The riot at the U.S. Capitol last week was a terrible tragedy, and it is inconsistent with our core values as Americans and Christians. The escalating polarization and political unrest in our nation are extremely disturbing, and we join Christians everywhere in praying for peace.
At this disruptive moment, this burning question from a former American Bible Society president echoes across the years, bringing us wisdom and perspective from a very different moment of national strife: Where shall we look for the hope of our country?
During the 15 years leading up to the American Civil War (1846–1861), former U.S. Senator and vice-presidential candidate Theodore Frelinghuysen, affectionately regarded nationally as “the Christian Statesman,” served as president of American Bible Society.
At that time of deep conflict, Frelinghuysen penned a solemn — even prophetic — warning to a divided nation. He cautioned that departing from the Bible’s message of liberty, justice, unity, and love would lead to rampant destruction in America’s public and private life:
“Seal up this one Volume (the Bible), and in a half century all these hopes would wither and these prospects perish forever. These sacred temples would crumble or become the receptacles of pollution and crime.”
But despite the real challenges facing America in his day, Frelinghuysen did not lose heart. And neither should we.
Embodying the hope, joy and peace promised in Romans 15:13, Frelinghuysen went on to write in this same letter that it was the Bible, and the Bible alone, that could bind together “every family in this great brotherhood” of America in a spirit of unity, peace, and love. This indeed, was the last great hope for our democracy.
“Under the benignant smiles of Him who delights to bless the Word, our government, the last hope of liberty, will rest on foundations against which the winds and waves shall beat in vain….
The Lord hath said, ‘My Word shall not return unto me void.’ …
Where shall we look for the hope of our country, for the preservation of its union, for the blessing of the God of our fathers, if we may not here?”
Other national leaders — like the first Chief Justice John Jay and the President of the Congress of Confederation Elias Boudinot — transitioned from their political careers to lead the Bible Society, seeing the Bible as the book that ensures the staying power of the Constitution and the American Republic.
People of all faith commitments — and none — have recognized the tremendous and overall positive role that the Bible has played in American history. With these biblical roots propelling us forward, this is a moment for all Jesus-followers to fulfill our duty to live out the truths of the Bible — summarized not least in Matthew 22:35–40 as loving God and loving our neighbors — letting our light shine so others may see it and be drawn to our Father.
This is a day for the Church to stand up, speak up, and serve with unmatched vigor, courage, and humility. Our vision at American Bible Society is to see churches bringing the healing of God’s Word to their own congregations and communities, and we are ready to help in whatever ways we can.
The United States of America is facing ongoing national challenges that are serving as converging pressure points for its citizens: the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest following the death of George Floyd, and a divisive political election. According to Gallup, Americans’ mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades.
Our trauma healing ministry provides free Bible-based resources to be used by small groups to find hope and healing from trauma. While this method has been embraced around the world, we also now recognize how desperately our own American citizens need help in addressing their trauma. Our research shows that the two best antidotes to mental health challenges are church and the Bible. Bible use is linked to how well people cope with their trauma, and Gallup’s research confirms that regular church attendees were most likely to describe their mental health as “excellent.” In these times of pain and unrest, the Church can emerge freshly as a spiritual hospital, with the Bible as a balm.
Ahead of our nation’s transition of power on January 20 and the possibility of further unrest, we urge all people to recommit to the cause of the Church and to the gospel of light in these divisive times. Please join us to:
- Lament the political polarization and division, humbly asking God to cleanse our own souls and the soul of our nation (Psalm 51:10).
- Pray that the actions of our leaders would lead to peace and tranquility in our land (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
- Serve with vigor and humility, seeking peace, justice, and healing in our communities as we bear witness to Christ and the eternal hope that can be found in his Word and in his Word alone (John 6:68).
With the Church, and with Theodore Frelinghuysen, we boldly ask:
Where shall we look for the hope of our country, the preservation of its union, and the blessing of God if not in the Bible?
Robert Briggs is president of American Bible Society.