Since Nimrod at least, “mighty hunters before the Lord” (Genesis 10:9) have been promising people some form of the “New Jerusalem.” The result usually has not been the heavenly City but hellish Babylon — empires and social systems ruled over, not by God and His transcendent majesty, but by sin-corrupted petty pretenders who mistake raw power for authentic authority.
Sometimes those “mighty hunters” go prowling for votes. They contrive little jingles describing the characteristics of their New Jerusalem. John C. Fremont was near messianic when in 1856, he campaigned on the slogan: “Free soil, Free labor, Free men, and Fremont.” Franklin D. Roosevelt was going to give us the “New Deal,” and one of his acolytes, John F. Kennedy in 1960 promised to take us to the “New Frontier.” Lyndon Johnson heralded the “Great Society” he was going to construct, and Richard Nixon ironically in 1968 promised to be “The One,” but Gerald Ford just a few years later would make us “Proud Again.” Now we have Joe Biden’s promise to lead us to “Build Back Better,” and Donald Trump’s ongoing challenge to “Make America Great Again” — MAGA.
The “true MAGA” should be “Make America Godly Again.” But there is danger here if the politicians get hold of that slogan. I am one, and I understand how it can become an effort to enforce “godliness” as law, or just one more fancified hype. The early American Colonies revealed how abusive that can be.
Thus “Make America Godly Again” should be the goal of the heart of candidates and voters, not well-paid political consultants, and analysts.
Then there is still the question: “When was America ever ‘godly’?”
While America has its high and inspiring moments, neither the United States nor any other nation has demonstrated a godly character consistently in the world’s history. However, especially in its beginnings, America experienced outbreaks of godliness that have brought blessing to itself and the world.
The concept of covenant was at the heart of America’s founding. Samuel Rutherford, a 17th-century Scottish theologian and statesman, brought the notion of covenant into civil governance through in his book, Lex Rex (“The Law of the Prince”). Based on Romans 13, Rutherford showed that rulers are to be in covenant with God because it is He Who grants them authority to rule.
One of the greatest crises of our time is that many in charge don’t know the difference between raw power and true authority. When the understanding and application of covenant is lost all that is left is the assumption that human potentates are absolute.
The Mayflower Compact, written on November 11, 1620, is considered as “America’s first great constitutional document,” write Marshall Foster and Mary Elaine Swanson in “The American Covenant,” published by the Mayflower Institute. The Compact brought the covenant concept into functional application for the highest form of governance.
Andrew McLaughlin (1961-1947) was a historian who probed the worldview of America’s founders, as a professor of history at the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago as well as president of the American Historical Association, McLaughlin was exceptionally qualified to write Foundations of American Constitutionalism. There he noted that “the word, ‘covenant’” and its significance appears over and over again in the study of the nation’s constitutionalism.
Donald S. Lutz and Charles S, Hyneman, in a comprehensive search of the sources that most influenced the worldview of America’s founders, and most often quoted by them, was the Bible and/or literature arising from it. There, the founders would have read Deuteronomy 7:9, where Moses proclaimed, “Know without any doubt and understand that the Lord your God, He is true God, the faithful Who is keeping His covenant and His steadfast lovingkindness to a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
Despite the secularizing frenzy of our time, make “America great again” cannot be done without leading America to be godly again. It is leadership in the character of Christ, not theocratic authoritarianism, which can accomplish that.
We can quibble about all this as long as we want, but we will be nothing more than Nero fiddling while his city burns all around him. Few phenomena reveal the depths to which we have sunk but that Joe Biden and Donald Trump are hailed by various groups as the best we’ve got.
This Is a good moment to remember words from Samuel Adams — one of America’s founding statemen:
“Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing on people the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love for the Deity and universal philanthropy, and in subordination to these great principles the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they can never can be a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short of leaving them in the study and practice of exalted virtues of the Christian system.”
The bottom line: it is either the New Jerusalem or the decayed Babylon. At the moment, it seems we have chosen Babylon, whether left or right, Democrat or Republican.
Michael Polanyi wrote: “The pursuit of discovery is guided by sensing the presence of a hidden reality toward which our clues are pointing. For America to be “great again” we must look deeper than slogans and seek the “hidden reality.”
America cannot be great again by God’s standards until it has become godly again in its core worldview and values.
Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.