Our Nation at the Crossroads: Is God on America’s Side?/Program 4

By: Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2008
Does America have a particular purpose in God’s plan for the world? How can we know what that purpose is and what our individual involvement should be?



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. Why do you think that we are so confused about Church and State relationships in this country? We’re going to answer that question today; we’re also going to find out, does God have a special role for America? And what part should Christian people play in the public square in America? And, Richard, I want to start with you in terms of your book here, The Divided States of America. You have a whole section on what God has to do with America and it goes back to the First Amendment. Start us off with how it came into being.
Land: Well, the First Amendment is a wonderful protection that we have in this country and has led us to a proper balance of separation of Church and State. When the Founding Fathers were trying to bring together “a more perfect Union,” as the Constitution puts it, to replace the Articles of Confederation, they were struggling over what to do about religion.
Nine of the original thirteen states had tax-supported, established State churches. They were Congregational in New England and they were Episcopal in the southern states. And all of those established churches discriminated against and persecuted Baptists, who were the largest, had grown to be the largest single group of denominational cohorts. And so the Baptists were going to vote against the Constitution because they were concerned about a National Church that would replace these State churches.
And so John Leland, who was perhaps the most famous Baptist preacher in 18th century Virginia cut a political deal. He and Madison and Jefferson were friends. And he had a three hour meeting with James Madison and they cut a political deal. And the deal was, Leland would withdraw as an opponent to the ratification and Madison promised that if the Baptists voted for ratification and the Constitution was ratified, that under the First Congress he would bring in an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee that “Congress would make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor interfering with the free exercise thereof.” And so that’s how our First Amendment came to be. And of course it has been a balance between State and Church that has led to the flourishing of the Christian faith in all of its various denominational manifestations throughout the United States.
Ankerberg: But then take us to the next period. Even though the Constitution had it in there the states were still able to have state-supported churches, and they did. And they were still persecuting Leland and the Danbury Baptists in Virginia. So he approached Thomas Jefferson and he brought a big cheese. What was that all about?
Land: Well, Leland got far more involved in politics than I think a Baptist preacher should. He was a very active supporter of Thomas Jefferson when Thomas Jefferson ran for President in 1800. And after Jefferson was elected, Leland was designated by the people of western Massachusetts to bring a cheese to Thomas Jefferson as a token of their regard and respect and esteem for the President. And so they showed up with about an 1100-pound cheese in a wagon on the first Friday of the New Year in 1802. And by prearrangement, they got there about 10:30. Jefferson came out, Leland told Mr. Jefferson that this was a token of their regard and they were praying for him and he was God’s gift to the country, etc. He prayed God’s blessings upon Jefferson.
Then Leland left and the cheese was brought inside. Then Jefferson had lunch; it’s not recorded whether he had any of the cheese or not. That very afternoon he wrote the letter, the famous letter, from Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist ministers of Danbury, Connecticut, who had petitioned the President because of the persecution and the discrimination they were experiencing at the hands of the Congregational established church in Connecticut.
Ankerberg: How bad was that persecution?
Land: Well, they had to pay taxes to support a church they disagreed with. There were some limitations on office holding, some limitations on property holding. They were being discriminated against; they were second-class citizens in their state because they were Baptists and not Congregationalists. And so Jefferson wrote this letter in which he said there ought to be a wall of separation between Church and State.
That’s where the infamous, now infamous phrase comes from. And so it was written to people who were being discriminated against and persecuted by an established church. And, of course, the liberals have tried to interpret this to mean that Jefferson agrees with them. He didn’t. Let’s get the chronology right; Friday morning a Baptist minister shows up with an 1100-pound cheese for Jefferson; prays for Jefferson; and Jefferson then on Friday afternoon writes the letter to the Baptist ministers of Danbury, Connecticut. Then on Sunday morning, not 48 hours later, Jefferson goes to a worship service in the House of Representatives where John Leland, his Baptist preacher-friend, preaches a sermon from the Speaker’s rostrum of the House with Thomas Jefferson, the President, sitting on the front row.
