Our Nation at the Crossroads: Is God on America’s Side?/Program 1

By: Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2008
Conservatives often act as if God is on their side – and that they speak for God in their policies. But our gests say it’s far more important to find out if they (we) are on God’s side.

Contents

Introduction

Today on the John Ankerberg show, is God on America’s side? Does God take a position, have a side in the moral and public policies being debated in our country?

Dr. Richard Land: Well, I think that conservatives, their big mistake is that too often they assume that God is on their side, or God is on America’s side. And we can never assume that. If we assume that that’s pretty close to idolatry. What we need to do is what Lincoln encouraged us to do. He said we need to try to make certain we’re on God’s side. I think the problem with the liberals is that too often they assume that God doesn’t have a side.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: I think that it is very important for Christians to be involved in politics, but I think we’ve been involved in the wrong way. We’ve not done so maintaining independence. John, I really do believe that one of the greatest mistakes we have made is when ministers actually endorse political candidates. You see, this confuses the whole issue as to what the church is about.

My guests today are Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country. He graduated with high honors from Princeton University and received his Ph.D. from Oxford. He has represented Southern Baptists’ and other Evangelicals’ concerns in the halls of Congress, before U.S. Presidents, and in the media. He has just written a new book entitled, The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!

My second guest is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. His new book is entitled, Is God on America’s Side?

I asked these men, how can Christians be involved in influencing public policies and laws without clouding the message of the Gospel?

