The 'MAGA' we need: Was America ever godly? (part 2)

When was the United States of America a godly nation?

That was the question some rhetorically posed in response to Part I of this two-part series.

Getty Images
Getty Images

There, I argued that the “MAGA” the nation needs now is “Make America Godly Again.” I also wrote that there was probably no nation in history that has been “consistently” godly —including America.

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Further, a nation cannot be “made” godly by legislation or fiat. This attempt would result in the creation of a theocracy, a nation with a state religion enforced by government domination.  History reveals the danger of that system. It is not “godly” at all, but cruel and dictatorial, hammered into and held in place by religious authoritarians.

Neither does the answer lie in institutionalism in the form of a new political party, but the dynamic of Zoe, the life infused in human beings by the Holy Spirit, in line with biblical revelation.

Every society is formed around a core worldview and the values coming from it. That worldview and those values will guide the decrees and policies of a nation. When that happens, the society’s true “religion” — be it a spiritual concept or worship of the state and its authoritarians — will be revealed.

Has America consistently and thoroughly been a God-fearing, holy nation? No. However, certain historic actions and statements have brought the core worldview into light and expressed the vision of the United States as “one nation, under God” — a slogan to which the country has held midst efforts to remove it.

While America may not have been a consistently godly nation, there are policy pronouncements and actions that reflect a core worldview and value system that could be described as “godly”.

It’s not so much a golden age that might be called “godly” as it is golden moments.

The Great Awakenings in 18th century New England brought godly values into the formational period of America. Benjamin Franklin noted that he could not walk through the streets of Philadelphia in the evening without hearing prayers and hymns streaming through the open windows of homes impacted by the spiritual revival.

Those streams of revival swept into the hall where the founders were laying the foundations of America. It was Franklin also — whether Deist or committed Christian — who urged his colleagues to bring in a pastor to lead in prayer when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention came to an impasse.      

The outcome of these “golden moment” burst-throughs of godliness resulted in perhaps the greatest foundational statement for civilization-building in history — the Preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. There the equality and freedoms of all people were officially recognized and became a seed that would blossom. It is true that many of those who signed the Declaration went home to their slave farms, but the reality was that they had planted a seed of godliness that would bring the end of slavery.

The foundational godly worldview was evident when President Lincoln voiced the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. While some felt it did not go far enough, a crucial “golden moment” had come that would result in a comprehensive policy against slavery.

It is not surprising that on January 1, 1863, when the Proclamation officially became law, many African Americans and others went to churches to celebrate. A crowd massed at Washington’s Israel Bethel Church and cheered as Pastor Henry McNeil Turner waved a copy of The Washington Star and read the Proclamation to the rejoicing congregation. They celebrated too at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, where Henry Ward Beecher preached, and in many other localities.

Why did people rush to churches to celebrate? They recognized that it was not merely a time to rejoice but also to worship because a “golden moment” of godliness had broken into the grim world that would exploit human beings.

People still look to the church from whence come the Martin Luther Kings and others who confront societal evils for what they are — spiritual issues, sin, which require the touch of God’s hand.

When was America ever a godly nation? Consider the end of the Second World War and the Marshal Plan. The United States put more than $13 billion into the European Recovery Program to reconstruct and put war-shattered Europe back on its feet.

President Harry Truman predicted the Plan would “go down in history “as one of America’s greatest contributions to the peace of the world.”

That recalls another “golden moment” when the godly worldview broke into the open. At a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the war in Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about United States’ involvement in that nation. Powell responded: “The only land we ever asked for is enough land to bury our dead… that’s the kind of nation we are.”

America, like the humans who comprise it, is not without sin. On April 30, 1863, as the Civil War was ripping the nation apart, President Lincoln and Congress called for a day of national repentance and prayer. A nation needs to repent when the governing authorities officially sanction evil in policy, through judicial, executive, and legislative actions.

If America is ungodly now it is because so many steps have been taken by officialdom that constitutes an official endorsement of sin. If politicians who claim to represent the interests of the people take such actions, then the “people” who elect or tolerate them are themselves implicated.

How can we make America “godly again”? Lincoln and the Congress showed the way in 1863: through national repentance.

Thus, once again, it is churches that take prayer and repentance seriously that hold the key.

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.

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