November 4, 2008
The Hansen Report: The Day After
Election day is here, but what will tomorrow bring?
The view of America from Manhattan was pretty bleak on the morning after November 2, 2004. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, typically a levelheaded observer of world affairs, watched America become "two nations under God."
"We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is," Friedman wrote about the "Christian fundamentalists" who helped propel President Bush to reelection against Sen. John Kerry. "Is it a country that does not intrude into people's sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn't trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us - instead of dividing us from one another and from the world?"
The view north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, was even more ominous. Northwestern University adjunct history professor Garry Wills declared November 2, 2004, "the day the enlightenment went out." No longer did America take after France, Britain, Germany, Italy or Spain. No, Bush's America harbored "fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity." In short, the new America shared more in common with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Christian fundamentalists, still fuming over the embarrassment of the Scopes trial in 1925, had finally enacted a jihad Wills dubbed "Bryan's revenge." Now these Christians would be able to impose their irrational, bigoted opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Thinkers like Wills could only ask: "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?"
Four years later, perhaps Wills can answer this question more to his liking. If Sen. Barack Obama defeats Sen. John McCain on Tuesday, does that mean the Enlightenment's flame has been rekindled? Has science won the tug-of-war with religion? Would Friedman conclude that two Americas have become one again?
Elections make intelligent people say and do unintelligent things. But they also make faithful people talk and act as if they had little faith. Focus on the Family Action is circulating a hypothetical letter from 2012 that explains how the United States has changed in President Obama's first term. According to Focus on the Family Action, Obama rallied support from Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives to mandate same-sex marriage across the country, eliminate restrictions on abortion, and reinforce the wall that separates church from state. Each of these developments is plausible, given Obama's track record and campaign statements.
But Focus on the Family Action goes further. They speculate that "Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, Navigators, Baptist Campus Ministry, and Reformed University Fellowship have shrunk to mere skeleton organizations, and in many states they have simply ceased to exist" due to restrictions on "hate speech" including opposition to homosexuality. In response to new educational standards, many home-school families have emigrated to Australia and New Zealand. Some Christian publishers have gone out of business, since protests have led many chains and Amazon.com to ban their books. Christians can hardly work in the health-care industry, since they can no longer opt out of procedures that violate their consciences. On top of everything else, inner-city violence has increased, because private citizens of eights states can no longer bear arms.
Who's to blame for this doomsday scenario? Focus on the Family Actions tells us that many evangelicals voted for Obama since they wanted change and didn't understand his true agenda. Yet despite their culpability in the horror unleashed in 2008, "Christians on both sides should continue to respect and cherish each other's friendship as well as the freedom people have in the United States to differ on these issues and to freely speak our opinions about them to one another," Focus on the Family Action writes.
At this point, you might wonder where trust in a sovereign God fits in this scenario. Indeed, Focus's hypothetical "Christian from 2012" writes, "Personally, I don't know how we are going to get through tomorrow, for these are difficult times." And yet the writer could affirm, "I still believe that God is sovereign over all history, and though I don't know why he has allowed these events to come about, it is still his purpose that will ultimately be accomplished."
Perhaps this profession of faith would ring true if the letter were true. But as a projection of conservative Christians' greatest fears before the fact, the letter stokes fear and encourages faith in government as the ultimate arena for advancing the gospel and promoting biblical morality. It tempts Christians to hope and trust in government as if they were the very progressives Focus decries, the ones who have leveraged political power in recent decades to advance their social agenda with and without popular support.
The Sunday after Election Day, many evangelicals may feel as if they have lost hope. Some may rejoice with hope they never even feel in God. Maybe everyone will still be shocked by an unexpected election result. No matter what happens, pastors can reassure church members that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1). No matter who becomes the next president, he won't be more hostile to the Christian faith than Emperor Nero, who ruled over the Roman Christians who received this letter. And yet the apostle Paul told them "he is God's servant for your good" (Rom. 13:4).
Faith is not blind hope that everything will turn out okay. This election will affect how Christians live among their neighbors for decades to come, for better and worse. But faith must at least lead Christians to leave the scare tactics to the skeptics.