As most of you know I was raised in military family so being patriotic is in my DNA. Also I have lived and traveled in other parts of the world and so I know from personal experience what a great nation this is and how blessed we are to experience the freedoms that God intends mankind to have.
That said I must confess to being deeply distressed over the direction of our country. Consider the core unit that makes up our society, that being the family. Today more couples are choosing to live together than marry. Among Black families, illegitimacy has sky-rocked from under 8% in the 1960’s to nearly 70% today. This has all kinds of ramifications in terms of poverty and crime and the deepening of class divisions.
Add to this the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The very idea of family is being redefined. Jesus said that a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife and the two will become one flesh but Court has decided differently. They know better than our Creator
What is equally troubling are these culture wars where we are not just seeing a difference of opinion on social matters where we agree to disagree. The climate of the country is to crush the opposition. Justice Scolia in his dissent from the majority opinion was outraged with the language and reasoning of our highest court. He said that their position was that anyone who is opposed to same sex marriage is “an enemy of human decency.” So now only two sides are those who hate and those who support. You are not opposed because of the teachings of Holy Scripture, or the teachings of your Church, or even because of personal convicitions. You are only opposed because of hate. That then opens to the door, as it recently did in Canada, to any form of oppostion being declared as hate speech and the citizen or organization being punished for it.
If I am truly honest with you, I also find myself as someone who loves my country but not my government. I resent the NRS snooping on citizens, the IRS targeting pro life groups and I especially resent the government telling me that it has no power to limit the killing of unborn babies, but it does have the power to limit the size of my soft drinks. In my opinion the government control of our personal lives is far beyond the intentions of the framers. You may be okay with all these things but I find myself constantly feeling that I have fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice, where up is down and down is up. So the question I have posed to myself and perhaps to those of you with similar concerns is what do I do about this as a follower of Christ?
First, perhaps most important is to pray. St. Paul wrote to Timothy “First of all, then, I urge you that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peacful and quiet life and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim 2:1)
We even know the theology behind Paul’s admonition to pray for our government. He says in Romans 13 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority, except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom 13:1) So we are to pray for our government whether we agree with them or not.
What do we pray about? We pray for mercy for our nation. Bishop Beach posted this haunting quote from Anglican Priest John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” “Communities, as such, in their collective capacity, are visited and judged in the present life. And, in this respect, the Scripture considers nations as individuals; each having an infancy, growth, maturity, and declension. Every succeeding generation accumulates the stock of national sin, and there is a measure of iniquity which determines the period of kingdoms. Till this measure is filled up, the patience of God waits for them, but then patience gives way to vengeance . . . When God is exceedingly displeased with a people, it is not necessary, in order to their punishment, that he should bury them alive by an earthquake, or destroy them by lightning. If he only leave them to themselves, withdraw his blessing from their counsels, and his restraint from their passions, their ruin follows of course, according to the necessary order and connection of causes and effects.”
I completely agree with Fr. Newton, but my concern is that God is not so much leaving us to ourselves as much as more and more we telling Him to go away. So while I fear that we may even now be on an irreversible decline I still will continue to pray for God to not withdraw His blessing from our counsels and that He would restrain our passions. It seems like yesterday I was at a Bicentennial celebration in Florida and it also seemed that everywhere you turned in those days that you saw the words of 2 Chronicles. “If my people who are called by my Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” We need to go back to that verse
again and again and pray accordingly for our nation.
A second thing I can do is to focus on the teachings of both Deuteronomy passage and the Gospel lesson for today, both of which call upon us to walk in love. I believe that it is understandable, and even permissible, for me as a Christian to resent it when my government tries to take away my rights by violating the Constitution. That is tyranny and this very nation was created over the rejection of tyranny. But it is also true, that as a Christian, I cannot allow resentment to rule my heart. It should move me to action, but I cannot allow it to be the dominant force in my life. Since loving God and loving my neighbor is how I fulfill the law and the prophets, that must be my guiding force.
Of course that is easier said and done. For example earlier this week at a pro-life rally in Texas, a crowd was singing “Amazing Grace.” Some pro-abortion folks tried to shout them down by shouting, “Hail Satan.” You can’t get more polar opposite from one another than that. But if you match evil with evil, or hate with hate, then everyone loses. We are called to meet evil with good. Proverbs says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” I like this Proverb, which by the way St. Paul quotes in Romans 12; because it takes love out of a touchy feely thing and into practical things that we can do to love our enemies. You will never argue someone into the kingdom but you can love them in and you can do that by finding practical ways to minister to them. In the end I can get into a knot about all that is wrong and be filled with anger and fear or I can decide to live righteously and love my neighbor, and go back to step one and pray.
A third I can do is to adjust my perspective.The letter to the Hebrews says that Abraham was a sojourner in this life because he was looking for a city whose builder and maker was God. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven. S we have to be careful and not put our roots too deep
in this American soil. This heaven and this earth, including the US of A, are going to pass away. God is preparing for us a new heaven and a new earth and that is where our true hopes lie. So while I am much happier being a Christian in the United States, and especially in the Deep South, I am a Christian first and foremost and my ultimate citizenship is not here.
The last thing I can do is to be thankful. In spite of many problems that plague our land, there is still so much for which to be thankful. We didn’t have to call any agency to get permission to gather today as used to be the case in China, and maybe still is. We don’t live in constant fear that we are going to be slaughtered for our faith as is happening now in Nigeria. We are not facing daily missile attacks as they do in Israel. So much of the world has the challenge every day of simply staying alive one more day. We are so used to all of our blessings that we don’t even see them anymore. It is good for the soul for us to pay closer attention and give thanks to the Lord for His many blessings. It is why we are gathering here today and this is a good and proper thing to do.
Most of you will know the name Alexis de Tocqueville. He was a Frenchman who came to study the new democracy and loved what he saw. But he also issued some warnings. He said, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” He also said “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
These quotes make me wonder about our future but I still I have to conclude that whether this experiment in democracy will go on another 200+ years or if this ship called America is sinking the role of the Church does not change. To paraphrase prophet Micah we are to work for justice, we are to love mercy and we are to walk humbly before our God. Now more than ever this nation needs to hear the voice of the Church cry out in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” And may our prayer forever be, “God bless America.”