Ankerberg: Yeah. He also used the word “Church” and he didn’t use the word “religion.” He specified what he meant. What’s the significance of that?
Land: Well, the letter wasn’t just dashed off. We now know from document research that the letter went through several revisions and was circulated among his Cabinet. And he very specifically, consciously, purposefully wrote “separation of Church and State,” not separation of religion and State. He wanted a separation between the institution of the State and the institution of the Church, not a separation of religiously-informed morality from public policy. And after all, it’s Thomas Jefferson who was the architect of the University of Virginia, a State university. And he designed a chapel right on the quadrangle of the University of Virginia.
Ankerberg: And he actually got some of these illustrations from Roger Williams. Talk about the garden, and the walls separating the garden from the wilderness.
Land: Well, the idea that there ought to be a separation between Church and State didn’t originate with Thomas Jefferson. Roger Williams, back in the 17th century said that there has to be a separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the State; a wall to protect the garden of the Church from the intrusion of the wilderness of the State. And I would just point out that in the First Amendment all of the restrictions are on the government and all of the protections are on religious people. You and I cannot violate the First Amendment. Only the government can get into the religion business and only the government can interfere with your exercise or my exercise of our faith. So, all of the protections in the First Amendment are there to protect people of faith from interference by the State, not the other way around.
Ankerberg: And it was assumed by Roger Williams and the Founding Fathers that the garden of the Church would expand and go into the wilderness.
Land: That’s right. Williams went on to say that it was the duty of the garden to go out and to try to domesticate more and more of the wilderness.
Ankerberg: Alright, with that in mind; you’ve written a fascinating book, The Divided States of America?, and you have an answer that will help Americans come together and talk and allow people of religious faith to express their moral opinion in the public square. And it has to do with three A’s of Church-State relationship. Outline that for us.
Land: Well, you notice in the book it says, The Divided States of America, question mark; because I think we do have divisions, but we’re not as divided as the media makes us think we are; because they get the people with the smallest brains and the loudest mouths to yell at each other and they call that balanced journalism. I propose that we have three models: one is avoidance, the second is acknowledgement and the third is accommodation. And too often confusion arises because people think there are only two models. Either the secularist model of avoiding all religious expression in the public square to make the public square secular and naked, or an acknowledgement position that says that government should and has the right to acknowledge the majority religion.
And there’s a third position. And it’s the one that I think is most in accord with our founding documents and our principles. And that’s an accommodation position, where the government is not a coach for religion, the government is not a cheerleader for religion, the government is not a counselor for religion, and the government is not a censor of religion. The government is an umpire and everybody is free to bring their religious perspectives or their non-religious perspectives into the public square, and the government is an umpire who just makes sure that everybody plays fair, that the majority doesn’t have a right to silence the minority, and the minority doesn’t have a right to silence the majority. And we have a maximum accommodation by the government of the public’s square so that everyone is free to express their faith and how their faith impacts upon public policy issues in the public square.
Ankerberg: Erwin, you’ve written a book from the theological side, talking about how God deals with nations. And you’re applying it to America where we’re at right now. Review the first three, four principles of the seven principles you put in your book.
Lutzer: You know, John, before I do that I want to make one comment. I visited China in 1985. And I remember a tour guide, when I asked her about freedom of religion in China, she said, “Oh yes, we have freedom of religion here in China.” She said, “People can be as religious as they want to be within their own minds.” And I thought to myself, isn’t that true, Richard, that’s exactly where some of our opponents, so to speak, would like to put it; namely, if you are religious what you need to do is to keep it to yourself; confine it to your mind. And you don’t even have the right to speak it.
Land: That’s right, that’s right. That’s what they would like to do. They like to make it a hobby and say, okay, it’s okay to talk about it at home, maybe in church, but nowhere else.
