"This is what the LORD says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves" (Jer. 6:16 HCSB).
If America dies, she will perish from self-inflicted wounds. It has always been the case and always will be that nations, great nations, die from within, not from without.
That is surely what God's Holy Word is telling us in Jeremiah 1. God sent His prophet Jeremiah, and there can never have been a more direct command to go than the one Jeremiah received from God. Beginning in verse 5, God said, "I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (HCSB). And then Jeremiah said that God put forth His hand and touched his mouth (v. 9). After God put His own words in Jeremiah's mouth, He sent him out to speak them to His people, who were in rebellion and in the grip of pagan idolatry.
In Jeremiah 6:13-17 we hear these words: "For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is gaining profit unjustly. From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated My people's brokenness superficially, claiming: Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they acted so abhorrently? They weren't at all ashamed. They can no longer feel humiliation. Therefore, they will fall among the fallen. When I punish them, they will collapse, says the LORD. This is what the LORD says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested: We won't! I appointed watchmen over you and said: Listen for the sound of the ram's horn. But they protested: We won't listen!"
In Jeremiah's day the only real earthly protection that could be afforded to a city was to fortify itself with a wall and place watchmen on it. They would watch through the night and through the day, scanning the horizon. The watchmen were issued trumpets, and at the first sign of trouble, they were to pick up those trumpets and blow a warning blast. The people knew that was their signal to awaken from their slumber or stop their daily activities and defend their homes and families.
In effect, Jeremiah was saying that God's prophets were his watchmen. They had scanned the horizon looking for any threat, but they had turned and seen that the real threat was inside the walls. The watchmen had taken up their trumpets and blown the warning blasts, telling the people to take notice of what was around them, to ask about the old path and look for the good way, then to find rest by walking in it.
Several years ago a reporter asked me, "We've heard a lot from you about what's wrong with America. What would America look like if it was the way you wanted it to be?" And I replied, "Well, a good place to start would be America in 1955, without the racism and the sexual discrimination against women."
America in 1955 was a place where the following things did not happen, as they do now:
• Less than half of our children currently grow up in intact families. The divorce rate in America is 45-50 percent for first marriages, 60-67 percent for second marriages, and 70-73 percent for third marriages.
• Every year in the last ten years there has been a 400 percent increase in child abuse significant enough to require a doctor's attention.
• Every hour our children watch 20 violent acts on television.
• Every day in America nearly 2,800 teenage girls get pregnant.
• Every day in America 1,106 of those girls snuff out the lives of their unborn children through abortion.
• About 8 out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other attempts.
• By the time they graduate from high school, 54 percent of our teenagers acknowledge that they have used one or more illegal drugs.
And we are being inundated with a tidal wave of moral relativism that centers on human sexuality.
• At 13.3 billion dollars a year, the 2006 revenues of the sex and porn industry in the U.S. are more than the revenues of professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. Worldwide sex industry sales for 2006 are reported to be 97 billion dollars. To put this in perspective, Microsoft, which sells the operating system used on most of the computers in the world (in addition to other software) reported sales of 44.8 billion dollars in 2006.
• One out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys in the United States will be sexually molested by the time they reach their 16th birthday.
• Somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 46 seconds. Every day 4 women are killed by their domestic partner.
• Prior to 1960 there were only two significant sexually-transmitted diseases: syphilis and gonorrhea. Both were easily treatable with antibiotics. In the next two decades this began to change. Today there are approximately 25 STDs, and a few can be fatal. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans between the ages of 15 and 55 are currently infected with one or more STDs, and 12 million Americans are newly infected each year. That's nearly 5 percent of the entire American population. Of these new infections, 63 percent are in people under the age of 25.
Yes, things have changed since 1955. That time certainly had its own problems, but this moral filth was not being poured out into our culture.
When I was a Royal Ambassador growing up in a church in Houston, one of the first passages of Scripture I learned was Ephesians 2:8-10 (KJV), "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
What Ephesians 2:10 tells us is that God has a plan and God has a purpose for every single human life that is conceived. But we are like the prodigal son. We as Americans have aborted nearly 50 million babies since 1973. Have we aborted the next great evangelist? Have we aborted the one that God sent to find a cure for cancer? Have we aborted the next great military mind, the next great president, the next international peacemaker? Each of those American babies was a child—a child with a future and a purpose, sacrificed to the pagan gods of social convention, career advancement, and material well-being.
I can still remember as a young man in Sunday School having a Bible lesson about how the children of God had become so paganized that they went down into the valley of Gehenna and sacrificed their little children to the pagan god Molech. How could I have ever imagined as a young boy that I would live to see the United States of America offering up its unborn children as pagan sacrifices because they are too expensive, to embarrassing, too ill, or too inconvenient! God help us!
