I’m still reeling from last week’s election. Most people I know are, too. Even though the polls told us clearly enough that President Obama was highly likely to win, many of us had persuaded ourselves in the end Mitt Romney would prevail.
In the weeks leading up to the election evangelicals across the country prayed, held rallies, preached, wrote and in general did everything possible to assure the faithful that God was going to defeat Obama. But in the end, Romney didn’t even do as well as John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate against Obama.
It was as though David slung his stone at Goliath, and missed.
Beyond the election itself many people are pointing to the fact that the evangelical voice in the United States doesn’t carry much weight anymore. The days of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family being able to swing the course of an election are long gone. These days, Billy Graham’s full-page newspaper ads pleading for the Republican cause didn’t make any difference at all. In fact, they may actually have hurt.
Following the election Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as one the nation’s best-known bloggers (www.almohler.com), declared the election a catastrophe for moral issues:
Furthermore, at least two states, Maine and Maryland, legalized same-sex marriage last night. Washington State is likely to join them once the votes there are counted. An effort to pass a constitutional amendment preventing same-sex marriage went down to defeat in Minnesota. These came after 33 states had passed some measure defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. After 33 victories, last night brought multiple defeats.
Other states considered issues ranging from abortion and marijuana to assisted suicide. While not all were lost, the moral shift was evident in the voting patterns.
Clearly, we face a new moral landscape in America, and huge challenge to those of us who care passionately about these issues. We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life, and a range of moral issues. This will not be easy. It is, however, an urgent call to action.
All of this is true. In fact, the situation for evangelicals may be even more challenging than we realize. Beyond the obvious moral issues, there’s a more subtle yet powerful force at work in the steady erosion of religious liberty. The new age the United States has entered has little patience for people of traditional Christian beliefs.
Personally, I think all this will end up for the good. I really do. For two reasons: the first is that the situation we find ourselves in now is actually freeing us up from some of the harmful situations evangelicals had gotten into. And second, if we get really serious about the gospel and building the Kingdom, we may well find our nation ripe for revival.
For decades evangelicals have grown more and more entangled with the Republican Party. There were several good reasons for this, most notably that Republicans in general adopted our position on moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Our thinking was that political victories would lead to effective churches. The reality was the opposite happened, and the closer we aligned with a single party the more we distanced ourselves from where the other half of the nation was living. We compromised our witness for the sake of power.
It’s not that we should stop advocating for the live of the unborn or stop speaking up for biblical marriage, it’s just that we can’t be so closely aligned with one political party that we dilute the fact that the gospel is intended for people of all political parties and all lifestyles.
Now that our political power is not what it used to be, we may well find that our spiritual authority is more visible.
Now we can get serious about the gospel. I shared with my people last Sunday ten important principles that evangelical churches have to keep in mind as we negotiate the new world we’re in. If we can keep these in front of us, our nation may move into a new season of spiritual renewal. That’s my hope and prayer, anyway.
Here are the ten principles:
· Authenticity. We can’t live as hypocrites, judges, cynics or curmudgeons anymore. We have to strive above everything else to be authentic followers of Jesus.
· A greater love. Like the first century believers in Antioch, who were first called “Christ-ians” or “little Christs” because of the way they loved each other, we have to embrace a deeper love.
· A willingness to suffer. American Christians have by and large escaped the suffering that Jesus said his followers would experience. That’s about to end, I believe. And we must be willing to embrace the suffering that’s probably coming our way.
· A willingness to serve. Now that we’re no longer under the illusion that power makes us effective, we’re free to serve others in Jesus’ name. Just as He did.
· A reliance on prayer more than ever before. Prayer is what moves God to empower the church to in turn impact the world. This new season we’re in will call out prayer among God’s people more than ever.
· Real community. In our nation of polarized, angry people, the church simply must find a way to build real community. This alone gives credibility to our witness.
· The capacity to live in an unclean world without becoming unclean ourselves. Our nation’s moral landscape is littered with the broken lives that immorality always brings with it. This is where we live but we have to do so without becoming unclean ourselves. That’s not an easy position to be in, yet one the Lord told us to take.
· Personal responsibility. Our people must assume personal responsibility for their own spiritual maturity. The days when churches made it their main business to pamper their congregations are over. We need strong men and women today to meet the challenges before us, not whiny babies who think only of their own needs.
· A new vision of the Main Thing and the many other things that aren’t the Main Thing. All churches get distracted by lots of secondary issues. We have to keep the Main Thing—the gospel—clearly and simply at the center of all we do.
· A trust in the Holy Spirit to make a way when we can’t see a way. The Holy Spirit in the end determines the effectiveness of our churches. If the new culture of hostility toward the gospel teaches us anything, it teaches us that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we’re incapable of accomplishing anything for the Kingdom.
· The enduring value of the local church. In today’s environment, it’s the local church that will make a difference in people’s lives. Not denominations. Not high profile para-church ministries. Not celebrity pastors. Just ordinary, faithful people, bound together in common worship, mission and love and determined to reach out to the lost people around them.