Speech at the Calvary Church in Southern California
October 28, 2000
Thank you. Good morning.
I want to say first a hearty word of thanks to Pastor Smith and to everyone who has put this wonderful event together today, and to all of you for coming. It shows a tremendous seriousness about the responsibility that we face in our society today. A patriotic responsibility. And I want to talk today about the real meaning of that responsibility, particularly from a Christian point of view.
And I am not sure, to tell you the truth, that everything that I say today will sit easily with you, because it doesn't sit easily with me. But I believe that our first call is not an allegiance of party; it is not an allegiance of personal interest; it is not an allegiance to social good. Our first call is our allegiance to God Almighty. And at the expense of all things we must serve that allegiance, for that is what Our Lord did, and that is what, by His example, we are called to do.
So what I have to say in the next few minutes, and what I have been saying, in fact, over the course of the last several weeks, is not easy. If some come with an expectation that there will be a "gung ho" speech here on the easy assumption that there is some choice you can make on election day that is going to save this country, I want to tell you right now that I do not believe that that is true. And I think that we need to put any such thought from our minds, or we will be going down a road of delusion and falsehood. That is not what is at stake here. And that is what makes our responsibility all the more important, and all the more agonizing. But I will get to the details of that in a moment.
First I want to speak a little bit about patriotism. Because at one level we are, and ought to be, I think, comfortable with all that we have just done here--for instance, the singing of patriotic songs, the reflection of a patriotic spirit in the hearts and minds of our young folks. But we ought to be careful, though. You do understand, I think, don't you, that it would not be for a Christian person to be patriotic in every country in the world, or to every regime that has ever existed? I, for one, know for a fact that I would have felt no patriotism in Nazi Germany. And I would feel no patriotism today in the Communist China that persecutes those who seek to worship God.
We are not called to love country for the sake of country. We are called to love country as we are called to love in every respect. And I think that sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this, because in this society, especially, we speak about love so easily. Love is a word that is tossed around everywhere, in the films, in television, in music--but what is it mostly about? Body love, passion love, self-interest love, selfish love, gratifying love. But that has nothing to do, as you very well know, with Christian love.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, I think, Christ gave us one of the ultimate examples of the real meaning of Christian love, when in the agony of truth His heart went out to God--a human heart that said, "Let this cup pass from me"; a heart that grieved as ours might have, that feared as ours might have, that wept as ours certainly ought to at the weight of all the evil and the sin that was coming to a focus on His innocence. Then He said, "Let this cup pass from me"--but at the same time what did He say? "But not my will, but Thine." And in that moment, when whatever was the feeling, whatever was the inclination, whatever might have the consequence from some personal and human point of view, the Lord looked to His Father and said, "Not my will, but Thine." For, in the end, by Christ's example all love is the love of God. All passion is the passion that we feel for God.
And that too was suggested, I think, when Christ summarized our duties in the Great Commandments. They have sometimes posed a bit of a quandary for me, because the first one says that you shall love the Lord thy God with your whole heart and your whole mind and your whole soul, and then the second one says you love your neighbor as yourself. And I've always said to myself, "But if you love God with your whole mind, your whole heart, your whole soul, what love is left over for yourself?" Which would kind of suggest, "What love is left over for your neighbor?" Have you ever felt that quandary?
And I think that there is only one way to resolve the quandary, and that is to remember what we ought to know from the beginning: that if we love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and our whole mind, and our whole soul, what do we see when we look around, if we really understand what we are looking at, in the lives and the truth of the existence and being of other human beings? What does the Bible tell us? "Male and female He created them; in the image and likeness of God created He them." We do not love ourselves or one another for our own sake, or for the sake of others. We love all for the sake of God. We love all for the sake of His will, for the sake of His goodness. For, as Christ Himself said when the young man approached Him and said, "Oh good teacher, tell me this," and He looked at him and said, "Why do you call me good? For there is none good but God alone."
And I go through this with the serious understanding that, if this is the way that we are called to love, then as we do not grieve as those who have no hope, so we cannot love in the same way as those who see love in terms of feeling, and sentiment, and gratification--and all these other things that in fact are distractions from the true and singular focus that fills the heart with God.