Lutzer: If you were to stand at the corner of State and Madison in Chicago and you were to ask people, what do you think Christianity is?, very few would say it’s this message that Jesus came to rescue us as sinners. Almost all of them would begin to talk about our political affiliations.
Land: In a country where 85% of Americans claim to have some affiliation with some form of the Christian faith and where 61% claim that religion is very important in their lives, then the only way that the secularists can win is if they are able to intimidate people of faith.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking with Dr. Richard Land who is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer who is pastor of the world-famous Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois.
Richard, you’ve been on Meet the Press, and ABC, and NBC, FOX; I mean, you name it you’ve been on there; and recently as well. And you’ve got a new book, The Divided States of America, and of not being a very civil public square these days. But in order to get to the answer we’ve got to analyze the situation. And what I found fascinating is you said right off the bat that when you look at both conservatives and the liberals, both sides are getting it wrong today. Okay, I want to hear why. Take them in whatever order you want.
Land: Okay, well, I think that conservatives, their big mistake is that too often they assume that God is on their side, or God is on America’s side. And we can never assume that. If we assume that, that’s pretty close to idolatry. What we need to do is what Lincoln encouraged us to do. He said we need to try to make certain we’re on God’s side. That we need to submit our will as individuals and as a country to God and seek to do what God would have us do. And as Lincoln said, to do the right as God gives us the light to see the right. And to finish the task that we are in.
I think the problem with the liberals is that too often they assume that either God doesn’t have a side; and I am willing to acknowledge that God may not have a side when it comes to NAFTA, or CAFTA or some other trade agreement, but when it comes to the issue of the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death and everywhere in between, I believe fervently that God has made it very clear in Holy Scripture that He has a side and that we need to be on it. And it’s the side of being pro-life. And even those liberals who believe God does have a side, they often through some twisted and distorted understanding of separation of church and state, think that people of faith don’t have the right to apply the beliefs and the convictions and the perspectives that they get from their reading of scripture to public policy. And of course, that’s just anti-religious discrimination.
Ankerberg: Erwin, you’ve written from a theological perspective of whose side is God on. Is God on the side of America? And set that up for us.
Lutzer: Well, I think that it’s wonderful to be patriotic and we have every right to do that. But no nation can really claim that God is on its side today. Ancient Israel was able to do that, but we can’t. And once we understand that then we can begin to analyze what the Bible has to say regarding God’s relationship to nations. And we can better understand how we as a church fit into everything that God is doing in America.
Ankerberg: Richard, you said that, concerning God in American politics today, that you’ve got the God-and-country position of the conservatives where we are in need of God. And God has been taken out of this country and we need to put Him back in where He’s always been from the beginning. What’s wrong with saying that?
Land: Well, I think it’s simplistic and naive to say that, you know, well, somehow the civic religion that has been part of our culture from the beginning is going to bring revival or is going to bring genuine moral reformation to our country.
Ankerberg: Define civil religion.
Land: Well, the idea that on the Fourth of July we wave the flag and we have a prayer and,… Look, I am a patriotic American. I am very grateful that I was born in this country. I believe that this is the greatest country that has ever been conceived on this earth to present; where ordinary people have greater freedoms and greater liberty and greater freedom of religion. But we are not God’s chosen people. And, you know, look, I was in high school when we prayed in school. And it didn’t make any difference in the way that the people behaved because it was rote. It was just sort of assumed that you said the Lord’s Prayer and you had a Bible reading.
If we really want America to genuinely reflect Christian values there’s no substitute for individual Christians being redeemed, for individual Christians coming to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We will never have a government sponsored revival. We will never have a government sponsored reformation. It’ll come from God and it’ll come through God’s people. You know, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear their prayers and forgive their sin and heal their land.” Now, that was a promise to Israel in the Old Testament. And I believe it’s a promise to Christians in any country, including the United States, in the New Testament dispensation or the New Testament covenant. So if we want America to be blessed by God there is no substitute for “if my people which are called by my name,” that’d be the Christians, “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.”
Now, humbling ourselves means that we acknowledge that our problems are God sized problems and only God can solve them. We don’t have human sized problems in our culture that human beings can solve. Only God can solve them. And when it says turn from our wicked ways, you know, we’ve had in the last 50 years an enormous resurgence of evangelical Christianity in America. And I think we have to admit at this point that rather than being salt and light in the culture, that we’ve had the culture has salted and lit us more that we’ve salted and lighted the culture. We’ve become more like the culture when it comes to divorce, when it comes to our sexual mores, when it comes to the way we live our lives. Instead of changing the culture, as evangelicals have grown and become an increasing part of the culture, we’ve been more influenced by the culture. And that is not what the Lord Jesus had in mind.
Ankerberg: But go the opposite way. You’re not saying that the liberals are right in saying that the separation of church and state means God shouldn’t have anything to do with American politics and public life.