We are the prodigal son. We have taken the inheritance of our unborn children and gone to a far city where we have wasted that inheritance in riotous living. And now we are reduced to feeding among the swine for the husks of life. There is only one hope for America, and that is for us to come to our senses as did the prodigal and shake the filth from ourselves and determine to go home to the Father who is scanning the horizon, waiting for His people to come home.
America is not the America of the fifties. The reporter asked me, "Was it really that good in 1955, or do we just know more now?" And I realized that I might as well have been talking about the time of Louis XIV. The reporter was born some 10 years after 1955, while I was nine years old in 1955. Today's young people have never experienced America when it was far more right than it is today. And unless we take the initiative to lead them back to the old ways, to the old paths, then surely we will proceed at an ever-accelerating pace toward destruction. If the present trends continue unabated, think about what America will be like 30 or 40 years from now! I become uncomfortable when I read the Corinthian letters because more and more we find ourselves in the same situation in which the Corinthian Christians found themselves—awash in a tide of moral relativity, a tide of sexual paganism, a sexual abyss.
In 1947, C. S. Lewis described the proper composition of a human being in a little book called The Abolition of Man. He said that the head ruled the belly, which was the sensual appetite, through the chest. Lewis defined the chest as consisting of the higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments—in other words, being taught the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions. Lewis went on to say that the higher emotions of the chest were the absolutely essential liaison between the cerebral and the sensual, and without the chest, human beings became worshipers of their own minds, their own appetites. Lewis also said that moral relativism tears out the chest and removes moral character.
"In a sort of ghastly simplicity, our culture removes the organ and demands the function," Lewis wrote. "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked when we find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful." I can think of no better diagnosis for what has happened to a generation and a half of Americans whose fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and grandfathers and leaders lost their moral compass and lost their moral way and are adrift on a turbulent ocean of relativism.
Yet when we believers try to stand up and speak the truth, we are told, "Oh, you can't do that! That's a violation of separation of church and state!" Nonsense! Foolish and dangerous nonsense!
John F. Kennedy once said the greatest enemy of truth is often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. And it is a persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic myth to say that you can't legislate morality. All law is the legislation of someone's morality.
Romans 13 says that we are to have civil government to punish those who do evil and reward those who do right. You have to legislate morality in order to do that. When we pass laws making murder and theft and rape and racism illegal, we are not so much trying to impose our morality on murderers and thieves and rapists and racists as we are trying to keep them from imposing their immorality on their victims. That is not only our right; it is also our obligation.
When Abraham Lincoln was running for the presidency of the United States in another time of great moral crisis, he got a lot of criticism for making slavery an issue. Here's what he said in 1860, in the midst of the presidential campaign: "You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong: there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong. We must not call it wrong in the free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the slave States, because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics, because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit, because that is bringing politics into religion . . . " Lincoln concluded by saying, "There is no single place, according to you, where this wrong can properly be called wrong." I'm glad Abraham Lincoln didn't listen to his critics.
We have allowed ourselves to believe this lie that somehow Christians don't have a right and an obligation to be involved in public policy, and we have withdrawn and left the field to those who do not care to hear our faith-based convictions. And we are reaping the consequences. There was a study done several years ago to determine which were the most religious countries in the world. They came to the conclusion that India was the most religious country in the world and Sweden was the least religious country in the world. When Peter Berger, the famous sociologist, was told of this, he commented that if India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden the least religious, then America is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. There's a great deal of tragic truth in that. Do you know whose fault that is? It's our fault! It's our fault for not being willing to get involved and to be part of the process.
Jesus told us we are the salt and the light of the world. Salt is a purifying agent and a preservative, but it must come into contact with that which it would purify and preserve. And it not only purifies and preserves, it also stings and irritates. That's why when Jesus said we were to be salt and light, He preceded it by saying, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (Matt. 5:11).
I grew up in Southern Baptist churches where it was often said, "Now, we're Southern Baptists. That means we don't get involved in anything controversial. We just preach the Gospel." Folks, that's an oxymoron. And as a graduate of Oxford, I want you to know that an oxymoron is not a moron who went to Oxford. An oxymoron is when you take two seemingly contradictory descriptions and use them to describe the same thing. Take "humble Texan," for example. It is just as much of an oxymoron to say "noncontroversial Christian." If we're being salt and light then we are going to be controversial. Jesus intended for us to be controversial! In the first century Christians were known as the people who turned the world upside down, which means they were turning the world upside right.