We have to love our country in this way as well. And I have say, because I certainly hope I enjoy the reputation of a patriotic person, a person who loves America--but I often remind people that someone like myself didn't come to that love easily, you know. You have got to understand this. I look back on the heritage of a country that has in its history long and terrible episodes that--when I first confronted them and read of them and steeped myself in the knowledge of them when I was a teenager--utterly and absolutely broke my heart forever. The suffering of my ancestors in slavery. The degradation of their humanity. The brutality. But also the terrible truth of the degradation of those who oppressed them, and who were turned from their true vocation of humanity by the evil that they did to others. You surely understand that I do not love America for the sake of that history.
Then why? Well, because as I learned more about my country, as I delved into it over the course of many years of study and focus--through many hard won lessons I appreciated a truth that has, I think, since that time pretty well dominated my approach to this nation and its affairs. And that is: that for all the ups and downs, for all the difficulties, for all the weaknesses, for all the failings, for all the truly negative and unjust things that surely have characterized the history of this nation, as of so many others, the redeeming feature of the American heritage lies right there at its beginning. The redeeming feature of our nation's history lies right there at the very start, when not so much, I think, by human wisdom as by the providence of God there was a generation--themselves as weak as any other, as sinful as any other, as complicit in injustice and wickedness as any other, and yet endowed, I believe, by God Almighty with this, at least: that they had the courage to acknowledge that truth by which their sins were condemned. They had the courage to acknowledge that God by which their failings would be judged.
And that, I think, often is the difference between this generation and that. People try to belittle our Founders, and they go on at length about how "they were so nasty, they owned slaves, they were racists, they were this, they were that. Why should we pay any attention to them?" Oh, yes. They were a generation, many of whom owned slaves and were complicit in the brutal reality of slavery. What's going to happen to this generation, though? In that generation, they were brutalizing human beings for the sake of their profit. In this generation, we are killing human beings for the sake of our lust. In that generation, they at least had the decency to acknowledge that there is a God, we are not Him, and that His authority made them tremble before the truth of their sinfulness. In this generation, in order to comfort ourselves in the indulgence of our passions, we turn away from God, deny His will, deny His authority, and try to pretend that there will be no judgment for the wrongs that we do.
I don't believe, y'all, that we are in any position to pretend superiority to those who put firmly in place that principle of truth which is, I believe, the portal, the gateway, through which a person of Christian heart may step in order to become fully and patriotically a citizen of America--that truth which was there in the Declaration: "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."
Those of you who know me know that hardly a speech goes by that I don't find an excuse to quote those words. And the reason is very clear and very simple: if that were not the principle of the American Founding, then I doubt quite strongly that I would be an American patriot. For, my Christian heart owes its allegiance first to God, and cannot have an allegiance that is not consistent with that first allegiance to His will.
My country, therefore, must be a country that, like my created person itself, reflects the truth of God's glory. And that, I believe, was true of the American Founding: founded on a principle of justice that from the very first acknowledged that God is the source of rights, God is the source of justice, the judgment of God establishes the dividing line between right and wrong, rights and wrongs. That is the foundation stone of this nation's legitimacy, the foundation stone of its offer of hope to people of every background and race and creed and condition--a hope that rests not on our human will and human judgment, but on our acknowledgment that each and every individual is protected and hedged about in their claims of dignity and humanity by the will of our Almighty God.
It is in that sense a beautiful idea, an encouraging and comforting idea, that brings to our political life all those attributes of justice and moderation that in the end have provided throughout our history the ground for a struggle for greater justice, for greater humanity, for greater compassion, for greater respect for human beings and individuals of all kinds and varieties.
But for that principle, I am morally certain that I would still be a slave. But for that principle, I am morally certain we would not have found the wherewithal, ordinary men and women of all different backgrounds, to come from occupations that had nothing to do with war and face the terrible rigors of war against the mightiest military powers of the day--and come out triumphant, not because we were great warriors, but because we believed strongly that what we served was the cause of justice as it comes from the hand of our great God.
I think that has been the secret--and not so secret a secret, either--of America's success. And from the very beginning, as Washington did, we have been a people who knows that we must go down on our knees to claim our rights from the hand of the Lord God, so that we may rise from our knees to stand with dignity before any human power whatsoever.
