God: Noah! Noah: Who is that?
God: It's the Lord, Noah
Noah: Where are ja?
Noah: What you want? I've been good.
God: I want you to build an Ark.
Noah: What’s an Ark?
Note: Does remembering this skit above make me older than dirt?
It’s pouring buckets outside as I write this, so I hope the title isn’t prophetic! This phrase, and the thoughts behind them, have been in my head since Monday when, in a conversation with Dr. Steve Samson, one of my colleagues here at Liberty University, we discussed the current state of world affairs and where we seem to be headed.
It was a fruitful discussion, and I’ve had many of those, and also done a lot of reading and reflection in the past few months, as I struggle to understand why my conscience has been so troubled as of late. As I’ve stated before, I believe it’s the Holy Spirit convicting me to be true to my faith. If you will indulge me, let me walk you through what has been weighing on my mind and heart these days. My conversations with friends and associates from various walks of life suggest that many of you may be in the same place, so you may find yourself in the words I am about to share.
I’ve been pretty transparent with you over the past few months about the fact I’ve been troubled by the tone of public discourse in our culture today, so much so that I’ve been in what I’ve called a divine “timeout” during which I’ve curtailed my writing, and withheld a lot of information I would have shared in the past.
I now ask myself first what I hope to accomplish by writing an article or posting a news item, and if I conclude it will just stir emotions without purpose, I’ve generally refrained from doing it. The couple of times I didn’t apply that thought process, I’ve regretted it, and so I’m committed to it now.
I’ve been disturbed by the verbal bullying and intimidation directed toward people who express a point of view contrary to whatever the cultural elites declare to be acceptable. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” That is an exact description of tolerance.
These days, however, it’s not enough to agree to disagree, or to be tolerant of someone else’s point of view without accepting it. In fact, we’ve distorted the English language to the point where even tolerance doesn’t mean what the dictionary, or Aristotle, says it means. No, if you don’t agree with a particular position, society seeks to either silence you or browbeat you into submission, and as far as I’m concerned, that is thought control.
Freedom of conscience, the foundation of our rights to free expression, the cornerstone of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and a bedrock principle of liberty, is threatened by a mob mentality, which bears a chilling resemblance to past cultures that allowed suppression of thought by the general public to evolve into authoritarian rule and institutionalized suppression.
I’ve also lost my zest for electoral politics, and while I will follow the elections with interest, and will fulfill my duty as a citizen and vote, I’m no longer commenting on the races publicly or advocating a political party. I’ve always said I am a Christian, conservative and Republican in that order, and the latter two are derivative of their predecessors. These days, the gap between them is greater than ever before, and I’m fully persuaded of my own argument that the prime directive of all political parties is to win elections and hold power, and all else is secondary. I am no longer looking to the political process for solutions.
Finally, as a Christian, I am grieved by the wall of separation between Christians of various denominations, races and ethnicities, particularly here in America. Frankly, it's always been there, but the Trayvon Martin case has exposed the worst of the divide between black and white Christians, and the language of conflict is broadcast in all its ugliness for the world to see. Jesus says, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, English Standard Version). By that standard, how many of us can honestly claim to be His? Can we love one another while we speak of each other in accusatory tones, using words intended to wound?
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so (James 3:7-10, English Standard Version)
This isn't just a problem between Christians, either, but also in Christians' interaction with the world. The prevalence of rancor and vitriol in discourse by self-proclaimed Christians is profound, and it reflects the dominion of fear, worry, anger and other negative emotions in the hearts of people who, if Christ is in them and they in Christ, should be free of all these cares. Do we doubt that God is in control? Do we not believe His promises when He proclaims, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33)? We say we believe Him, but our words and actions betray us. We do not have peace, and that is reflected in the fruit we bear.
So what does this all mean? And what does this have to do with an ark?
For me personally, it means I’m searching for a new model for civic activism. Given that my ultimate objective is to emulate Christ and glorify Him in word and deed, I am persuaded that the old model isn’t working. I’m always critical of liberals for tackling problems with programs that have already been tried and failed, but the fact is that we Christians have been doing the same thing. Politics has done practically nothing for us, and the culture around us and the government that has authority over us should be stark evidence of that.
