There are good reasons for Christians to be nervous about their place in the United States. The culture is in a period of rapid change of the sort not seen since perhaps 1967–77. That was the height of the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union and the United States threatened “mutually assured destruction” of each other via nuclear weapons. The very hot Vietnam War (1955–75) saw 50,000 American military dead, POWs that lingered behind, and roiled the nation with massive protests against it. The modern civil rights movement was at its apex and Dr King was assassinated (leading to “race riots” the destroyed portions of cities, portions that were never rebuilt). Not long after Bobby Kennedy was also assassinated. Watergate revealed the seamy side of a politics that burst the post-WWII, Cold-War fueled patriotism bubble for many. Modern feminism reached a new stage of development and social visibility. Women left the home and began going to work in record numbers. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided, almost entirely on the basis of dissimulation as it turns out, that human beings who have not yet escaped the womb are not entitled to the constitutional protection of life. No fault divorce began to spread across the US in this period. The Motion Picture Production Code (“The Hays Code”) ended in 1968 and movies became more sexually and violently graphic. Elvis made a comeback in 1968 and died in 1977. Rock and roll went psychedelic in 1967, thence Disco, Punk, and New Wave. The prosperity of the 60s devolved into the “stagflation” of the 70s.
The period in which we are living is seeing similar sorts of long-term changes. The Supreme Court of the United States has, with one vote, over-turned the entire history of marriage and human sexuality. The very idea of “nature” (i.e., an objective, fixed creational order to which all are bound) is widely rejected. Social media companies promote the notion that one’s sex is merely an identity that one may change as one changes clothes. As in the prior crisis, the economy is stagnant. Obamacare is seems to be failing. Young people are living at home longer than ever before. We have a president who identifies as African-American but there is more overt (and covert) racial tension than perhaps at any time since the late 1960s. In a ham-fisted attempt to coerce compliance to the new post-natural norm, un-elected boards are levying huge fines against Christian businesses that do not conform. Christian military chaplains complain that they are being silenced by superiors, who, in turn, feel threatened by the potential of litigation by groups opposed to the very idea of a chaplaincy. The accreditation of schools that do not conform to the new status quo is in jeopardy. What Nixon only dreamed of doing, i.e., using the IRS to punish his political enemies, the current administration has accomplished and apparently without any repercussions. One recognized, national reporter (Sharyl Atkisson) says that the government hacked her computer. The Obama administration investigated another reporter (James Rosen) as an alleged “co-conspirator” for reporting on a spying case. We seem to be a permanent state of scandal: “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi, and executive actions on immigration. Fundamental, natural, constitutional liberties seem to be openly threatened and the usual mechanisms and procedures for redress (e.g., the courts and the legislature) seem to be helpless and useless. The phenomenon known as “political correctness,” which we used to associate with repressive Marxist-Communist regimes such as the Soviet Union, is now a fact of life in the land of the free and the home of the brave. People across the socio-economic spectrum testify publicly and privately that they are afraid of the present, of the future, and to say what they think, even politely, for fear of social, political, and economic consequences.
In the midst of such unrest and tumult it is natural to look for help. The question is to where (whither) should Christians look? Scripture says:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Yahweh,
who made heaven and earth (Ps 121:1).
Certainly, as those with dual citizenship (Phil 3:20) in heaven and on earth, as though who live in what Calvin called a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regimen) we have responsibilities to both. Nevertheless, it seems clear from Acts and the Epistles, the apostolic church did not look for a political, this-worldly savior from the cultural. economic, and religious oppression they experienced. They consistently testified that their primary allegiance was to their ascended King. In Thessalonica, the apostles’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven) and of Jesus as King got them in some trouble: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6–7; ESV). Of course, they were misunderstood. They were not proclaiming a new, earthly, political, civil king. They were proclaiming another King and kingdom altogether, an ancient King, a heavenly King, and eternal King and Kingdom—not the sort of pro forma “The king is dead, long live the king!” eternity but a really and truly eternal king. It is not that the Christians withdrew from society. There is some evidence that members of the various regional and Roman civil governments came to faith and kept their positions but by and large the Christians were not socially influential. They sought to live quietly and to fulfill their earthly vocations as unto the Lord (1 Tim 2:2).
To be sure, we do not live in the Roman empire. We Americans live in a representative Republic. We are part of the government. We vote. We choose presidental electors. We elect legislators, judges (does anyone ever know for which judge to vote?), mayors, governors, and even school board members. Thus, we have a duty not only to be faithful Christians, to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33), but we have also a duty to discharge our office as citizens. Just as we must know the Word of God, which is divinely-given, authoritative, perfect, inerrant revelation of the King to his citizens, so too we ought to become skilled citizens. This Republic has a charter, to which elected officials and even un-elected judges are bound: it is the Constitution of the United States. If the legislature seems ineffective, it is not the fault of the Constitution. Their powers are enumerated clearly enough. The fault, frankly, lies with us voters. We have elected legislators who, in the interest of staying in office, have forfeited their powers (e.g., in the budget making process) to the un-elected executive branch. The theory that has dominated Washington DC since the rise of the “Imperial Presidency” is that if legislators do nothing, they cannot be faulted for making a mistake. We voters have rewarded them for this behavior.
We Americans have elected presidents, i.e., the chief executive of the federal laws of the US, who have, in turn, nominated judges who have increasingly sought to re-make the Constitution, that last, clear bulwark of liberty in a Republic. It has not helped that judges have professed before the Senate adherence to the original intent of the framers and then reversed course once on the court. Lawlessness is everywhere. We Americans, however, have elected legislators, mayors, and governors who have created, appointed, and empowered un-elected commissions to punish Christians for not conforming to the new sexual ethos. Those city councilors and mayors can be replaced at the ballot box.
Nowhere is there, in the American constitutional system, a place for a “strong man” to fix everything. The only “strong man” in a constitutional republic is the Constitution and the electorate that directly and indirectly chooses those who guard and execute it. The history of the “strong man,” who promises to fix all social ills and to protect the little people is not encouraging in the least. See the 20th century.
Christians have good reason to be nervous but those nerves should be calmed by remembering that Jesus is still King. He is still at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling the nations from his heavenly throne and legislators, governors, can do nothing without his permission. With that confidence we should invest ourselves to the appropriate degree in the work of fulfilling our office as citizens, zealous to uphold the liberties granted to us by our Creator and recognized in the Constitution of the United States. We have no “strong man” but we have the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah and we do live in his twofold kingdom. May God grant us the necessary wisdom and courage to fulfill our duties in both spheres under his sovereign rule as we wait for the consummation of all things.