I believe that this is what has given our country the wherewithal to come through so many trials and difficulties, to face even the demons of our own injustice, and--despite all the terrifying truths that would tear us apart, from time to time--to find the road to healing that preserved our Union and the hope we are supposed to represent for humanity.
I would think that many of you in this room agree with what I just said. That's the easy part. Now we come to the next step, though. Take a good hard look at what is going on in our own time. Try to understand what is really wrong here. In fact, just before I came out a young man asked me a question, which I am mentioning only because it happened to be a question that goes right to the very heart of what I have to say today. Because he asked me a question, the import of which was, "What would I see as the major, major key challenge that faces America today?" And he suggested maybe it was the family, and what is happening to it.
And I acknowledged the family is terribly important. But I also had to explain my own sense to him that I think all that is just a symptom. The disintegration of family, the breaking down of the bonds that tie families together, the loss of a sense of real responsibility--parents toward their children, children toward their parents--the growing sense of selfishness and self-indulgence that unleashes the heart of greed and manipulation and self-indulgence that then fuels all kinds of violence at every level, even for our children. All those things, all those symptoms around us with which we are every day, in various ways, inundated, which we must contemplate with fear for the sake of our children--all of them, terribly important as they are, all of them come from one source, in my opinion. One source and one source alone. And that is that we, a country founded from the very first premise of its life on the acknowledgment of God's authority, have turned away from the creed based upon that acknowledgment, have driven His name from the schools, have driven prayer from the hearts of our children, have driven every respect for Almighty God from the precincts of our public life.
We do not have a crisis because we are losing our families; we are losing our families because we have turned this nation's heart from its allegiance to God Almighty. That is the source of all our ills.
But if that is the source of all our ills, let no one sell you a remedy short of the truth. Let no one sell you a remedy that suggests that we are going to solve those ills if we just cut taxes for everybody. That we are going to solve those ills if we just establish the right national standards for education. That we are going to solve those ills if we just have this program, and that approach, and that other thing. I turn on the television set right now, and every time I listen to any of these people talking, all I hear them talking about is money and budgets and programs and projects.
It is not for us to be deluded by the absolutely unwillingness of ALL of them to face without equivocation the simple truth: as our problem comes from our unwillingness now to acknowledge, as our Founders did, the seminal authority of God Almighty, so the solution will only come when we have renewed our allegiance to that fundamental truth. There is no other way.
Now I get to the harder part still. This is not easy for me, y'all. I will confess to you, and to everybody here, that I debated for a long time whether I would even accept this engagement. I have pretty well turned down every interview and every engagement that required that I address the fundamental issue of this election cycle. My motto is to do no harm, if you understand what I mean. But at least--once I felt I owed it to God to do my very best, with as much clarity as I can, to look at this situation openly and clearly and truthfully, fully truthfully, from what has been, to tell you the honest truth, the agony of my heart. From the point of view of my own political judgment, these weeks and months are the hardest I have ever been through. Because I am just not one of those folks--I can't stand gung ho in front of folks, especially folks who have rewarded my little efforts with their trust, and give them half truths, or lies, that will make them feel good about something that is not going to offer, in fact, the solution that they are looking for.
And so I have to be frank with you now. We face choices in this election year. They are difficult choices, at least in part, because right now, to be quite honest with you, none of them represent the solution the country requires, at the highest levels. Oh, we've got good people. I've been campaigning for Congressmen, people running for Senate and Governor here and there. We've got some fine people standing forward. But at the highest levels of this nation's politics, what we've got is the usual game playing--people perfectly willing to take your votes, in order to gain power for themselves, but with no true commitment to that task which ought to be the first priority in the use of that power.
And I know, there will be some who will dispute me, say I'm doing a terrible thing. No, I'm not; I'm just telling the truth. I was listening to Jim Dobson, just now, just to illustrate, mind you--don't take this the wrong way. I am just saying what I say now by way of illustration of the problem. And there was Dr. Dobson--after he embarrassed me by making clear to everybody that I tracked him down in the middle of his vacation, in the wilderness. I hope you appreciate, though, that I only imposed upon him in that fashion because he is the one person in this country who I acknowledge to act as my conscience when I am thinking things through. And so before I come to conclusions I always want to talk to him.
