Midterm elections are right around the corner, so it’s a good time to take stock of our national landscape. No, I’m not addressing who is leading in the polls or the battle over which party will control Congress. I’ll leave that to the pundits. Instead, Christians need to understand how we arrived where we are as a culture.
We have been living through a period of rapid, unprecedented secularization during our lifetime. This is changing our daily experiences more than we even realize. Christianity used to give Americans a sense of meaning and transcendent order. These things are strikingly absent from our political squabbles today.
Consider the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat and politician. He traveled around America in the early 1830s and came to believe that America’s Christian culture was unique in all the world. In “Democracy in America,” he wrote, “America is still the place in the world where the Christian religion has most retained true power over souls …” Even though America had many different denominations, Tocqueville noticed that “all sects preach the same morality in the Name of God.”
Politics were just as chaotic then as they are today, but the issues Americans fought about were limited. Everyone took certain moral truths for granted. This, for Tocqueville, was a key source of America’s greatness. He believed Christian morality taught Americans “the art of being free.”
Democracy presents society with an opportunity and a challenge. On the one hand, democracy allows unprecedented liberty. But this requires that people learn how to use their liberty wisely. If you have freedom without guardrails, you’ll quickly fall into despotism. Reflecting on this, Tocqueville asked: “How could society fail to perish if, while the political bond grows loose, the moral bond does not become tighter? And what to do with a people master of itself, if it is not subject to God?” Without submission to God and God’s law, democracy deteriorates. We’re soon left like Israel was at the end of the Book of Judges, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). I can think of no better description of popular culture right now.
We have become a people devoid of God, without any standard for judging good and evil. How can we expect our politics to be anything but dysfunctional?
The question for committed Christians today is how to respond. Should we hunker down, hide and wait for the rapture? Should we sink into hysteria or despair? Not at all. Although the result of each election has immense importance for public life, Christians—as representatives of the King of kings—need not hyperventilate about them. God is not seated on His throne biting His nails until the polls close. In His sovereignty, He works in and through our free choices to bring about the result He has ordained. God is the one who “removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21, NASB 1995). He is the one who establishes every government of every nation that has ever existed (see Romans 13:1). We may not know the twists and turns history will take, but we place our hope in knowing how it will end.
In the meantime, we have work to do. Christ has called us to engage in public life as His salt and light (see Matthew 5:13–14). As “salt” in the world, Jesus is commanding us to influence our culture rather than isolate ourselves from it. Salt is a preservative. It may not prevent decay, but it can delay it. God has given Christians in democratic countries a unique way to “salt” our world that Christians in other times and places did not have. We have been granted the freedom to choose our leaders by voting. Leaders will shape the values of the nation. So, Christians should work to select leaders who will govern according to God’s principles. We can look for leaders who publicly acknowledge God and who seek to advance the cause of righteousness.
I know what you’re thinking. Delaying an inevitable decay? That’s not a very inspiring bumper sticker, Pastor! Part of the reason we feel this way is because we have overestimated what politics can achieve. Yes, we need to engage our culture and push back against unrighteousness. Politics are important because they can help us continue fulfilling our true goals. But political change is not our ultimate goal.
The Christian’s highest calling is to bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Earthly governments can either hinder or facilitate this. But we’re not called to save America. We’re called to proclaim the Gospel. What our country needs most is a genuine revival wrought by the Spirit of God. We need the same national spirit the Ninevites had in response to Jonah’s prophecy. They humbly cried out: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:8–9, ESV).
I want to end with a word from an unlikely source. As chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren was certainly no conservative. But Warren identified America as “a Christian land governed by Christian principles.” He argued in 1954 that “we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion,” and “as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.” He was willing to point out what the Bible makes clear: America is not exceptional in one all-important respect. We will be judged, as individuals and as a nation, by whether we acknowledge and obey Jesus Christ as Lord. ©2022 Robert Jeffress
Robert Jeffress is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, a Fox News contributor, and Bible teacher on the international broadcast “Pathway To Victory.” This article is adapted from his new book, “18 Minutes with Jesus.”