Our Nation at the Crossroads: Is God on America’s Side?/Program 6

By: Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2008
How involved should the state be in the affairs of the church? Are there clear guidelines in our nation’s documents that answer that question?



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 the 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. And what I want to ask is, Richard, to talk about the three A’s of Church-State relationship that we ought to have in this country; two of them we shouldn’t have and one that we should.
Land: Well, the avoidance model is the model that the government should be completely separate and there should be an attempt to enforce the avoidance of religious expression in public places.
Ankerberg: Which many are advocating right now.
Land: Yes, the secularists, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. And on the other side you have those who, from an earlier time, want the government to acknowledge the majority religion, which has been Christianity. So they have no problem with the government sponsoring or the government giving favoritism to the majority faith, as long as people of minority faiths are not forced to join in. And I would argue that the model that is best in accord with our Founding Fathers’ intent is accommodation. It’s principled pluralism. It is the belief that the government should not be a coach, or a cheerleader, or a sponsor or a counselor for faith in general, or for a particular faith. That’s the acknowledgement position. And the government should also not be a suppressor or a censor of religion. That’s the avoidance position. But instead the government should be an umpire and should maximally accommodate everyone’s right to the public square, to express their faith or their lack of faith and how they think it ought to apply to the issues in play and the issues in debate in our society. And the government just makes sure that the minority doesn’t have a right to silence the majority, and the majority doesn’t have a right to silence the minority. Everybody gets their say.
Ankerberg: But frankly, Richard, right now it seems like it’s not going that way, of accommodation. Okay? It looks like those who have a religious opinion are being aced out of the public square. They don’t want it and they’re trying to, by law, say you shouldn’t express it, you shouldn’t bring those ideas in and you’re going to be penalized legally if you do.
Land: Well, they’re trying to do that, the secularists are trying to do that through the courts. They can’t do it through the people’s elected representatives because they could never get those kinds of law passed. And let’s just take the Pledge of Allegiance case. I mean, you know, it seems trivial, “One nation, under God.” But you know, if the Supreme Court had ruled that “one nation under God” was unconstitutional, which they did not; and by the way, they chickened out and chose to reject the case on a technicality. They said that Newdow, the father, the atheist father who was complaining, didn’t have standing. But if they had ruled that “under God” was unconstitutional, we would have had the fastest ratification of a new amendment to the Constitution in the history of the Republic. Within 18 months we would have had an amendment that says, that saying, pledging, “One nation, under God” is not unconstitutional. So 85% of Americans disagreed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in saying that it was unconstitutional.
So the only way that the avoidance people, the secularists, can win is if they are able to intimidate people of faith. 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. Now those of us who are people of faith also have to model the kind of behavior that we’re espousing. That means we have to stick up for people when they’re discriminated against, even when what they believe in is diametrically opposed to what we believe in. We have to stand up for the Hare Krishnas; we have to stand up for the Muslims; we have to stand up for the Hindus, when their rights are being trampled by a majority anywhere in the country.
Ankerberg: Would you go so far…
Lutzer: You know what, Richard, could I just ask a question here?
Ankerberg: Sure.
Lutzer: Somebody watching this is going to say, moments ago you said that the State should in no way sponsor religion; the State should indeed be neutral. Now, what about that phrase, “under God?” Is that not State-sponsored religion?
Land: No I don’t think it is. And, of course, the courts have ruled on numerous occasions that it is no more sponsoring religion than “In God We Trust” on our coins. It’s an affirmation and an acknowledgement that this has always been a religious country. You know, the fourth stanza of our national anthem is, “Triumph we must when our cause it is just, and our motto is and in God we do trust.” So for the entire history of the Republic we have been, some would say, an incurably religious people. And that’s not an acknowledgement of a particular God, or a Jewish God, or a Christian God. It is an acknowledgement that in this country we have been a country that has been a religious country that has believed in the existence of a Supreme Being. And, of course, I would be adamantly opposed to anyone being forced to say the Pledge. And, of course, our court system has said that no child should ever be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But once again, I don’t think a minority should be able to deny the majority the ability to do the Pledge with “under God” if they choose to do so.
Ankerberg: What would you say to those who are accepting the slogan that you can’t legislate your morality on the rest of us?
Land: Well, I would say that somebody’s morality is going to be legislated; that that’s always the case. And I have a right as a person of faith to bring my faith perspectives to bear on public policy. You know, I did my Bachelor’s thesis at Princeton on the slavery controversy. And I can show you editorials that appeared in national papers that said, “Well, now, I’m personally opposed to slavery and I would never own a slave. But who am I to try to impose my morality on a slave-owner?” Well, what’s the fault in that? The fault is that the slave-owner is imposing his immorality on the slave by holding that slave in involuntary servitude.
So let me just take the example of abortion and adultery. I don’t think adultery should be illegal. I don’t think we should be able to throw people in jail because they commit adultery. Between consenting adults in private, I should have the right to preach against it, but not arrest people for doing it. But when we’re talking about abortion, the mother is imposing her morality on her unborn baby. And it is a fatal imposition; because the baby always dies. And I, as a person of faith, believe that in a civilized society no human being, even a mother, should have an absolute right of life and death over another human being. The decision about when a human life can be terminated is a societal decision, not an individual one.