But leave that aside. He was talking about the challenge we face, realistic challenge. A challenge that in some ways, now, I think is going to become the quiet, major challenge of our public life--right up there along with abortion, as an issue that represents the terrible, tragic, mortal consequences to freedom of the abandonment of our allegiance to the principle of moral truth, which is God. And that is, of course, this whole issue of homosexuality: who is promoting it, and what is happening with it. It's a terribly important issue.
And we have reached a point, as I noticed at the last Republican Convention, where with enough work we can keep folks from running away from the truth about abortion. It does require a lot of work, though, let me tell you, because it is not a natural inclination on the part of these politicians. We can keep them from running away from the truth about abortion. We can get a right answer, at least from a certain point of view, about that--because enough folks are active and involved and courageous.
But you did notice that on this issue of homosexuality--that was one where, it's almost like, "We'll tell the truth about abortion, but in order that nobody misunderstands that as a real commitment to truth about God and godly principles, we'll push some homosexual out there to represent our willingness to tolerate and to open our arms to the homosexual agenda." You did notice that, didn't you? Because I did.
It reminds me of something I always used to tell people when they asked about problems of discernment, because I used to tell them that we ought to remember the wisdom of our Christian faith, which is that the devil doesn't come to you looking like the devil. He comes to you all dressed up looking like your friend. But there used to be an understanding, in medieval times, for instance, that the devil could dress up and he could do all kinds of things, but he had real difficulty hiding his tail. And so you should always be looking for that little indication of where he has put his tail.
And that business that I was referring to, where you talk the right game on abortion and then do the wrong thing when it comes to promoting the legitimacy of the homosexual agenda, my friends, is the devil's tail. And it was quietly clear in the context that I referred to. And then it became even more clear later on, when one of our major figures in this whole presidential thing, asked about the homosexual agenda, standing there supposedly representing folks just like you and me, then said something that I don't think you or I would ever say. He said that we ought to be looking for a way to allow everybody to partner with anybody that they pleased, and so forth. This is not the right agenda for America. This is not the way we need to go.
Is there anybody here who doesn't know what I am talking about? Because I am trying to avoid naming names here, and just getting everybody to focus on things, because I don't want to be too abrupt. And I don't go through this because I am in the business of disparaging choices that we may have to make; I go through it so that we will clearly understand that, in whatever choice we make, our allegiance cannot be to party. And it cannot be to the so-called efficacy of the leadership that is offered us. Our allegiance must be to God. And we must do the best we can, given the alternatives available, to serve God in our choices.
Am I making sense? Because I think it will be terribly important. I've been working pretty hard, as many of us have, as we do the run up to election day, because elections in America are terribly important. And some folks have the view that, "Well, after election day we can relax." Not by any means, y'all. I'm sorry. I don't care which way this election goes, I don't care whether the folks I consider to be the real bad guys win, or the folks that I consider to be the less bad guys; I don't care who wins--the work we have to do will START the day after election day, in any case. It will not end.
Because I will tell you openly, clearly. However you cast your ballot on this election day, you will have to remain vigilant afterwards if you want the agenda of truth, and a return to godly principle, to triumph in America. It will not triumph in the hands of ANY of these leaders on their own. It will only triumph if you are organized, if you are mobilized, if you are prayerful, if you are vigilant, if you are single-minded in your allegiance to God Almighty as you stand forward every day to fulfill your vocation of citizenship. If you are willing to make that commitment, not just to vote, but to work and to live in your citizenship for the sake of that truth and word that we are supposed to carry in every quarter of our lives, then this nation will have hope--that hope which comes not from any human leader, but from our acknowledgment of the leadership of Christ, and of God.
And that is the hope that you represent. And I want you to see it clearly, precisely, so that you will not regard the step that I deeply believe we must take on election day--to get out there and to vote and to fulfill our vocation as citizens--that you won't regard that as a thing of a moment, as a thing to be done and then forgotten because the "good guys" won. I want you to warn yourself against any belief that what we have here is an opportunity for the good guys to win.
We can avoid the worst. We can slow it down. But my heart tells me that that is all that we can do right now. The train is still headed down the track in the wrong direction, whichever way things go. And that means that the burden and responsibility for that renewal and transformation still rests on us.
