Our Nation at the Crossroads: Is God on America’s Side?/Program 2

By: Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2008
When God is excluded from a country, how does that affect the society? Are there any historical examples that would tell us what happens?



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. What happens when you mix God and country, and what happens when you don’t? I have two fascinating guests today, Dr. Richard Land, who is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and also we’ve got Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor, Senior Minister of the world-famous Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. 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 obviously we have a problem in America where we’ve got red states and we’ve got blue states, we’ve got conservatives, we’ve got liberals. And we have a shouting match going on on most panels that you show up on between liberals and conservatives. The conservatives are wanting to bring their moral background into the public square; and the liberals are saying, for the most part, that they don’t want you to do that, alright?
But what we want to talk about is the interesting question that you have raised in the book and then answered with giving some background, of what happens, first of all, when you don’t mix God and country. Those countries that have banished, like the way we’re going right now, they have banished moral input from the people; and you have had a completely secular institution leading the way at the top. Take France. You have some fascinating information on France.
Land: Well, the French Revolution started out, Thomas Jefferson actually helped them when he was our Ambassador to France, to draft their Declaration of the Rights of Man, liberte, egalite, fraternite. But it was based purely upon their assertions; they didn’t have any absolute to base it on; “We believe that we’re endowed by our Creator,” as Jefferson said in our Declaration. And it quickly degenerated and it was very anti-Christian, anti-Church.
They renamed the days of the week, renamed the months. They started, they tried to go back, consciously to Greece and Rome; back to the Greco-Roman part of our culture, our history as a civilization, and to completely leap-frog or bypass the Reformation and the attempt to have a biblical basis for a society that Luther and Zwingli and Calvin had in the Reformation.
And so this is where, you know the empire gowns that some women will know about, that was popularized by the French Revolution. They took a famous actress and dressed her up as the “Goddess of Reason” in Roman clothes and they put her on a platform and carried her into Notre Dame Cathedral. And there they worshipped her on the altar, the Goddess of Reason. So the French Revolution and the Napoleonic regime which followed it, was aggressively, consciously anti-Christian, anti-everything that the Reformation had stood for. And it, of course, led to the Reign of Terror and to all kinds of totalitarian excesses.
The same thing happened in Germany. Hitler tried to exploit the Church, but Hitler was an atheist. Hitler believed strongly in social Darwinism. And in Nazi Germany you had a complete ending of absolutes other than what the State said. And so, you know, there was anti-Semitism in Germany during the period prior to Hitler, but the Holocaust couldn’t have happened until you had expunged Christian influence and replaced it with Nazi totalitarianism. And then, of course, you have the Soviet Union and the horrible excesses there with the atheistic regime of the Soviet Union.
Ankerberg: I want to come back to what happened theologically in Germany, because, Erwin, you’ve also written a book on that. But some examples that you gave: that France required priests to swear an oath of loyalty to the State, changing their status to that of civil employees; changing street names and places that had any religious connotation. They wiped that out. They banned religious holidays and replaced them with secular substitutes. They forbade any displays of the Christian cross. They silenced church bells. They banned any kind of religious procession.
Now, today in America you have people like Sam Harris, that have written and been reviewed by the New York Times. And in his writing he has said that he thinks we would be lunatics basically, to allow people such as evangelical Christians to express their thought in the public square and actually influence the laws that we’re making. In fact, let’s talk about how bad is it, and how bad does he want to get rid of us?
Land: Well, I think, look, I think Sam Harris has adopted the supreme value of the French in the French Revolution, which is secularism. We saw that in a recent decision by the French Court, where they said that Muslim girls had to make a choice; they could either get a free public education in the French schools or they could follow their faith and wear their head covering. They couldn’t do both. That’s making secularism the supreme value.
In America, pluralism is the supreme value, so that even in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which is about as deep in red state country as you can get, in Muskogee the decision was made that Muslim girls may or may not wear their head scarves to public schools. It’s the choice of the parents and of the Muslim girls, not the School Board or the State. I think that there’s a struggle going on in this country between those who want to make secularism…they don’t want just a secular state, they want a secular society; they want a secular civilization.
And Stephen Carter, Yale Law School professor, has written about this extensively in his book called The Culture of Disbelief, in which he shows that the elites in this country – and I hope it’s not a shock to your viewers that we do have elites in this country – that the legal elite, the cultural elite, the political elite and in some cases even the religious elite, have tried to marginalize and trivialize religious faith; to make it like a hobby, to make it something that doesn’t have anything to do with the important issues of life. And they want to marginalize and to remove from the playing field people like you and people like me and people like Erwin, who believe that we have the right and the obligation to bring our religious convictions to bear on the public policy issues of the day. They want to disqualify us from even competing. They want to put us on the sidelines and fix the game.