Lutzer: Getting back to these seven points; first of all God can both bless a nation and curse a nation; and judge a nation, I should say. This is so critical. And we talked about that in a previous program. Secondly, we read that God judges nations based on the amount of light and opportunity. If that’s true we can understand that America stands in need, really, of judgment. And also judgment is happening right now, because all sin has some immediate consequences. It isn’t just simply some cataclysmic judgment in the future, it’s right in the here and now. Also God sometimes uses exceedingly evil nations to judge those who are less evil. And that’s where we pointed out that Islam can be used, the radicals, 9/11. We think, for example, of Europe which is facing a lot of radical Muslims nowadays. All that is consistent with God to discipline and to judge His nations.
And then when God judges a nation, the righteous suffer with the wicked. We always have to distinguish between a judgment that all of us will have individually at the end of time. Even the judgment of the nations that is spoken about by Jesus, that is an individual judgment; the sheep and the goats are separated. But in this life, temporally, when God judges a nation we’re all a part of it. You know, Daniel taken into captivity along with the Israelites. You have, for example, the judgments that come to us through nature, and that’s a separate issue. But even national judgments such as disasters, the righteous suffer with the wicked. There are Christians who died in Katrina, there are Christians who also died at the Twin Towers. These kinds of events do not separate them. And then also, God’s judgments take various forms. It isn’t just simply this great judgment. I’ve already pointed out that there are judgments that happen simply because of our sins. And then…
Ankerberg: Alright, hold on to it right there; we’re going to take a break. When we come back what I want to talk about is, you’re both working on the same page together here in the sense that you’re saying that God is really there. He does have a side in these public decisions that we make here in America. Liberals don’t want to acknowledge that, but God does have a side. We’re going to talk about, how do we know what God’s side is? And then how should our involvement be in the public square? I mean, what do you want us to do in terms of being the answer to the very problem that we see right now in America? So we’re going to talk about that when we come right back. Hold on to that thought.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of the world-famous Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And Erwin, you were talking about the fact that a real God stands in judgment of us. As well as just blessing us, He can also bring a curse on us. And I get the idea that you’re saying that we as Americans need to take certain events as a warning. We need to listen up. We’re not who we are claiming to be morally before God, and there’s a real God out there who is starting to take action. Explain that a little bit more.
Lutzer: Well, I think that really almost everything, almost every judgment of sin is a warning. You know the Bible says, “The soul that sins, it will die.” Death itself is a warning. You know, I say to myself that when you go to a funeral all of us should be thinking about the fact that we are going to die as well. All of these are red flags, if I can put it that way, that God puts in our path to help us to understand how vulnerable we are. Eternity is coming and life is very, very short.
But even nationally, there’s no doubt at all that it’s not just that 9/11 was an indication of the possibility of more terrorist attacks; it’s also a reminder that, not only is life taken away but sometimes in a dramatic, revolting fashion. And so we do not know what tomorrow holds.
Let’s take for example natural disasters. You know, Jesus made a very interesting comment in the gospel of Luke. He said, “You know that tower of Siloam that fell where 18 men died?” He said, “Were they greater sinners than other sinners in Jerusalem? I tell you no, but unless you repent, you shall likewise perish.” What Jesus meant was, first of all, that we should not judge those who die in such events; but also the recognition that these are a preview. When you go see a movie there are previews; and this is a preview of coming judgment. And then you read the book of Revelation and you discover that one of the judgments is tremendous natural disasters; the sun, the moon, and everything else that’s going on is such a dramatic presentation of God’s judgment. So in all these ways God is shouting to us. It is His megaphone saying to us, “Wake up!”
And then on a more practical level, we should think in terms of what our sin is costing us; just the natural consequences, quite apart from these dramatic events. In fact, Richard, you have some information about that; the cost to American taxpayers because of the fact that there are so many single mothers.