And why do I think that it rests particularly on us? And by "us" I mean people of Christian faith. That's who I am talking to right this minute. Why do I think it rests particularly on us? I think it is pretty clear. Several reasons: first of all, a nation founded on the principle of God's authority--do you think that principle is going to be defended, is going to be promoted, is going even properly to be understood by folks who don't believe in God? I hardly think so.
I was reminded of this just the other day, because I got into a debate with Alan Dershowitz. I was invited to Franklin and Marshall College, and they had set up a debate between me and Alan Dershowitz, and the premise of the debate was, "Does organized religion [have significance for the 21st century]?"
I'm glad that you chuckle, because I looked at that topic, and it was one of those topics that told me immediately that the folks who put together the debate obviously did not understand. Now if you or I were phrasing the question properly, we wouldn't phrase the question, "Does organized religion . . . etc. etc." Because what does this have to do with anything? I, at least, am not about organized religion. I'm about Jesus. That's what I'm about. And I think that if we follow Jesus, then He provides the organic principle, and the guidance, and the truth. And He always has; He hasn't left us alone. But all things considered, we've got to be careful, my friends, when other people start phrasing the question.
Well, anyway, there I was debating Alan Dershowitz. And at various times Mr. Dershowitz would try to draw me in to a theological dispute, and biblical interpretation, and so forth. And I have got to be honest with you, I didn't get drawn into them. Because last time I looked, it is not necessarily the most fruitful of discussions debating the meaning of scripture with somebody who has just told you he thinks it was written by human beings, and not by God. You and I both know that if you approach the scripture in that frame of mind, you are going to miss all things important. It's the Dr. Watson approach to scripture: "Watson, you saw everything and missed everything." Yes, indeed. So I didn't get involved with that--because the one thing needful in that is that you can understand, in truth, only if you have opened your heart to the presence of truth. And that is required.
Now, if that is required there, it is required in fact in all things that begin from an acknowledgment of God's authority. This nation began from an acknowledgment of God's authority. Who do you think can represent the reestablishment of our allegiance to that creed, except those who have opened their hearts to God's presence, and their ears to the truth of His word? And that is us.
That means that we have a special burden, doesn't it? Some people like to talk as if this business of citizenship is something that we are going to do because we want to do something here or there to serve ourselves, and get our place at the table, and have this or that influence. This is nonsense.
I always have to tell folks, from a deeply Christian point of view, the notion that we get out there and engage in citizenship and politics because we are going to get something out of it is deeply, deeply shortsighted. There is not a single thing that I will get from any politician on this earth that I won't get better and first from Almighty God through Jesus Christ. Not a single thing that they can get for me that He has not already won for me on the cross.
And if that is our understanding as Christian folks, don't tell me I'm getting out there to engage in politics because I want something. Because I know better. Far, far better than praying to my politicians, I'll pray to God. Because if I ask Him for bread, He won't give me a stone.
Now, I have to be honest with you, my friends. If you ask your standard politician for bread, they won't give you stones either, but they will take out of your pocket the money to pay for it. So, if we are not going to be motivated, though, in our political life by the fact that we are going to get something out of it ourselves, why should we be involved?
Well, that gets me back to this business of love. For, even as the first premise of our patriotic love must be that we love for the sake of God, so our Lord gave us another word of wisdom about love, didn't He? In the story of the Good Samaritan, that story which rings down through the ages and centuries since He first articulated it by heart and example and truth--and it has actually, over the course of time, transformed the face of human history.
We have gone from the empire of power and glory, in which only strength and victory were respected, to eras in which the word "compassion" is spoken not with contempt, but with a sense of obligation, and the face of the weak does not invite our contempt, but rather calls upon our sense of duty and obligation. How did we get there?
We got there through the wisdom of Our Lord, through that wonderful story where He made clear to us the real nature of that relationship that should exist, one human being to another. So that, when the poor fellow was down in the ditch, mugged and bloody and beaten, we are not called upon to trot along the high road of salvation, ignoring the moans and groans of those who are not saved. We are called upon to turn aside from that road, for our own sake, and to share the fruits of it, to take the light that has been lit within us, and to carry it like a lantern into the darkness of their travail.