Land: Oh, absolutely not. I think that they’re even more wrong when they try to sanitize the public square of any religious expression. What I’m saying is that if we are going to have the kind of revival, the kind of change in morals, the kind of change in the spiritual tenor of our country that we want, it’s not going to come through violations of the establishment clause of the Constitution, by having the government try to sponsor religion or the government trying to promote revival. That’s never going to happen. It has to come through free exercise of the right that we have to bring our convictions and our understanding of truth to bear on public policy issues.
You know, every major moral problem in America’s history that has been corrected has been corrected because people of religious conviction brought those convictions to bear on public policy and said, we believe this is wrong, and they convinced enough Americans that it was wrong and it became illegal. The Anti-Slave Movement, the Labor Reform Movement, the Child Labor Reform Movement, and in our own lifetimes, the Civil Rights Movement; none of them are explicable apart from the religious leaders who started and led them and the religious conviction people who followed them and who brought about those profound changes in our culture.
Ankerberg: At the same time, Erwin, you’re critical of the way some of us as Christians have brought this to bear. And you said in your book that you see Christians becoming entangled with the political process so far. Tell us what you mean.
Lutzer: Well, I think that it is very important for Christians to be involved in politics, but I think we’ve been involved in the wrong way. We have not done so maintaining independence. John, I really do believe that one of the greatest mistakes we have made is when ministers actually endorse political candidates. You see, this confuses the whole issue as to what the church is about. So being issue-oriented is one thing, and bringing to bear our faith on public policy. But when you begin to identify the Christian faith with a certain political party or a candidate, what you’ve done is you have created a stumbling block for all kinds of people who now today view Christianity not as a force for good, that Jesus Christ came to die for sinners to redeem us from our sins. If you were to stand at the corner of State and Madison in Chicago and you were to ask people, what do you think Christianity is?, very few would say it’s this message that Jesus came to rescue us as sinners. Almost all of them would begin to talk about our political affiliations.
And as Richard said, I totally agree it’s fine to be pro-life; we have to fight these kinds of battles. But I quote in the book from a very interesting document that is circulating where it says that we as evangelicals sometimes are useful idiots for one political party or another. That’s when we endorse political candidates as evangelical leaders. That’s when the church in an unhealthy way gets entangled in politics. So, we have to maintain that independence, but at the same time, allow our Christian faith to inform all these issues, and what it is that we can do.
Land: John, political parties are organized to win elections. And they will exploit any group that they are capable of exploiting, and the group allows them to be exploited. Politicians and parties are no better than they have to be. And we need to, as Christians and as people of faith, we need to understand that.
I don’t think that ministers should ever endorse candidates. I think that’s a misuse of the pulpit. And although they may have the right to do so as individuals, all of us know that you cannot separate your individual person from your office of being pastor of a local congregation or being a religious leader. We should be looking for candidates who endorse us, not be endorsing candidates.
I remember when Ronald Reagan came to the National Affairs briefing in 1980. I was covering that as a young radio reporter and college professor. And he famously got up at Reunion Arena. It was sort of the coming out party for the so called religious right. And he said, “Well, I know that you can’t endorse me. But I am here to endorse you.” And there was this huge applause.
That’s a very important distinction to make. I vote pro-life. I vote pro-family. I don’t vote Republican; I don’t vote Democrat. My ultimate allegiance as a Christian and as a person of faith must be to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to any party, not to any political philosophy, and not to any family loyalty from my parents. I grew up in a home with a mother who always voted Republican and a father who always voted Democrat. And they were both wrong, because they were voting party loyalty and family loyalty and region of the country loyalty. Because they didn’t disagree on almost any issue; they never disagreed. But they voted totally the opposite based upon misplaced priorities.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’re going to talk about how that can be accomplished. Because if we are supposed to be involved, and yet not endorse candidates, what are Christians supposed to do in the public square? What is our stance? We are going to talk about that and hear their answers when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back and talking with Richard Land and we are talking with Erwin Lutzer. And Dr. Land, I want to ask you about the question, what does God have to do with America? And you had a very interesting way of saying it. Apparently God’s going to have a lot, because the majority of the American people say that that’s what they want. Talk about the statistics, which are really astonishing.
Land: Well, America is a very religious country. According to the Baylor University study, 85% of Americans claim to have affiliation with some form of the Christian faith. And 91% of Americans claim to believe in a Supreme Being. So only 9% agree with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and the atheists. And 61% of Americans say that religion is very important in their lives. That’s compared to 28% in Canada, 17% in the UK, and 12% in France. But it’s 68% in Mexico and it’s 68% in Poland. So the United States is more like the rest of the world and not like Canada and Western Europe.