Before I am misunderstood, please know that I am not saying that Christians should not be engaged in the culture to effect change. I will never stop speaking out on public policy as it affects issues like self-governance, freedom of conscience, religious liberty, family and community, compassion and care, and racial harmony, just to name a few issues that burn within my heart.
The difference, and this is an important one, is that I consider government as an institution, especially at the federal level, to be intrinsically hostile to all of those ideas, and I will not look to government to solve the problems inherent in any of them. Just as the prime directive in politics is to win elections and keep power, the prime directive of government is to amass power and apply force to assert it, using the authority granted to it by God Himself (Romans 13). If I seek anything at all from government, it is to remove itself from our lives except to protect us and enforce the law.
Going forward, I will be a champion for self-governance and solving problems from the bottom up, with families, communities, local houses of worship, local charities and all the "voluntary associations," to use Alexis de Tocqueville's phrase from Democracy in America, that comprise civil society. That is the legacy of the United States of America, and it is our destiny, because our state and federal governments are on a pathway to disaster. And that is where the ark comes in.
Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. (Genesis 7:1)
In case you hadn't noticed, Greece and France held elections last weekend that reflected the people's frustrations with austerity measures, put in place because they have, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously stated, "run out of other people's money." Someone asked me for my opinion, and I said:
Time to build an ark! I think the public backlash will result in economic calamity for the EU, because the tensions between austerity and entitlement will be too powerful to contain. Unless we see a significant cultural shift here in America, we will see the same scenario play itself out here. Sorry to be a pessimist, but I don't see any statesmen on the horizon with the boldness, vision and persuasive power to compel us to reverse course.
Regardless of who is elected as president in November, I don't sense there is the will in Washington to do the hard things that must be done to make us solvent, so nothing will be done until government teeters on the verge of collapsing under its own weight, unable to satisfy the demands of hundreds of millions of Americans who fail to see the handwriting on the wall.
Just as the people of Greece and France angrily demand government services for which their treasuries can no longer pay, Americans are demanding "free stuff" without any knowledge of or concern about where the money will come from. The state pension crisis threatens to drag most states under, but that hasn't stopped people from excoriating anyone who suggests cuts in pension benefits to preserve the system and keep states out of bankruptcy. Standing still is the default posture of those who attack others seeking to reform federal welfare and entitlement programs. In short, we won't accept that a flood is coming until we see the waters racing toward us and, by then, it will be too late.
It's not just the likelihood of economic unrest which looms over the horizon. We have a long, hot summer ahead of us, with the expected trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and the Arizona immigration law, and whatever fallout arises from the results of the presidential election. With irresponsible actors like the New Black Panther Party threatening violence if the Zimmerman trial or President Obama's re-election campaign don't result in what they perceive as a favorable outcome, and with the president segmenting us by race, class, age, gender, and sexual orientation in order to stir up enough resentment for a victory, we will be a fragmented, troubled nation regardless of what happens in November.
In my opinion, the restoration of civil society in America isn't just a matter of cultural integrity or American exceptionalism. In the end, I believe it will be a means of survival in the midst of economic and social upheaval. Does that cause me worry or fear, or make me angry at those who can't see the coming storm?
Honestly, no. I've read the book on how all of this is supposed to go down, and I know how it ends.
The hard times my family and I have endured over the past six years have taught us that things can get bad, but we can still make it, especially if we stay together as a family, and lean on our church and our community for strength and encouragement. I also know there are millions of Americans out there who will come together in cities, towns and villages all over the nation, and take their destinies into their own hands, not because government compelled them to do so, but because the times call for it, and they will relearn how to care for themselves, their families and their neighbors. They will build the ark that will rescue us.
Most importantly, they will remember the grace that God once shed on America, and they will reach out to those people who aren't doing well in these tough times, and offer them the hand of compassion to lift them up into the ark with us. It's already happening in some communities, and they are "all in" with rolling up their sleeves and bringing back hope from the ground up, rather than waiting on wisdom from the top down.
Maybe then, we will be reminded of what once made America a beacon of hope to the world, and we will rebuild on those values that bring us together, rather than continue to quarrel over what separates us, and wreck this ship of state on the rocks.
"We may have all come on different ships, but we'
re in the same boat now." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.