Is this not the real meaning of evangelism? To bring the truth where truth is not. To bring the light where light is not. To bring hope where hope stands still denied. And to open a heart to that which already dwells within it, but which is not acknowledged, because of the veil of lies and ignorance and sin. This is our vocation.
And if it is our vocation with respect to individuals, isn't it our vocation with respect to our nation? I haven't finished thinking it through yet, so I won't dwell on it at great length, but I have been struck in recent weeks by something that I never quite saw before in the same way as I am doing it now. And that is that in the great commission, we are called to go and teach whom? All what? In one formulation it is "all creatures," right? And in the second it is what? What? Nations.
Because we often talk as if our vocation is just to convert individuals, don't we? And that is not what Our Lord says, is it? He doesn't say that. Now, that might be a means to do it. Go at it one at a time. But I do notice down through the history of Christian missionary work and evangelism, that they never neglected the opportunities to turn the heart of that king which would turn the heart of that nation. And it was done by everybody. It was done by prophets. It was done by priests and brothers. It was done by lay folks. It was done by slave girls, like the slave girl who converted the heart of the King of Armenia, and turned those folks to Christian ways. Because when you are a Christian person it doesn't matter what your station is, you are there soldiering for God. And it is His opportunity, as He sees it, not the world's opportunity, that is the source of the vocation.
So we are called upon, my friends, to act in our vocation as Christians, to carry the truth and light of God's word to every heart, and to every nation, and to represent that truth to every creature in God's creation. Nothing is left out. And that makes perfect sense, because it is all under His dominion. It makes perfect sense that it should all acknowledge his name and glory. And so we are called to do.
And if that is, in fact, our vocation, doesn't it apply when He has put us providentially in the position of citizens of the United States? We are here--are we not?--by God's will. We are here--are we not?--by God's plan. We are here, walking a walk, in a body--every last scintilla of which, every last cell of which was known to Him before we got here. He has counted up the days, He has numbered them all, and He understands who and what we are and are supposed to be. And if we are here by His will, citizens of the United States, then we have to be thinking hard what the purpose is. Do you think he put us here for nothing?
Some people, my friends, have been put right here on this planet today in a situation over there in China, where even to acknowledge God and to read the bible and to follow conscientiously in the steps of Our Lord requires that you lay life on the line, that you be subject to brutal and gruesome persecution. Others in countries where, right now in India, Sudan and elsewhere, the hatred of others brought against them in persecution and in death and in mayhem that slaughters the life, that kills the children--this is a reality now of persecution for our people of Christian faith.
But you, you were not called into that place of persecution. You were not called into that place where it is your blood that must be spilled. So what is your role here? He put you in this great land, America. He handed to you by His providence participation in a citizen body that still, in spite of all our follies and stumbling, manages to hold on to the key to this nation's destiny. Do you think He did that for nothing? He put you in the way of a position where all you have to do to convert this nation is to transform your own heart, and the heart of its people. For, by His providence, this is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. As we determine it, so shall it be the destiny of America. And if we mean that destiny to be, as God commands us, a destiny that hears and acknowledges a word of His truth, then it is for us to accept the responsibility of this vocation, this calling, that He has put in our way.
For, we do not have to look far to find the ear of the king in America. We do not have to look far to find the heart of the sovereign. It is our ear. It is our heart. And it is our decision as a people.
And so if we are to follow our vocation we need also to remember that our nation, I think, is very like that individual in the story of the good Samaritan, who was lying there bleeding in the ditch. Because what we have to remember about that . . . it's an interesting story. Sometimes we focus on the fact that that is an individual deprived at the moment--he's naked and bloody and bruised and beaten. But what are we told about him? He's been robbed, right? This isn't somebody who had nothing. This is somebody who had something, and it was taken away. The robbers took it away.
I see a parallel here with America. And it is a parallel that doesn't have to do with material possessions, of course, any more than the good Samaritan story had exclusively to do with material possessions. The cloak that was shared with that individual in the ditch wasn't just a nice warm wool cloak, was it? It was that hope which is offered by the new robe of glory that we put on when we become a new man in Christ; sent to offer to those mugged and bleeding in the ditch (who have been robbed of what? Robbed of the light of God's truth); sent to share with them that light.
