Forward Toward what End? A Return to Traditional Values? (Pt. 2)

TerryExiles in Babylon

Many people, regardless of worldview or ideology, believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. By many conservative (but not necessarily Christian) accounts, this is because we are in a decades-old state of intellectual, cultural, political, and economic decline. Most specifically, and accurately, conservative Christians (whom I deliberately distinguish from so-called “liberal Christians”) identify the cause of this decline as a falling away from the way of God.

The way forward, many conservatives and Christians argue alike, is really about a return: We can stop the current decline if we return to what are variously described as “traditional values” or “founding principles”. Conservative descriptions of this destination generally involve a vision that combines the goals of social and fiscal conservatism with a selectively-focused nostalgia for particular eras of the past. The United States can avoid the abyss beyond the sunset and steer into the sunrise through skillful conservative statecraft, technological cleverness and commercial resourcefulness carried out in a free market economy driven by conservative fiscal policies, transcendent and sustainable sharing of global natural resources, and enlightened pursuit of international cooperation, fairness, and social justice.

Conservative Christians add to this vision an emphasis on the restoration of the pre-eminence of Biblical values in culture and society, reflecting the hopeful view that if we can turn as a nation back toward God and His ways then God will be glorified and well-pleased. When God is pleased, our national blessing can be restored, our beacon relit for the inspiration of those nations lingering in darkness, and the pursuit of the American dream can be resumed in an ongoing era of renewed international strength, recovered economic prosperity, and a reformed and rededicated commitment to morality and cultural wholesomeness. In this conservative, traditional values-driven manner we can avoid sliding over the crumbling cliff of godlessness into the abyss that awaits all collapsed nations and empires.

It’s a lovely vision. Although our nation’s state of moral and spiritual corruption seems to me to be too advanced to make it likely that it can be achieved, my aim here is not to present a cynical or hopeless view of the nation’s future. I know that where God is involved anything is possible: If many, many hearts can be opened toward Christ, and if many, many minds can be reclaimed from the grip of unbelief, then as these spiritually-awakened are led out of the wilderness of the lost and damned there can indeed be an overall turning of our nation’s trajectory. With great effort, and only with Christ firmly at the head of this nationwide spiritual awakening, some portion of the vision is indeed possible.



The vision of national restoration that I hear so many conservatives and Christians talking about — somewhat desperately — in these crumbling, eroding, edgy days leading up to the Inauguration of Mr. Obama seems to me to suffer from two fatal flaws. First, it is a vision that is ultimately about self-reliance. Our nation is portrayed as perpetually journeying the timeline of history toward one of two horizons: One, the desirable one, leads into the rising sun of stability and prosperity, while the other leads toward sunset and, ultimately, the abyss of history reserved for failed economies, cultures, and nations. The location of our nation between those two extremes at any particular point in history is a reflection of how much tension the opposing forces of good (seen as conservatism) and evil (seen as liberalism) are each exerting in culture, governance, and political affairs. The fact that we are currently headed in the wrong direction is thus a result of the failure of conservatives and Christians to maintain proper cultural and political counter-tension against the opposing forces of liberalism, socialism, and godlessness.

The solution? We are urged to fight the Obama administration and corrupt Congress through our democratic processes, our courts, and through our collective voices raised with courage and clarity in every public forum where we can be heard. Over the longer term, we are urged to rally around our common cause — which currently seems to be a restoration of traditional values — and begin exerting organized counter-tension on the liberal trajectory of our culture and government so that we can (hopefully) turn things around and (hopefully) save our nation from the abyss.

This may sound like a great plan on the surface but I believe that this vision of national restoration through a return to traditional values is really just fallen humanity’s usual vision of self-reliance. In my own life, I have been taken time and time again back to Proverbs 3 and Philippians 4:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6 NASB)

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7 NASB)

When God is given proper sovereignty over the affairs of men and nations, there should be found no anxiety. Yet, there is so much conservative angst in the air as we approach Mr. Obama’s inauguration. So much dismay and yet unsurprised cynicism as we greet the daily headlines, in which we see our rights and freedoms craftily being legislated away, we see celebratory welcome offered in the Senate to newly-elected sexual deviants and followers of false gods, we see our economy teetering at the edge of a cliff while our President takes another vacation with his golf clubs and our Senate corrupts and compromises itself into complete deadlock over everything important and critical while still managing to preserve what is petty, inane, or self-promoting. We feel so much hopelessness as we review the latest slew of desperate calls to action from conservative and Christian watch-groups in Washington.