Ankerberg: Erwin, in your book you talk about the fact that part of the judgments of God come on a nation, especially a people that say they believe in God, is because of the fact that they don’t act, they do not practice what they believe. And, do you see that happening to the Evangelical Church in the amount of influence that we’re losing in this country?
Lutzer: Exactly. In fact, that’s the group I want to talk to just for a moment. And we talk to ourselves here. I think by casting about, trying to find a solution for the fact that we are in a moral and spiritual free fall, too often what we have done is we’ve looked to politics to help us. And by the way, I do agree that in the Pledge of Allegiance, I love the words that refer to God, you know, “one nation, under God.” So we can keep that. But at the same time we cannot look to what we call civil religion to somehow replace the message of the gospel that we are losing in evangelical circles.
You know, I think, for example, of the Christmas wars, and maybe Richard will disagree with me about this. But when we begin to say we’re going to put Christ back into Christmas in this sense: that everyone in our stores is going to say, “Merry Christmas;” I’m saying to myself, even if we do that, what have we won? Have any of these people come closer to faith in Jesus Christ? Or are we just antagonizing people by forcing them to say Merry Christmas when they may be Jewish or belong to some other religion? Why is it that we should fight those kinds of battles?
And I wish that Evangelicals would be known more for their involvement also in religious dialogue, presenting Christ, not just in the media, but individually. Think of the transformation that could happen in America if all the Christian families that are listening to this broadcast began to invite their friends over; not to shove religion down their throat, but to build those relationships upon which Christ is going to be presented. Because the best news in America will never come from Washington; the best news in America will come through the lips and the lives of Christians who have been transformed by Christ and share with others the good news of the gospel.
Land: Well, first of all I agree with the last part of what he said. Look, the kind of spiritual revival and renewal that we want in this country as people of faith is never going to come from Washington. Washington is a lagging indicator. When the spiritual change takes place in the country it will be reflected in Washington. And I certainly don’t want to pin all my hopes on people in stores saying Merry Christmas. No one should be forced to say Merry Christmas in a store.
The problem however, in most of the country, is not people being forced to say Merry Christmas, it’s people being denied and being forbidden from saying Merry Christmas in worship of the false god of political correctness. Most Americans want Christmas to be about Christmas. And they ought to be free to have it be about Christmas, and have Hanukkah be about Hanukkah, and have Ramadan be about Ramadan. That’s true pluralism. So that we openly encourage people to express their faith as Christians at Christmas time and at Easter time. Easter is not about the Easter Bunny; it’s about the resurrection. Christmas is not about Santa Claus; it’s about the birth of the Christ child. And encourage our Jewish citizens to explain to the country what Hanukkah’s about; and encourage our Muslim citizens to explain to the country what is celebrated during Ramadan. That is the true pluralism that I think that most Americans want when they’re exposed to that as an option.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to come back and we’re going to talk about, is there a new religion penalty being applied to Americans today? We’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Is there a new religion penalty being applied to Americans today? And to answer that question is Dr. Richard Land who is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. Richard, you’ve got in your book a whole section of things that the judges have ruled in our country. Number one, it’s unconstitutional for a student to pray out loud over his lunch. Let’s take that one first.
Land: Well, you know, there is a new religion penalty, and it’s an attempt by the courts to enforce political correctness, particularly against the majority faith. And it’s up to us to turn this around. Look, I don’t think that teachers ought to be leading students in prayer. I don’t think there ought to be religious instruction in the public schools. But I think that students ought to have the right to gather together and to pray together if they choose to do so, and to express their religious faith student to student. You know, we try to make our public schools too often, sort of “religion-free” zones, where we practice a religious apartheid; where the one subject you can’t talk about is religion. Well, how is that going to prepare our citizens, our students, when they turn 18 and they go out into the real world and they’re going to find that the United Nations is in their neighborhood; that there’s virtually every faith under the sun. And they have no preparation for how to talk about faith and how to respect other people’s faith, and how to interact with people of other faith, which they would have if we practiced pluralism in our schools, where students – not teachers, not principals, not administrators, but students – are free to express their religious faith and to share their faith with others. After all, when students step onto school property they don’t leave their First Amendment rights behind.
Ankerberg: Yeah, but still you’ve got it’s unconstitutional for a classroom library to even contain books that deal with Christianity.
Land: Well, that’s just religious censorship. And we need to replace those judges and we need to have better judges, because that is censorship. And you know, you had the Rosenberger case, for instance, in Virginia, where the University of Virginia was saying that it was okay to sponsor an Islamic paper and a Jewish paper, because those were cultural, but not a Christian paper because that was religious. Fortunately the Supreme Court agreed with us in the suit that we filed, in a 5-4 decision, that a state university doesn’t have to give aid to religious organizations. But if it chooses to do so, it can’t then discriminate and say some get it and some don’t.
