The New England Patriots mounted yet another historic comeback yesterday to qualify for yet another Super Bowl. They will play the Philadelphia Eagles, who wontheir game decisively.
Both contests were welcome distractions from the saga unfolding in Washington, where the federal government continues its shutdown. A vote is now planned for noon today to fund the government through early February.
However, this is not the only significant political news of the day.
Forty-five years ago today, the US Supreme Court announced its 7-2 Roe v. Wade decision. Since that time, more than 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States.
This number is greater than the populations of Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Utah, Nevada, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming–combined.
Meanwhile, America marked another auspicious anniversary yesterday. On January 21, 1998, the scandal over Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky broke publicly.
The Washington Post credits the scandal with beginning "the true entrenchment of partisans–the polarization of the public–that has paralyzed our current politics." Democrats viewed the affair as a personal matter with little relevance to the president's ability to fulfill his office. By contrast, Republicans viewed Clinton's initial lies about the affair as fundamentally disqualifying.
This seismic partisan fissure has widened significantly in the two decades since. The divisiveness of our politics has understandably affected our trust in government as well. According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of Americans in the Eisenhower era said they trust the national government to do what is right "just about always" or "most of the time." Today, that number stands at 18 percent.
"Congress is downstream from culture"
It is my privilege to serve as a senior fellow with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative in its efforts to defend and promote religious freedom around the world. In this context, I have been honored to work with Frank Wolf, the much-esteemed retired Virginia congressman. I have heard him say on several occasions that "Congress is downstream from culture." If we want to impact our government, we must change our culture.
Rep. Wolf is exactly right.
The political stalemate in Washington reflects the vitriolic political climate of our nation. The continuing tragedy of abortion in this country reflects our rejection of the sanctity of all human life. The sexual scandals that continue to make news reflect our rejection of biblical marriage and sexual morality.
What is the way forward?
Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, and committed Christian. In The Subversion of Christianity, he made this startling pronouncement:
"Christians and the church have wanted an alliance with everything that represents power in the world. In reality this rests on the conviction that thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit the powers of this world have been vanquished and set in service of the gospel, the church, and mission. We must use their forces in the interest of evangelism. . . .
"But what happens is the exact opposite. The church and mission are penetrated by the power and completely turned aside from their truth by the corruption of power. When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he says clearly what he intends to say. He does not validate any worldly kingdom (even if the ruler be a Christian)."
"The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One"
The corrupting nature of political power does not mean that Christians should abstain from politics. To the contrary, I am convinced that God is calling more believers into public service than are answering his call.
Paul stated that governing authorities "have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). Sociologist James Davison Hunter has demonstrated that culture changes top-down as people achieve their highest influence and "manifest faithful presence." Those in political leadership have a highly visible platform for kingdom service.
However, human laws cannot change human hearts.
As Chuck Colson noted, "The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One." You and I cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to "convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).
But here's what we can do in these divisive days:
• Pray earnestly for the lost to turn to Jesus: "My heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1).
• Emulate the "men of Issachar" who "had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (1 Chronicles 12:32).
• Model the integrity we wish to see in Washington: "We aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man" (2 Corinthians 8:21).
• Serve those with whom we disagree: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
• Make it our standard in every conversation and circumstance to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).
Can a movement of people living by these precepts make a real difference in our divided culture? Remember the small band of early Christians who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Consider how much salt you need to season a meal and the size of a candle required to dispel the dark (Matthew 5:13-16).
Then ask yourself: "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
First published at the Denison Forum.