mine. We are all in the same messed up situation–that is not to minimize sin, or to deny it’s severity–just to say that I don’t belong to God by my right but by His mercy!
Share hope – I woke up today, November 7, 2012 with hope, because God is Great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48:1)! I woke up determined to have my life count for a great purpose because God is a great God! I woke up today convinced that America’s greatness has more to do with the faithfulness of me and all the other Christians I know and churches they are part of and our obedience to God and commitment to the truth of Gospel than what transpired in the presidential election.
Here are two maps of the USA. The first compares the states that voted for Obama (blue) and Romney (red) in the 2012 presidential election. The second shows states that are very religious (dark green), average (green) and below average in religiosity (light green).
It is interesting that 100% of the “above average” religious states went for Romney, and 14 out of 16 “below average” religious states went for Obama. Exit polls show that people who go to church regularly supported Romney by large margins, and people who never go to church supported Obama by large margins.
Religion was not the only factor in the election, as there were many “average” religious states that went for Romney and two “below average” states (Wyoming and Alaska) that went for Romney. This is because there are two kinds of conservatives: social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. Wyoming and Alaska are definitely independent-minded, fiscally conservative states. But the map does indicate that despite all the focus on the economy in this election, the differences between the candidates on the social issues that religious people care about, especially abortion and traditional marriage, made a huge difference in how people voted.
Can democracy flourish just as well in any society, no matter what the religious and cultural values, or does democracy depend on Biblical values to flourish and prosper?
Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”
Psalm 33:12 (HCSB) says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh—the people He has chosen to be His own possession!”
We sing “God Bless America,” but then we tell people to choose your god: Buddha, Allah, Ahura Mazda, Krishna, Yahweh, take your pick.
That simply will not work! Look at the verse again. Notice that it says in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.” Most Bible translations say “the LORD.” Whenever you see “LORD” in all capital letters, it means that the Hebrew word used is the actual name of God given to Moses at the burning bush: “I am,” which in Hebrew is Yahweh.
A nation whose God is not Yahweh, a nation that rejects the God of the Bible and Biblical values, rarely has a stable democracy. There are a few exceptions, such as Turkey, India, Japan, and Indonesia. But all over the world, we have seen that nation after nation that has put the Lord out of government is having a hard time putting democracy in. All across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa, which have been dominated by communism and non-Christian world religions, we see most governments are dominated by dictators instead of democracy. In Iraq and Afghanistan, sectarian conflict is threatening democracy. In the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” of new democracies appears to be turning into a “Muslim Winter.”
Just as a life without Jesus will always fail, a government without Yahweh is often frail. But a nation that has the God of the Bible as its foundation has put into place the value system needed to support a successful democracy.
The Declaration of Independence contains four references to God: as Lawmaker (“the laws of nature and nature’s God”); as Creator (“endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”); as Supreme Judge (“the Supreme Judge of the world for our intentions”); and as Protector (“the protection of Divine Providence”).
In 1787, the Constitutional Congress was arguing over the writing of the Constitution of the United States, and they were getting nowhere. Finally, Ben Franklin rose and said,
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard, and they were graciously answered . . . Have we now forgotten this powerful friend? Or do we no longer need his assistance?
I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
When George Washington took the oath of office as our first president in 1789, he asked that the Bible be opened, and he placed his hand on it to took the oath. Then he added to the oath the words, “So help me God,” and bent forward and kissed the Bible before him.
John Adams, our second president, said, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” These words are engraved in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
History has shown that democracies have done well in nations founded on Biblical values. Democracy flourishes in Europe, which has a Christian heritage, in Israel, where the values of the Old Testament are the basis of their government, and in North America, most of Latin America, Australia, and most of central and southern Africa that are dominated by Christianity. In South Africa, where the white minority gave up rule to the black majority, Bishop Desmond Tutu led them through a peaceful transition of power. Miraculously, bloodshed was avoided, unlike the conflict we see today in Iraq, a struggling democracy that does not have worship of the God of the Bible as its foundation. The key was that as Christians, South Africans were able to forgive.
Why is it that democracies tend to flourish where the culture is dominated by Biblical values?
Philippians 3:20 says that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet it is interesting that citizens of the heavenly kingdom make better citizens of earthly kingdoms.
Christians know they have a responsibility to contribute to their government. Jesus said, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
“And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants… Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)
Christians know that they have a responsibility to make a positive difference in their world.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Christians know that they are to pray for their nation’s leaders. Paul says 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for kings and all those in authority, and in Paul’s day, a pagan Roman was the emperor.
But because our highest citizenship is in heaven and not on earth, Christians also know that times may come when they have to stand up to godless and corrupt earthly rulers for the greater good of the nation.
Moses stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and demanded that Pharaoh give up his Hebrew slaves.
The prophet Nathan confronted King David to his face when he murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba.
The prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab and condemned Queen Jezebel for worshipping false gods.
John the Baptist told the ruler, Herod Antipas, that he was wrong to divorce his wife, and for his boldness, John the Baptist lost his head.
It may not always be easy, but it is always best for a democracy if that nation is founded on faith in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we wander away from that faith, we put in peril our earthly livelihood and our eternal home.
As John F. Kennedy said, “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
No wonder Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes good Christians makes them good citizens.”
As Psalm 33:12 says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.”