Ankerberg: Yeah. It’s unlawful to say the name Jesus during prayer at city council meetings.
Land: Well, once again, if I were a member of the city council I would say, you know, what we really ought to do is we ought to look at the makeup of this city council. And we ought to have the people of faith who choose to pray, volunteer to pray. And when they pray, an Evangelical Christian ought to pray the way an Evangelical Christian prays, which is going to be in Jesus’ name. And a Catholic, when he prays, should pray the way a Catholic prays. And when a Muslim prays, he should pray the way a Muslim prays. That’s pluralism. That’s what we ought to stand for instead of this artificial and censorship secularism.
Ankerberg: Alright, but you still, you’ve got another one; it’s unconstitutional for a war memorial in the shape of a cross to be erected.
Land: Yeah and we’ve had this, of course, out in San Diego. And, you know, my response to that is, look; the Department of Veterans Affairs has, I think at last count, 43 different symbols of different religious affiliations, Christian and non-Christian, that have served in our military and have died and have been approved to be put on the headstones. And I would say, you know, that’s pluralism. And if the people want to have a cross over those who have died who are Christians, and a Star of David over those who are Jewish, and a Crescent and Star over those who are Muslim, that’s honoring our dead who have died in the service of our country. And it’s not trying to pretend that religion doesn’t exist. And it’s not giving favoritism to one faith over another. It is acknowledging the pluralism which we say we believe in.
Ankerberg: Well, we’re having a presidential election going on right now. What do you want to hear from the President or the people that are running for that office?
Land: Well, I want to hear whatever they choose to tell me about their religious faith and how their religious faith impacts their performance of their office. I think that candidates ought to discuss their faith to the degree they’re comfortable and to the degree that they choose to. I don’t think they should be required to. And I think that the American people should know as much about the candidates as they can before they make a decision. And if, you know, Joe Lieberman said, Look, you can’t understand who I am unless you understand that I’m an observant Jew. Well, then that certainly is something he ought to talk about, to help us understand what kind of a Vice-President he would be. Bill Bradley said, when he was running for President, “I don’t want to talk about it; I’m not going to talk about it.” Well, that’s his choice; that’s his privilege. And I want to know how important a person’s faith is to them, and how they will and will not apply it to the performance of their office. And then I can make a more educated decision about who I think would be the best person to be in that office.
Now, that doesn’t mean they have to agree with me. I would point out that like most, you know, most of my fellow Southern Baptists, a majority of them, have voted against a Southern Baptist four of the last five times they’ve had an opportunity to do so. A majority of Southern Baptists voted against Jimmy Carter the second time, and they voted against Bill Clinton twice. And four out of five of them voted against Al Gore in 2000, because they voted on the life issue instead of the religious-identification issue.
Ankerberg: Erwin, you’ve said that America is under the judgment of God. It could get a lot worse unless we change. And I want to know, the Bible also holds out hope if we do change. Do you want to talk about that?
Lutzer: Yes, I want to talk about that. But also, I’d like to say a word, John, to the people who are listening who wonder, what happens when the candidate that we would like to have in office doesn’t get elected? And even in the present election there are those who say, “I don’t like either candidate; I don’t like those who ran for President,” and so forth. What do we do? So I want to give some hope here.
You know, we oftentimes give the impression that if we have a State, and you can watch my hand here; if we have a State that is favorable toward Christianity, we can just see that chart go up and Christianity go up along with it: strong government in favor of Christianity, strong church. I want to argue, not necessarily. There are times when you have a government that might be hostile to Christianity and it might be in ascendency or, I can put it that way, when actually the Church is out here and it is doing very, very well also. Because what God is doing is, He is empowering His people to live against the tide, against unjust laws. And in the midst of that, do you remember Tertullian’s famous words, “it is the martyrs who are actually the seed of the Church”? Now, I don’t know if in America, in our time, it will get to the point where we will be martyrs. But the same principle applies.
Ankerberg: China is a good example.
Lutzer: China is an excellent example.
Land: China versus Taiwan is a great example.
Lutzer: Taiwan, which had freedom; the Church there is very, very weak. China, that had its freedom taken away in 1949 when Communism took over, the Church has mushroomed. Without television, Christian television; without Christian radio, mind you; without Christian books, because it was one person telling another about the grace of God in Jesus Christ. So I think it is so important, John, that we encourage our people.
Land: And we can take Western Europe and Eastern Europe. As Christianity has declined to the point that its existence is endangered in many countries in Western Europe, it has flourished in Poland, it is flourishing in Czechoslovakia, it’s flourishing in Romania, in the midst of Communist persecution. So we need to understand that the Lord’s going to build His Church, and when we have opportunity and we have freedom, we need to defend that freedom. But if the person that we think should win the election doesn’t win the election, God’s Church is not dependent on elections.
Ankerberg: Guys, I want to say thank you to both of you for helping us with all this information. And folks, I would really advise you to get their books. They’re just filled with information that we need to hear today. Thanks for being with us.
Lutzer and Land: Thank you.

Leave a Comment