It feels like society is teetering on the edge of a giant cliff these days. Everyone is angry, and threats and acts of political violence are threatening to obliterate the last bit of civility that remains in our society.
My fellow Christians are afraid. Many of their fears are stoked by ingesting a steady stream of news and opinion commentary that seems to specialize in a dystopian version of reality. Political strategists, seeing in the church a financial and political opportunity, rile up their base with increasingly divisive rhetoric and paint their opponents as Satan himself.
Many Christians believe society is being taken over by Marxists who worship the “religion” of social justice, which, they argue, is a politically correct fast-track to tyranny. Conservative Christians point to the confusion over gender identity, same-sex relationships, censorship by social media giants, disregard for the lives of unborn children, and the perceived government overreach with COVID restrictions as evidence of the country’s moral decline into despotism. Some are even willing to (literally) take up arms to defeat their political enemies, whom they view as the cause of this moral rot.
Others point to the inconsistency and hypocrisy among people of faith. They note that while Christians decry media censorship, they often practice it themselves when given the opportunity. They also point out the hypocrisy of prominent “Christian” politicians whose record of marital infidelity rivals that of any on the opposing side. They note that it is often Christians who are the ones promoting dubious conspiracy theories – and outright lies – with an “end-justifies-the-means” attitude as they angrily battle their mortal political enemies.
To be fair, my Christian friends do have a point. I share some of their concerns, but I don’t always agree with their solutions.
They are right in saying that Americans need God (of course we do!). They are correct in noting that moral relativism can lead to confusion about sexuality and identity. They are correct that God’s way – His ideals and principles found in the Bible – are the foundation of true happiness, success, and freedom (even though I think that we Christians have sometimes misinterpreted and misrepresented God’s ideals quite profoundly). They are also correct that Christians should use both their voice and vote to improve society.
But what we Christians often forget is that God gives people freedom – even the freedom to sin! (Exhibit A being the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). While the Bible indicates that there is a role for society to play in preventing humans from harming one another and in promoting social justice, it’s not the government’s job to make people moral and religious.
So what are we to do?
Some loud voices in the political world are suggesting that the separation of church and state concept found in the First Amendment is a bad idea and that government should take on the job of educating people about Christianity.
Is this the answer to the moral crisis in which we find ourselves?
Or should we let our government employees – like public high school coaches – lead in prayer and Bible study on the job? The current Supreme Court seems to have opened that door again by interpreting the Establishment Clause in light of America’s “historical practices and understandings” – a test which, I fear, will leave America’s minority faiths, and those with no faith at all, at a disadvantage. After all, America’s historical practices include Sunday rest laws, blasphemy laws, and Jim Crow segregation.
Several years ago, two historians – Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore – wrote a book everyone should read. In The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State, they write:
“A democratic government was not created to produce moral citizens. It was the other way around: moral citizens constructed and preserved democracy. The founders left the business of teaching morality to private concerns, a principle that should carry some weight with present-day conservatives. It follows from this formulation that if the United States at the end of the twentieth century has lost its moral way, many of our voluntary institutions, including our megachurches and our television ministries, have badly let us down.” Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), p. 151.
But instead of prompting heart-searching on the part of the church, the current moral morass has many Christians grasping for the reigns of political power.
In her book Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, Ellen White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, noted that the urge to coerce in matters of faith and religion was a symptom of a spiritually bankrupt church.
“Finding herself destitute of the power of love, [the church] has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and execute her decrees. Here is the secret of all religious laws that have ever been enacted, and the secret of all persecution from the days of Abel to our own time.” Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1955), p. 127.
But religious persecution is a thing of the past, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, it isn’t. Enter Bible prophecy.
In Christ’s own prediction about the world’s condition before His return, He warned us to “[w]atch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” Matthew 24:4-5 NIV. And “[t]he time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” John 16:2 NIV.
Notice that Jesus points out that end-time persecution will be carried out by folks who claim to be Christians and who even kill in His name. Shockingly, these persecutors are sincere and actually believe they are following God!
The Apostle Paul predicted the same when he called the end-time antichrist “the son of perdition,” a title that Jesus applied to Judas, His betrayer (compare 2 Thess. 2:3 and John 17:12). This reminds us that the antichrist professes to follow Christ while persecuting in the name of Christ and, in the process, “deceives those who are perishing.” 2 Thess. 2:10.
Finally, John the Revelator talks about the powers that be at the very end of earth’s history. In Revelation 17, he describes the symbology of a “woman,” representing a church. The woman is “sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.” Rev. 17:3 NIV. The beast here represents state power in its various forms (see, e.g., Daniel 7:17). Interestingly, the prophecy indicates that this is the very same woman or church that has been around for a long, long time and emerges again at the end of time riding atop, or in control of, the state power! The prophecy indicates that this isn’t the woman’s (or the beast’s) first rodeo. But unlike the woman who “never changes,” the beast has different heads, representing different manifestations of state or secular power throughout modern history.
The emergence of this professedly Christian union of church and state will lead the people of earth to be “astonished” (Rev. 17:8). Why? Perhaps because this church-state union, reminiscent of the Dark Ages, was never supposed to happen again!
The good news? “the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” Rev. 17:14 NIV.
But until the Lamb wins, what should we be doing?
Perhaps it’s time for the church to engage in some self-examination – otherwise known as repentance and confession.
Perhaps it’s time for us to repent of our illegitimate grasping for political power.
Maybe we Christians should ask ourselves if we are indeed “destitute of the power of love,” as White put it.
While false Christianity is busy imposing itself on society in the name of Christ, people who really want to follow Jesus will be seeking the Holy Spirit’s presence so that they can love their neighbors and live out the golden rule. According to Jesus, the golden rule is the most succinct summary of what the Bible is all about: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NIV.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NIV.
White agreed, noting that:
“The standard of the golden rule is the true standard of Christianity; anything short of it is a deception….Search heaven and earth, and there is no truth revealed more powerful than that which is made manifest in works of mercy to those who need our sympathy and aid. This is the truth as it is in Jesus. When those who profess the name of Christ shall practice the principles of the golden rule, the same power will attend the gospel as in apostolic times.” Ellen G. White, Ibid, p. 137.
What does today’s church need? We need the same “power” that the early church had – the power to change hearts and minds and turn this confused world upside down for Jesus. How do we get it? That power of love is the Holy Spirit, and by receiving the Spirit and practicing the principles of the golden rule, we participate in what the Spirit is doing. His power then changes us and the world around us.
That’s it. That’s what our troubled world needs. And until Jesus comes back, that’s what you and I are called to do.
As a Christian myself, here’s a prayer I’ve been praying recently, and I invite you to pray it with me:
“Lord, I am powerless to love like You or to do unto others as I would have done unto me, but You can do it through me. I invite Your Spirit to live in me and love through me. Amen.”
Steve Allred, an attorney and ordained minister, served as an academy Bible teacher and church pastor for more than 14 years before taking a hiatus from church employment to practice law. On the side, he hosts the Do Justice Podcast and serves as of counsel for the Church State Council, the advocacy and legal services ministry of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Steve is also the religious liberty liaison for the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He is the author of Do Justice: The Case for Biblical Social Justice. He and his wife, Cheri, live in Northern California with their three children.