Now, in this country, with our First Amendment religious freedom protections, the only way they can do that is if we allow them to intimidate us and we allow them to marginalize us by removing ourselves from the playing field. We need to stand up to these people and say we have not only the right but the responsibility to bring our understanding of truth to bear on public policy issues, the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Dr. King was a Baptist minister. And the Montgomery bus boycott started in the basement of the Dexter Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Ankerberg: Yeah. You’ve actually made such a strong statement as to say it’s “immoral and destructive to the fabric of society to deny the majority the right to bring their moral values to bear on public policy.” Why are you saying that?
Land: Because it is immoral. It’s saying you cannot participate or you have to make yourself into a schizophrenic, where you subdivide your brain and you consciously segregate your religious values, your religiously-informed values and understanding of right and wrong, from your participation in the public policy process. If the Abolitionists had done that, we would never have had the anti-slavery movement. If Dr. King and those who followed King and those who were inspired by King had followed that dictum we would never have had the Civil Rights revolution. And I’m a product of the Civil Rights revolution. I grew up in a segregated city with a segregated church and a segregated school. And we’ve been liberated from that, thank God.
Ankerberg: I remember when you were at Harvard that a gal stood up and said, “You’re forcing your views on all the rest of us.” And you use the Civil Rights analogy. Explain that one.
Land: Well, yeah. She was upset about my views on same-sex marriage. And I said, “Look, if you really want same-sex marriage in the United States, do what Dr. King did. Go out and try to win the hearts and minds of the American people. The Civil Rights revolution is the most successful social movement of the last half of the 20th century precisely because it was not imposed by imperial judges. It was brought forth from the people. The legislation was passed, the 1957 Civil Rights Acts, the ‘64 Civil Rights Act, the ‘65 and ‘67 Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and then they were upheld by the judges. The only judicial part of the Civil Rights revolution was the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which almost had to happen because the court had to undo the mischief it had caused with its 1896 decision where they declared “separate but equal” to be constitutional. And they just reversed it in Brown.
And so what the liberals are trying to do is, they’re trying to take numerous social issues like same-sex marriage and impose them from the top down through an imperial judiciary. And the American people are rebelling against it. And the Civil Rights revolution was successful. The abortion revolution has not been as successful. A majority of Americans, a significant majority of Americans disagree with most of the reasons that most women have abortions is because that was an attempt to impose it through a judicial elite instead of having the hearts and minds of the people change.
If you want to have social policy become part of the legislative process, work through the legislative process. Change hearts and minds. Make moral arguments. That’s what Dr. King did. Dr. King said “America, live up to the promises and principles of your founding documents. You know it’s wrong, we all know it’s wrong to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin.” But his was not a secular vision. Remember in his “I have a dream” speech he says he dreamed “of a country in which we would be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.” And if we had a society in which we’re judged by the content of our character, we wouldn’t have had William Jefferson Clinton as President of the United States.
Ankerberg: We’re going to take a break in a moment, but one other thing is that, you’ve said that when states do not allow people to use their religious background to inform public decisions that are being made, what happens is you get to a kind of pragmatism in society like England has right now. And what I find fascinating is that you said if you’re over 59½ years of age in England you can’t get a heart bypass operation on the National Health System because it’s not considered cost-effective. And the same with kidney transplants and with other things. And I’m saying, that stems from where?
Land: That stems from pragmatism. It’s utilitarianism. If you don’t have certain absolutes that say that it’s always wrong to deny somebody this treatment, then you have to start trying to decide when you have such treatment and when you don’t have such treatment. And the majority makes the decision, or the elites make a decision, based upon pragmatism, based upon Malthusian ethics, based upon utilitarianism. And you have majority rule. If you don’t have certain absolutes, where you have a society that we’ve had in our country over our history, where some things are always wrong and some things are always right, then you’re going to live in a society where virtually anything is possible.
Ankerberg: I like that. Erwin we’re going to come back to you after the break and you’ve written a book, Is God on America’s Side? And you’ve outlined seven biblical principles that will help us understand how the God of the Bible says that He relates to nations generally. And I want you to start applying those principles to what’s happening here in America. And we’re going to talk about can God both bless and curse a nation, when we come right back. You won’t want to miss this; stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Richard Land who is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer who is pastor of the world-famous Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And, Erwin, you have written a very, very interesting book. I haven’t seen anybody else writing on this topic; I think you’re ahead of the curve. You have to go back into church history to actually read something like what you’ve written. You’ve said that, look, God deals with nations. And we need to pick up on what God has taught us in scripture of how he actually deals with nations and apply it to America. Principle #1 is absolutely fascinating. What is it?
Lutzer: Principle #1 is this; that God can bless a nation, to be sure; but He also can curse a nation and He can judge a nation. You know, John, after 9/11 do you remember all the marquees that had the sign, “God Bless America,” bumper stickers? Nobody seemed to ever think that there are times when God doesn’t just bless, but that are times when God may judge. Because, you see, the God that was brought out at that time was not the God of the Bible but the god of our civil religion. He’s a god, you see, who obviously should bless us, because we’re a democracy, we believe in freedom, we have financial stability.