There has been a conscious, concerted, and clever attempt by some in our country to marginalize Christians and drive them from involvement in the public policy of this nation. We must not allow them to keep us from our rightful place in the public square.
We must convince Christians to run for elected offices at every level, then encourage them to act on their faith-based convictions while they are in office. We must walk, talk, and vote our values. We must elect those who will appoint judges who understand that the Constitution is what governs us, not judges' opinions about the Constitution.
We must have revival. America is too far gone for anything else to save us. We must have a heaven-sent, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, Cross-focused, life-changing revival, or we are doomed.
I hope you are familiar with the song "Statue of Liberty." It has special meaning to me. I had been back in America for three days after three years in England. I had moved to Dallas to take a position at Criswell College, and I was taken to Family Night at the Music Hall at Fair Park. They were having their God-and-Country celebration, and it culminated with a rousing rendition of that great song, which says "A rugged cross is my Statue of Liberty." As the screen showed the Statue of Liberty, the song talked about the blessings of being an American. I just broke down and wept.
We live, by the grace of God, in the most blessed country on earth. God has blessed us wonderfully. But He has often blessed us in spite of ourselves. Our salvation will never be in America but in the Cross of Jesus Christ. We must have a revival, and it must be a revival, a revival that blossoms into an awakening and becomes a reformation. It's too late for just a revival. The revival has got to come first, but the revival and the awakening have got to be applied to our government and to our culture. It has to be from the inside out! It has to be a regeneration of our nation through a regeneration of its people that culminates in a reformation that shakes America as Luther and Calvin shook Europe and Whitfield and Wesley shook England and Edwards shook Colonial America for Jesus Christ.
Government can't save us. Government is usually part of the problem, not part of the solution. King Josiah is the perfect example that the government cannot bring revival. King Josiah heard the Word of God, and it broke his heart. He called for reforms. He instituted right and holy worship in the temple. He got rid of pagan excesses. He instituted true religion. And what happened? All of Josiah's reforms died with him because only the king's heart was changed. The people's habits were changed, but their hearts were not. When the king died, the reforms died.
We have a right, we have a responsibility, and we have an obligation to be involved in the civic process. Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. But we must always remember that while the salt of the law can change actions, only the light of the Gospel can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change behaviors, but it is only the light of the Gospel that can change beliefs. The salt of the law can change habits, but it is only the light of the Gospel that can change hearts.
My dear brothers and sisters, when we are in crisis there is always a danger that we will turn to the government and try to make the government our ally. And it is a danger to say, "If we can just get the government to sponsor our religion, we can bring about revival." That always has been and always will be a fatal bargain. When the government sponsors religion, the government thinks it owns religion. When the government puts its arm around you and embraces you, it's like being squeezed by a python. You lose all life and vitality and eventually drop dead.
Government-sponsored religion is government-dictated, government-deluded religion. We don't want the government to sponsor religion! We want the government to quit suppressing our right to be involved. We want the government to guarantee a level playing field and then to get off the field! Does that mean that false religions have the same rights to express their opinions and their beliefs as we do? Sure. Let them come. I never saw Elijah backing away from a confrontation with the prophets of Baal. He just showed them the power of the One True God!
Let us never forget our Baptist heritage. America will never get the proper role of religion in society right without Baptists and our heritage. It's in our genetic code to mistrust government when they come to us and say, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." With government sponsorship, with government favoritism, comes government control. The Baptist Faith and Message says the church should never resort to the state to do its work. It's our job. It's our privilege. It's our work to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we preach that Gospel, and God has blessed it and people's hearts and minds have been changed, then they have the right as citizens to come forth in the public arena and say, "This is wrong, and we want it stopped."
For example, abortion is the murder of babies, and we want laws to change it. When we convince a majority of Americans that we are right, that's not called a theocracy, that's called the democratic process.
God knows that I love my country, but Christians, our hope is not in America. America's hope is in Christ. Ask not what your country can do for God. Ask what God can do for your country. And the answer, of course, is everything.
Southern Baptists, let's heed the call to stand in the gap and repair the hedge and claim the promise of God when He said, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14, NIV). May there be a new birth of freedom, may there be a new birth of morality, may we stand in the ways and see the old paths and heed the watchmen on the wall.
The Bible says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18). The vision is the Chazon, the entirety of the Word of God, and it is our job to proclaim and preach the Gospel. It is no one else's responsibility. It's the job of those who name the name of Christ. The Cross is our liberty and our salvation.
God bless you, God bless your family, and God bless the United States of America.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.