Land: The government estimates it’s a trillion dollars over a decade to pay the costs at the local, federal and state level when it comes to helping to try to undergird what has happened because of the absence of fathers and the withdrawal of fathers in the lives of the mothers of their children and the children themselves. And those are just the economic costs. If you look at the Hardwired to Connect study that was done by Dartmouth Medical School, over 500 experts in their fields saying that children are hardwired to connect to parents. And we have a majority of our children now, a majority of our children, who are spending most of their childhood and adolescence in single-parent homes with devastating impact. In fact, the Dartmouth study, the Hardwired to Connect study, says that because of single parents, because we have vitiated the faith institutions in our society and we have denied children an understanding that they’re hardwired to express their masculinity and their femininity in different ways – that men and women are different – that approximately 25% of our children will never reach productive adulthood. Now, I call that collective societal child abuse.
Lutzer: And also, it’s simply a consequence, obviously, of the fact that we have ignored God. I mean, when you think of the acceptance of pornography, when you think of the acceptance of divorce in evangelical circles; this becomes such an alternative. Years ago we spoke against it, preachers preached against it, but today this acceptance. You know, a ship when it is in the ocean is fine; the ship is supposed to be in the water. But when water gets into the ship, the ship is in trouble. And our problem is, we are taking on water.
You know, I think of the story of Jonah. I’ve often mused about the fact that the real reason for the storm was not because of the sailors, the pagans. The reason for the storm was a disobedient prophet. And so we can’t blame, you know, these pagans for what was happening out in the water. And I have to ask myself today, and we as Evangelicals have to ask ourselves, could it be that the storms that we are encountering in our country are not so much, the blame shouldn’t be put on the pagans among us whom we often criticize; maybe what we need to do is to realize that we might be running from God.
Ankerberg: But, Richard, let me add this. You know, you went and got your Ph.D. at Oxford and we’ve gotten our doctorates here in America. And if you listen to our college professors or people in the media listening to what Erwin and you are saying, that we might actually be under the judgment of God in some of the things that are happening, they would say that’s why you Evangelicals shouldn’t even be bringing your ideas into the public square.
Land: Well, I would say that as my east-Texas grandmother used to say, “You throw a rock into a pack of dogs, it’s the one that hollers that got hit.” And those college professors and those people in the media are the ones that are being hit by our speaking truth. And one of the things that we’re called to do as Christians is to speak truth to power and let the chips fall where they may. And I have said all along that if 9/11 was a judgment of God, and you know we ought to be very careful about ascribing what is God’s judgment and what is not, if it was a judgment of God it might very well be because of the Christians who are living like pagans, not the pagans who are living like pagans. Because after all, it’s a very clear spiritual and biblical principle that God chastises those that are His children, and not illegitimate.
Ankerberg: Also we have to be careful how we speak out. We have to speak out with a tear in our voice and a heartfelt passion for people that are in the suffering. And sometimes we in the Christian Church do not do that.
Land: Well that’s exactly right. Jeremiah said, you know, Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. He came with a very depressing message. But he did it with a tear in his eye and a catch in his voice because he was weeping over what the sin was doing to the people, and grieving over what the idolatry was doing to them and about the judgment that was to come. And we need to ask God to cultivate in us the teary eye and the catch in the voice that comes with genuine grief over what the sin is doing to those around us.
Lutzer: I think it’s so important that we emphasize right now, because there are many people who are listening who perhaps are embroiled in their own sin. And what we need to do whenever we talk about the judgment of God, as we have on this program, is also to talk about His grace and His love and His forgiveness. In fact, the reason that we talk about judgment is so that we might better understand grace, and that people might hurry to the God who is waiting for them.
The good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners. And if there are those listening today who have never trusted Christ as Savior, they should know that if they place their faith in Him alone they can be forgiven. They can be reconciled to God. Because, remember, behind God’s judgment there is also the fact that He’s always plotting mercy. It is the judgment of God that leads us to repentance, that leads us to His matchless grace.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re going to continue this next week when we’re going to talk about something I found fascinating in Richard’s book, and that has to do with the times when American presidents felt compelled to call the nation to bow before God. And folks, you’ve got to join us because you won’t believe the number of presidents who did this and we’re going to go through those situations next week. I hope you will join us.

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