And what they were really saying is, “Oh God, continue to bless us. Keep the stock market strong. Make sure that my children are safe.” Well, that’s the god of our civil religion. Deuteronomy 11, God is speaking to Moses and He says, “I have put before you both blessing and cursing.” God says, “I will give you a choice because I am capable of doing both.”
Now, let’s think about this for a moment. He’s talking to the nation of Israel, His chosen people. If there was ever a people that could say “God is on our side” it was Israel, because God chose them. He chose them in a way that He has not chosen America, despite our blessings. And yet God says, “I will judge you.” And let’s think of how severely God did that. You know, you read Deuteronomy 28 and you read horrendous things that God says, “I’m going to do to you.” We have, for example, that the time is going to come when there will be famine and people will actually be eating their own children, if you can believe it. It is almost grotesque. And God says, “I will do that to my people.” Now the bottom line is this, that God is able to judge us and to bless us. And what we need to do is to get back to the biblical God.
Ankerberg: You said the second principle was the fact that God judges nations based on the amount of light and opportunity they are given. So what position does that put America in?
Lutzer: Well, when you stop to think of it, God has given America so many privileges. You know, the Bible does say in Romans 2 when speaking about the end of time, Paul says those who have the law will be judged by the law and those who don’t have the law will be judged by conscience, because God bases responsibility on knowledge.
Now just think for a moment about the United States. Has any country ever had the opportunities that we have? And I would say absolutely not. You can hear the gospel on radio, you can hear it on TV, you can walk into any bookstore and you can pick up a Bible and you can begin to read it. If you want to investigate the Christian faith and our roots, you can do that. So we have sinned, actually, because of our pride, because of our immorality, our decision to ban God from government, from education, from science. We have sinned against tremendous light.
Now that doesn’t mean that we know exactly how God is going to judge America. But another point that I make that I think is very interesting and important is this: a man said to me one time who was going to run for political office, he said, “Do you think that someday God will judge America for her sins?” And I had to smile. I said, “You have to understand that all sin has some immediate judgments. Judgment may come in the future; maybe through natural disasters, maybe through other terrorist attacks. But God is right now judging America.” One of the greatest judgments in Deuteronomy 28 is the destruction of families. God says, “I’m going to send you into captivity. Your families are going to be broken apart. Women, mothers are going to be weeping for their children, children for their mothers.”
Now, think of America. Think of divorce. We’ve accepted divorce, we’ve accepted immorality. And as a result of that what you have is 20 million children living in the United States without a father in the home. Mike Singletary, who used to play for the Chicago Bears, who is well known, he gives talks. He’s a wonderful Christian, and he gives talks in prisons. And I read an article in which he says that he asks all the prisoners who have had a good relationship with their father to raise their hands. And he said he is still waiting for the first hand to be raised.
Ankerberg: Terrible.
Lutzer: Absolutely terrible. And God says that it is very important, the last verse really of the Old Testament talks about the need for fathers to turn their hearts towards their children and the children toward the fathers, “lest I smite the earth with a curse.” And what is that curse? It is fatherlessness. We are presently being judged. And you take all of this baggage that children have today and you bring it into their marriages. Do we have time for a second way in which God is judging us, John?
Ankerberg: Sure.
Lutzer: A second way is this: it says in Deuteronomy 28 that when you go into captivity, “your children will be worshipping others gods.” We find today in America, despite the opinion polls that talk about the desire for people to have religion, the religion, I fear, that America wants, is not the religion of the Bible. We get into all kinds of new age kinds of spirituality and so forth that people are interested in. And the knowledge of God in the lives of our children, even in evangelical churches, is being eclipsed.
Now, one more thing; think of Europe. We think of the rise of Islam in Europe. What you will find in certain countries in Europe, unless there is something in the offing that none of us can predict; what all the historians tell me is this: that there are countries in Europe that are going to be ultimately under the heel of Islam. And when that happens, the Europeans are going to discover that their children are going to be worshipping another god. Because Europe is farther down the river than we are, they have, in effect abandoned – and I’m speaking generally of course, there are some wonderful exceptions to this – but for the most part they have abandoned God. And as a result God turns His own people or people who once knew Him over to their enemies. These are the kinds of judgments also that we need to pay attention to.
Ankerberg: Thirty seconds, Richard. Do you think that we’re under the judgment of God or that we’ve got it coming?
Land: Oh, I think we are under the judgment of God. I think we’re being both blessed by God and judged by God at the same time. There are many reasons for God to judge us. I think that there are two reasons that the judgment has not been more severe yet than it has been. One, America is still the primary supporter of Israel and the right of God’s people to be in the land that God gave them. And secondly, in spite of all of our sins that Erwin has talked about, and they are real and they are profound and they are rampant; still today the American Christian community produces 95% of the funding and 90% of the worldwide missionary effort to evangelize the world through the gospel. And I believe it is those two things that has caused Him not to judge us more severely than He has yet.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re going to talk about this more next week and we’re going to talk about, specifically, what is the future of religion in America? And what does it mean to say, “God bless America”? You won’t want to miss it; stick with us.

Read Part 3

Leave a Comment