Isn't our nation like this? It started out, didn't it, right there in the floodlights of God's truth: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Acknowledging the creator. Acknowledging God.
There are those people who try falsely to argue that, "Well, that's all about some mechanistic deity of nature." It's nonsense, my friends. This comes of people who read the beginning and don't get all the way to the end. There are folks who read the bible like that, too, and they miss the best parts.
But in the Declaration, you start out acknowledging that God created, right? And as you run through, they go through the grievances, and then they get to the part where they are resolving to do stuff. And are they acknowledging? They are acknowledging that they are submitting themselves--to who? The one who is the ruler and will be the judge.
Now, is that something personal? Last time I looked, a judge is the one who makes particular decisions. The law is general; the judge applies that law in a particular way. The judge takes account of the particular circumstances, in order to apply the law to individuals in their circumstances.
So, in the Declaration of Independence, they are saying that God is the ruler, He makes the laws, and will be the Judge. A judge is somebody who is going to look at the individuals, who is going to take account of the persons--not some mechanistic, abstract somebody who doesn't acknowledge our individual existence, doesn't have a personal interest in us and a relationship with us. That judge has to know our circumstances, has to know our individual persons, has to understand, in order to make that judgment, the particular reality that we represent. And the Declaration acknowledges that that is God. A very personal God. Sounds like a very biblical God, to me, but leave that aside.
And they also talk about something else. And it is seen in two ways, in the beginning, but also later when they talk about their reliance on divine providence. Now, what is divine providence? To make provision for somebody. But if you are going to make provision for somebody, you are making provision that meets their needs, right? And how can you know needs if you don't know particular circumstances and take account of those circumstances--and take account of them when you make provision not just in the way of making judgment, but in the way of helping, in the way of caring, in the way of loving, in the way of supporting that which they seek to achieve? So this isn't just a God who judges; this is a God who shares, a God who supports, a God who provides, a God who loves.
The God of the Declaration, therefore, is a God who, not accidentally, looks, sounds, acts, behaves, just like God. Why? Because that's where we start. As a nation we start with the acknowledgment of the God Who is God--in all His aspects: as Ruler, as Judge, as Provider, as the One who comes to us in all those ways that are characteristic of His absolute power, His absolute knowledge, and His absolute heart of love.
That's where the country began. And where are we today? A country where our children can't acknowledge God in prayer in the schools; where we are told that we must be ashamed of His name in the public places, in the public discourse; and where we are invited, in decisions like Roe v. Wade, to establish as rights those things which are premised on the denial that it is God's choice, not human choice, that is the basis for our justice and dignity.
America has now come to a point where we have been robbed of that truth which was the truth of our beginning. We lie bloody and bleeding as a nation, from a thousand, thousand wounds--the wounds that have claimed the hearts of our children, that have broken the lives of our families, that have degraded the achievements of our schools, that have filled our schools with too much violence and our ways with too much fear. Robbed of it, just like that victim lying in the ditch.
That is where we can see the real meaning of our Christian vocation in American life today. For, are we not called upon, for the sake of that nation we profess to love in our patriotism, to act according to that example of love which Christ set forth? To turn aside from our way of assured salvation, not because we abandon it for our own sake, but because we mean to share it with our nation?
Citizenship is not a distraction from our faith. It is just one of those ways--like feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and praying for the sick; it's just one of those works we do out of the overflowing mercy that comes to us because our hearts are open to Christ our Lord. They are just not big enough to contain Him, and He must overflow. He must overflow, and the living water that He represents must be shared, so that it can bring life to others: to individuals, and to families, and to children, to men and to women--but also to peoples, and to races, and to nations, like our own.
I therefore look upon the vocation of citizenship as just one more element in which I must represent the universal truth of that vocation which comes to me from the example of our Lord. To take it seriously, not for what we will get out of it, but for what we alone can bring to it: that single-minded love of God which may, by its loving example and by its strong determination, help to lead this nation back to its acknowledgment of Him--that acknowledgment which is the strong foundation of its hope to continue to represent the truth of God's will for human justice, and the hope for the better destiny of humankind.