How on earth can we possibly regroup, regain lost cultural ground, recover our political vision from the grip of corruption, slow the pace of damage to our Constitution, and then turn the entire nation around and begin traveling in the right direction before it’s too late? Further, we must accomplish these things while our nation teems with spiritually void and utterly lost people who fill up the voting booths, permeate the airwaves, saturate the movie screens, and hijack our children’s school curriculum at all levels with their godless counterintelligence while our nation’s leaders lay down heavy fire on our Constitution and our God.

How on earth can we do what must be done before it is too late?

Our anxieties betray us: We may acknowledge with our lips that God is sovereign, but we really see ourselves — our own efforts — as responsible for “saving” our nation.

This misguided sense of self-reliance is accompanied by, and perhaps founded upon, the second major shortcoming that I see in the effort to grasp at “traditional values” as a rallying point for restoring our nation. Many Christians today have a very loose grasp of Scripture and this is especially true when it comes to understanding and believing the truth of the prophetic Scriptures about future history. It is not my purpose here to delve into eschatology (doctrines having to do with last things, including the end of time), so the short version of my point is that mortal time is not open-ended. All things — all mortal life, all things made by people, all nations — are going to come to an end. God showed this to the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus repeated it during His earthly ministry. For example:

Is 2:12 “…for the day of The Lord of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up–And it shall be brought low–”

Mark 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

And, or course, there is the truth revealed in the difficult narrative of the Book of Revelation; according to many conservative Biblical scholars, the United States of America does not appear to play a significant role in the epic global events that will occur in the last days. Thus, for those who hold that Scripture is accurate and that the God who authored it is unchanging and unfailing, we know – or should know – that this nation will decline and, like all nations, eventually end. Yet, here we are in the dread-filled days before Mr. Obama is sworn in for his second go-round at destroying our nation, attempting to rally around the banner of returning to “traditional values” — in the misguided belief that this in and of itself is sufficient as a national destination. What do we assume will happen if we achieve that goal? Returning to the earlier metaphor of the perpetual journey toward one of two horizons, the thinking seems to be that traditional values will lead us out of night into the sunrise, where personal and national prosperity will surely result. How long will this state of restored blessing continue? The assumption seems to be that if we are humble and learn our lesson, if we remain vigilant against future efforts to divert the trajectory of our national journey back toward liberalism, socialism, and godlessness, then we should be able to just go on…and on…and on. We need never face the sunset or the abyss again, if we can but reclaim our nation from the grip of godlessness and, this time, keep our nation journeying in the right direction.

It sounds good on the surface, but the assumptions of self-reliance, human effort, and the open-ended view of time underlying so many of the rallying calls out there right now are just not biblically-anchored. I understand that conservatives who are not Christians do not see past, present, or future history through a biblical lens; Christians, however, should know better. God is the Author of both the sunrise and the sunset; He who is Alpha and Omega has already appointed the days for all nations, just as He has appointed them for all believers and non-believers. No matter where we are as a nation — marching into the sunrise with our arms linked and singing Hallelujah, or battling furiously in the gathering darkness above the abyss — when the day arrives that God has appointed shall be our nation’s last, there will be no delaying or diverting it.

In fact, there is no nation on earth — no matter its self-proclaimed degree of enlightenment…its abundance of cultural, environmental, or architectural treasures…its beauty, or despair…its state of economic development…its prosperity or poverty…and no matter its particular mix of secularism, paganism, or religiousness — that will be excepted from the Judgment of God.

1 Chr 16:14: He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth.

Job 12:23 He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations and guides them.

Greatness, prosperity, and national preservation are the Good work (capital “G”) of the Lord; He bestows them upon nations in accordance with His will and His unfolding plan for His Kingdom. These are not simply the things that are attained when people rally themselves, skillfully outmaneuver cultural and political opposition, and start practicing “good” (lower case “g”) values and conservative principles. Such a view reduces God to the role of a mere observer who waits in the wings to bestow blessings upon success and judgment upon failure. Such a view encourages a broken and desperate people to see “traditional values” as the destination, when in fact “traditional values” aren’t as much an end-goal as they are the expression of spiritual fruits that result from people first turning to the Lord, submitting to His Son, and committing to His Word…for the purposes of following His Way and His Will…toward His destination.