As the Democratic National Convention was about to begin in Charlotte, N.C., veteran conservative columnist Cal Thomas visited the Billy Graham Library and took a few minutes to talk with Decision about some of the vexing issues facing America today.
Q: What is a biblical response to moral issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage?
A: These things you mentioned—abortion, same-sex marriage, the list could go on: pornography, bad TV, worse movies, this sort of thing—none of these are the cause of our decadence. They are a reflection of it.
We worship the golden calf of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages. “In Dow We Trust,” not in God. And so, God gives us over to a depraved mind. Too many of us—conservatives, evangelicals, whatever label you want to put on people like me—are addressing the symptoms and not the cause.
Lincoln talked about this when he said that the great cause of the Civil War was that we had forgotten God. Solzhenitsyn said the reason that communism prevailed for seven decades in the Soviet Union was that they forgot God. Moses warned against that. Jesus warned against it. Paul warned against it. There are consequences to a society that puts anything—whether it is a golden calf or physical gold—in the place of God as their center of worship.
Billy Graham used to say years ago, “America is not at a crossroads, as some say. America is a long way down the wrong road and needs to come back to the crossroads and take the right road.” I’ve never heard anybody put it better than that.
Q: There is profound disagreement on how extensive the federal government’s role should be. Many conservatives argue for a much more limited role than we see today. But are there biblical reasons for this view?
A: The reason God instituted the state was to restrain sinful men and women who would not be constrained from within by the power of God. So the state exists to prevent anarchy. When the state sees itself as an instrument of God, having been created by God for that purpose, then it serves an orderly, functional purpose. But when it gets out of those constitutional boundaries and takes the place of God, deciding who should live and who should die, for example, or what constitutes marriage, or the proper expression of a sexual act, that’s when you have problems.
Q: As you mentioned, the world worships the Dow. The basic Republican approach to the economy is to let the free market have its way, but the consumer has to keep spending to keep the economy going, and that tends to push us toward materialism. From a biblical standpoint, how do you balance that?
A: It is a balance. The government should form, under God, a safety net. But what we’ve constructed now in our entitlement programs is a hammock. There’s a big difference.
The safety net is there for people who fall through the cracks, who are unable or unwilling to be helped by any of the many ministries that help the homeless or those in poverty. And I believe in that. We are a compassionate people.
But if you read, for example, Marvin Olasky’s wonderful book from the early 1980s called “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” the 19th century model of The Salvation Army and various Christian—and even conservative or orthodox Jewish—groups, was that if people were poor or homeless through decisions they made—drugs, alcohol, etc.—they were in need of redemption, and if you clean up the inside, then the outside will take care of itself. That’s what we have gotten away from. God commissioned us to do good works in order that, by meeting the physical needs of people, we would be able to tell them about their greater need, which is not reformation on the outside but transformation from the inside.
That’s what has gotten out of whack. I think everyone wants a stronger economy, for a whole bunch of reasons. But materialism is also a false god. I said before the recession that it seemed to me the greatest growth industry in America was public storage units.
Think about this. In our ever-growing houses, we no longer have enough room in the attic or the basement for all the stuff we have bought that the marketers have convinced us we need, and so now we have to rent places to store the excess. What for? The estate sale? Ungrateful children? We have more stuff than we’ve ever had in our lives, and yet we’re less happy. So a prudent person would say, “Wait a minute, maybe stuff and more stuff doesn’t really make us happy.” Well then, what does?
Q: What hope do you have that either political party can achieve the change our nation really needs?
A: We’ve tried Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, mushy moderates, white papers, blue-ribbon commissions, study groups, poll-tested, all of this stuff, and it’s all meaningless and chasing after the wind.
Things don’t improve when, let’s say, the Republicans are running all three branches of government. Under the Bush administration, what got better? I mean, we’re tinkering at the edges and not addressing the real problem.
So my prayer is that believers will get serious about this, as Ed Dobson and I wrote in our book “Blinded By Might—Can the Religious Right Save America?” Yes, vote. Yes, pray for whoever is in authority, including the person you didn’t vote for. Pray that God would be magnified and glorified, that everyone would know there’s a God in Heaven and that He would send revival to His church.