I think that, in a way that we dare not underestimate, the fate of this nation's role in that hope is in our hands now--in the hands of all Americans, but especially in the hands of Christian people like ourselves, called from the deepest heart of charity and love to do this work of mercy for America. To do this work of mercy, though it involved, as did Christ's saving work for us, suffering, and agony, and difficulty, and danger, and risk, and sacrifice. To do this work of mercy in a Christian spirit, out of hearts that, in the end, will enjoy the work--because we rejoice in the triumph and the glory of our God.
Through us, His will can triumph here. He has put us in a place where, if we are willing to act rightly, we can decisively contribute to the outcome.
One final word, as to what that outcome is. I have already touched on this in a way, but I think we need to be clear about it. Like Dr. Dobson, I'm not going to stand here and pretend to say, "Go vote for this one; go vote for that one." I don't believe it's forbidden for me to state obvious facts, though. I am a Republican. I obviously wouldn't be a Republican if I thought that was inconsistent with all the things I've been saying here today.
But I also want to remind you of something that I feel acutely. That label guarantees nothing. Did you hear me clearly? Because when I say that, I am going to upset lots of folks who wear it, and they will think that I am a bad guy. But I want to be clear with you. That label guarantees nothing. At the end of the day, all these labels guarantee nothing, and it is for us to fill them with a content that will offer hope to America.
And we can't do that by trusting in this one's word, and that one's--ignoring contradictions and difficulties, and pretending that some choice we make is going to bring it all to a head. No, it is not. And it is certainly not on this election day.
This nation has been through a terrible travail in the past several years, in which even the very necessity for any kind of moral decency, much less that moral decency which rests on the acknowledgment of God, has been denied, has been blatantly flaunted, has been tossed aside in every possible way. Now I find it awfully hard to believe that the folks responsible for that are folks who deserve our support, but hey. Far be it from me to come to any logical conclusions about that.
But I also know this. There is a great struggle going on in this country. It goes on in every area, including in the ranks of every party in the nation. And that struggle will not end on election day. No matter who wins the White House, or at other levels, it will continue every day--as we must try to get our schools back to the right foundation of the Declaration's acknowledgment, to get our laws back to the right foundation of their acknowledgment of our responsibilities as parents and as citizens in our communities. All these things will be an ongoing struggle.
And that is why I want to reiterate here again: I deeply believe that it is part of our obligation as Christian people, placed here by the providence of God as citizens of America, to use that opportunity which He has given us in a way that is compatible with our evangelical vocation to convert the heart of that nation whose heart we represent. We cannot stand back from this and act as if it is somebody else's job, when it is so obviously our job, as the people of God who are called by His name to bring this nation back to its acknowledgment of His authority.
And as we are called to that vocation, we must know that no election day ends it, no candidate's triumph ends it, but we must remain vigilant and mobilized and clear in our citizenship, as a people dedicated not to this moment of victory or that moment of triumph for any human being.
For, our work will not be done for this nation until we can look about us and see leaders who are bold and without shame in their acknowledgment of that truth on which the nation rests, that God is the source of our justice; when we look again and we see schools in which our children can lift their voices in the righteous prayer that is their right to Almighty God, without fear and without shame, and without any sense of interference from the civil power; when we can once again see a nation in which all those things which have been the source of our strength and our confidence, starting from that premise that we enjoy a dignity that rests on God's authority; when it will once again be made whole, not just for you and not just for me, and not just for all of those out there, whatever their background, or creed, or poverty, or wealth, but when everyone, including the innocent and voiceless and helpless children in the womb, will once again be within the shining purview of that truth and that justice.
Our work will not be done until this nation--in its heart and in its Constitution, and in its laws, and in its practices--has returned to the principles that have made us strong, and great, and free.
We know, don't we, that this is not a work that will be finished this election day. We can try to slow down the train of our destruction long enough that we might pull that switch to get us back on the right track. But the pulling and the work, that will remain to be done.
And in that work, I believe that we should not rely upon this or that human being in their decency, and their promises, and all of this. In that work, our first instrument, our first reliance, our first buckler and shield, our first source of strength, must be our prayers to Almighty God. Prayers that we lift up with our voices. Prayers that we express with our actions. Prayers that we fill with the substance of our lives--as we, like Christ, go forward to represent that hope which God offers to our nation, and to all humanity.
God bless you.