I’d like to offer several logical options in responding to the election outcome. Each of them have been taken before in American history. The challenge is to find where we are in order to know the proper response. Here are some previous American responses to political defeat.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Those who would advocate revolution would say that the abuses and usurpations have grown so great that it is a duty to throw off such government. More likely, however, men are willing, in the present situation, to be disposed to suffer, believing that the evils are sufferable.
The Christian, of course, is troubled by the idea of revolution, and he ought to be. Pastors in the Revolutionary War period struggled with the scriptures on this topic. John Wingate Thornton noted, “To the Pulpit, the Puritan Pulpit, we owe the moral force which won our independence.”For a good (and free) look at sermons from the period of the American revolution, go to:
My own view is that we are not at the point where revolution is even to be contemplated, but we are at the point where we ought to be students of those who went before us on this matter.
Partition—Hmm, this one is equally painful. It is the path taken by the southern states in 1861 upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. There is rarely anything like consensus on the idea of partitioning a nation. The ones who want to leave are always violently opposed by those who want to preserve a political union. The present divide in our country, while roughly geographical, is not as precisely geographical as the one which led to the Civil War. That war was particularly bloody, and the forces working to preserve the Union were every bit as determined as those working to defend their state (I am not saying that I agree with those Southerners in saying that they were working to defend their state. I myself think that they were doing more than they thought that they were, which is why the Union was so determined.) No, I see no good coming from a proposal of partition, unless there would be mutual agreement to it, which will never happen. Still, it’s great idea for a novel, and if I ever write one, I think that I might do it based on such a scenario. For a small list of the many sermons preached on both sides of the partition divide during the Civil War, see: http://www.civilwar.com/resources/sermons.html
Departure—The idea of leaving where one is not welcome is as old as the book of Genesis. It is what the Pilgrims did which separated and distinguished them from the Puritans. Rev. John Cotton’s sermon entitled, “The Divine Right to Occupy the Land” is a good example of this view. Go to: http://websupport1.citytech.cuny.edu/faculty/pcatapano/IMM/IMMdocs/cotton_lectures.html A key question that all who advocate departure must answer is, “Where?” Entire life savings were exhausted in the Pilgrim departure. Freedom was loved more than life itself. I’m not sure that one can advocate for departure until a place to land is located. And, as history reminds us, there were displacements of other people groups associated with any group’s arrival. It’s a messy thing.
Continued effort in the system—This has been the typical response of Americans, both Christian and otherwise, to political defeat. We take our lumps and live to fight another day. This means engagement in communication of our political message in new and creative ways. It means crossing boundaries of traditional political segregation to persuade. It is hard work, requires patience, and has no guarantee of success. In fact, demographics and the increasing dependency of all citizens upon government largesse in one way or another seems to indicate that small government with little regulation is an idea which will never again dominate the American scene. John Adams, our second President, predicted as much when he wrote, “To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor and consequently power to gratify themselves is to disbelieve all history and universal experience; it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us the heart is deceitful in all things and desperately wicked.” I am not sure that the principles of freedom can be sufficiently communicated to the present generation in a persuasive enough manner. This election saw three states embrace homosexual marriage, an open lesbian was elected to the US Senate, two senate candidates lost their races because they clumsily advocated for the right to life for those conceived via rape or incest, two states legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and on and on it goes. How does one persuade against such world view dominance? (One is tempted to quote Theoden here, "What can men do against such reckless hate?")
Acquiescence—This is the view which most people end up taking after all elections. They simply say, “Ok, that’s over. What’s for supper?” Largely, a modified version is the main Christian response that I am reading this morning. We acknowledge the election result; we stay kind; we pray for the elected leaders. For an excellent example of this, see Russell Moore’s article: http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/11/07/christians-lets-honor-the-president/
There is biblical merit in such an approach, as Moore wisely points out. However, as a few of the comments to Moore’s article point out, it seems unbiblical to stay silent and “supportive” in the face of pure evil. If one believes that the present administration exhibits evidences of pure evil, it would not be charitable to the larger society to acquiesce.
Embrace a different world view—Evangelicals often face the temptation to be trendy or accepted by the culture at large. In the face of serious and dominant cultural disagreements with the clear teaching of the Word of God, large numbers of evangelicals will be tempted to surrender biblical values and embrace the culture’s values. My prediction is that this will be a response embraced by many, many evangelicals in the next two years. As they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” This is what happened to Congregationalism in the early 19th century and to the mainline denominations in the early 20th century. Evangelicals seem to be next in line, and some have already crossed that line.
Preach the Word—In this response, the church holds up the authority of scripture, engages the culture, politely but relentlessly, and preaches the whole council of God. This will make people angry, not the least of which are some folks within the church. There are times where the preaching of the Word brings societal transformation (see the First Great Awakening or, to a lesser degree, the preaching of Billy Sunday). But there are also times like Jeremiah’s where the preaching of the Word was met with little positive response, much resistance, and great opposition. In any event, there is little fanfare, and most people do not even notice the effect of the Gospel. When the government demands that the preacher’s message be changed, the preacher preaches that message all the more and willingly accepts the persecution that comes as a result. This effort to “preach” is not borne only by the preachers, but by all who call themselves Christians, for the “preaching” is not only what is done in the pulpits but what is done in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and on the recreation field. And true believers are willing to lose their jobs, their homes, their status, and even their lives to make Jesus Christ known. The challenge with this position is to avoid developing one’s own spiritual ghetto. The Essenes of old prided themselves on this position. However, all they did was to create their little world and kept themselves as far from the larger world as they possibly could. A key distinction to avoid that is the importance of prayer and fasting in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I don't think it is possible to draw near to God in that way and not also be drawn to engage the world.
I’d be curious. Which of the above resonate with you? Why? I confess that I find something attractive in all of them. As a preacher, I am drawn to the last position, but the challenging question of how to engage the culture bothers me quite a bit. In future posts, I hope to flesh out a bit more what my approach is and why. The very fact that I am alive in this world means that I must make some further choices on these matters.
And so must you.