Look, I don’t believe that America is God’s chosen nation. I believe that God has one chosen people, the Jews. But I do believe that God has blessed America in unique ways. And I don’t believe that those are just fortuitous, I believe they are providential. And that kind of blessing… and blessings by definition are undeserved. For whatever reason, God has chosen to bless this country and bless this people in unique ways. And that incurs obligations; it incurs responsibility. So that like most people of faith in this country, I do not believe that America is just a country with interests. I believe America is also a cause. And that cause is human freedom. In our Declaration of Independence, we believe that what were espoused were universal values, not just American values or Western values; that all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. And among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So I believe that while we do not have any kind of special claim upon God as Americans, that God has a special claim on us. To whom much is given, much is required. And that we have an obligation and responsibility to be the friend of freedom, to be the defender of freedom. We don’t have the right to try to impose it on people, but people who desire it, people who hunger for it, people who want it, I believe we have an obligation to help them achieve it.
Ankerberg: Erwin, you were not born in America. You were born in Canada. Tell us how you became an American.
Lutzer: Well, I came to the United States in 1970 as a Canadian. And actually lived here as a Canadian, legally I might add, until about two years ago. And I became an American citizen. And, Richard and John, I just want you to know, that I love to be able to say, “My fellow Americans.” Thank you to America for welcoming me into this wonderful country.
But one of the things that has dismayed me, John, is in Canada the situation is entirely different. The church itself doesn’t seem to be involved in politics at all like it is here in America. So the involvement of the church in politics in America is good, but we’ve taken some very serious wrong turns, as I mentioned earlier. And as a result of that, this confusion of what Christianity really is has become a huge stumbling block to many, many people.
So it is very important that we are involved, but we need to understand how. I believe that Christians should run for public office. Everyone should vote. I am going to have the opportunity of voting for a presidential candidate for the first time. Everyone should vote. Everyone is involved in public policy, but never in such a way that we sell the evangelical soul to a candidate or to a political party. It must always be done maintaining that independence. Because the real issue in America, what we need to do is to choose the right battle. Underneath all of these other battles that we’ve been talking about is the fundamental question of the gospel. And that is being lost in our wider culture. And we can’t point our fingers to others about this. So often even in evangelical circles the gospel has taken a backseat.
I mean, one illustration. Here is a Muslim family that converts to Christ at great personal cost. They go into a large church expecting to be edified. And the minister that Sunday, evangelical apparently, is speaking on nutrition. This is abominable. And so what we have done, what we have done, I am talking about evangelicals, the eclipse of the gospel in our churches has contributed greatly to the weakening of our church.
And by the way, I know we’re going to have to get to this in another program, but I believe the evangelical church today is under judgment. And one of the proofs of that is we have increased visibility with a corresponding lack of influence. So we are in the news today not because we believe the gospel and are defending the gospel. We are in the news oftentimes because of who we support politically and what candidate is going to be endorsed. So you have news programs on who are the evangelicals going to endorse. Once again, we are attaching our agenda to a worldly agenda; and an important worldly agenda to be sure, but it confuses the issues.
Ankerberg: Richard, do you agree with John McCain’s statement recently given that America is a Christian nation?
Land: No, I don’t. I have real theological problems with any nation being a Christian nation. To me, a Christian is someone who has placed his eternal destiny in the hands of Jesus Christ and has trusted Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, the resurrected Christ, the ascended Christ, the coming again Christ, as his or her personal Savior and Lord. And a nation can’t do that. That’s an individual decision, it’s not a corporate decision.
I believe that America is a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian values. It was a noble attempt to take enlightenment ideas of self-government and to wed them with Judeo-Christian values. And it worked in America in a way that it didn’t work in France and it hasn’t worked in some other places, because you have to have the absolutes that accompany a Judeo-Christian world view: that some things are always wrong and some things are always right; to have the kind of Constitutional protections against majority mob rule that you ended up having in France with the French Revolution.
So I think it’s disturbing that 58% of Americans agree with John McCain. Because I think it can lead into this kind of merging of government and religion that has always been bad for religion. The last thing that any genuine person of faith should ever want is a government sponsored religion. That is like getting hugged by a python. It squeezes all the life out of you, and you fall over dead. Just look at the empty cathedrals of Europe.
Lutzer: And you know, Richard, isn’t it tragic to think that there are evangelical leaders who are on campaigns to try to indicate that America is a Christian nation. This is their agenda. And they don’t understand the very point that Richard is making, that we are not a Christian nation. We never were, never specifically Christian, certainly with all of the wonderful biblical values that we’ve talked about. And as a result of that we have confused the issues. We must understand civil religion over here and the gospel over here; and they are not the same.
Ankerberg: At the same time, when John McCain made that statement that America is a Christian nation, 59% of the American people agreed with him. So next week we are going to talk about not only more of answer of how you reconcile liberal and conservative. Because on one side the liberals are saying, “Listen, Richard, I don’t want you to say anything about your background from a religious point of view. I don’t want you to have that influence any decisions that you make. And anyone that does it has to be marginalized right to the end of the degree.” Not put on the platform with the president, okay? And then on the other side, you’ve got Christians who actually say, I want more of this. I want America to be a Christian nation. And we have to bring God back into the schools and we’ve got to straighten out this abortion mess and we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to that and we know exactly how to do it: the Christianization of America. Alright? What happens when you mix God and country, and what happens when you don’t? That’s what we’re going to talk about next week.

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