Down the road to a Christian republic

Roland Hegstad takes a look at the Christian Voice, a new evangelical-political movement, and raises questions about its possible place in the scenario described in Revelation 13 and 17.

Roland R. Hegstad is editor of Liberty, A Magazine of Religious Freedom.

 

America—a Christian nation again! Families going to church on Sunday. Children praying together to start the school day. Mothers nursing children instead of aborting them. No more yellow-front bookstores or X-rated movies to corrupt morals. Christian statesmen deciding national policy on Christian principles. . . .

This vision of a Christian republic is for the here and now, according to a newly formed evangelical organization. Called Christian Voice, the group in tends to mold Christians and other "morally right-thinking people" into a potent political factor in American politics.

I went to hear the program for a Christian America unveiled at a June 14 meeting on Capitol Hill. I could hardly be called an unbiased observer. For one thing, I appreciate the contribution separation of church and state has made to a free America. For another, I am conditioned by my prophetic understanding to look with jaundiced eye on political solutions to moral ills. Further, my eschatology includes a revived Messianic vision in American politics. Would this new organization contribute to the prophetic scenario?

Christian Voice seemed to have several things going for it. One was support from incumbent Senators and Representatives. Present in Room 357 of the Russell Senate Office Building were two members of the group's 15-member Congressional Advisory Committee, Senators Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire. Other pluses were 100,000 members, gained in the six months since Christian Voice was founded, and a projected budget of $1 million, which, Humphrey said, would be funded by "private donors."

The director of Christian Voice, Pas tor Robert Grant, of Glendale, California, did not leave the group's political aims in doubt. "If Christians unite," he said, "we can do anything. We can pass any law or any amendment. And that's exactly what we intend to do."

Gary Jarmin, legislative liaison, spoke of plans to mobilize an estimated 50 mil lion evangelical Christians "into effective political action." He continued, "We will establish a political action committee to provide funds and trained volunteers to candidates for Federal office."

The organization's objectives sounded similar to those of another evangelical coalition formed several years ago. It, too, spoke of awakening the "sleeping giant," the evangelical vote. Its strategy also was to elect the "right kind" of Christian to public office. And it had achieved some success, even to sup porting 38 candidates for political office in 1976. But the symbol of the coalition, a Christian embassy, has recently sold its headquarters to the government of Oman for $1.5 million and moved to a less prestigious address in a Washington, B.C., suburb.

The reason for founding Christian Voice, Grant told us, was frustration. "There's a tremendous tidal wave of unrest and frustration sweeping the Christian community," he said. "We did not create that tidal wave; rather, it created us. We seek to guide its power so [that] it has massive impact on Washing ton, rather than dissipating aimlessly." Continued Grant: "We will no longer look the other way as opportunistic, shortsighted politicians cater to small radical interests and in the process destroy both our economic well-being and our political freedom."

(I could not help thinking of the words from The Great Controversy, page 590: "The great deceiver will persuade men that those who serve God are causing these evils. ... It will be declared . . . that those who present the claims of the fourth commandment . . . are troublers of the people, preventing their restoration to divine favor and temporal [economic] prosperity.")

"Our nation is failing," said Grant, "because we have removed ourselves from the guidance of Almighty God. Everywhere we turn, Christian values are assaulted and are in retreat. As Christians, we are not going to take it anymore."

How would Christian Voice turn the retreat into an advance? Said Grant: "Through the most massive media out reach ever launched in the Christian community." He spoke of plans to reach the estimated 47 million Christians who listen regularly to Christian radio or television programming.

Other plans were political: Each member of an evangelical clergy net work would receive a monthly legislation alert with recommendations on current legislation. And millions of Congressional voting records would be distributed to parishioners, so that they would know how their Senators and Representatives were voting on the moral issues.

Though Grant and other speakers stressed the Voice's interest in moral rather than political issues, its list of concerns demonstrates the difficulty in trying to separate the two—abortion and the Hatch Amendment; IRS directives on the tax-exempt status of Christian schools; Government policies in respect to Rhodesia, Taiwan, and the Panama Canal; pornography; drugs; and lack of prayer in public schools.

I asked Senator Hatch what the Christian Voice intended to do about the Supreme Court decisions against state-enforced prayer and Bible reading in public schools. His answer: Support a religious amendment to the Constitution. (Should the current drive for a Constitutional Convention be successful, such an amendment, I believe, would be almost certain to receive heavy support, along with a pro-life amendment.)

I had a few last words with Senator Hatch after the meeting. "I share your concerns," I told him. "But I'm worried, nevertheless. You see, history tells me that persecution comes, generally, not from bad people trying to make other people bad, but from good people trying to make other people good. And ironic it would be if we lose our freedom at last not to leftists tossing bombs but to Christians espousing slogans—Christian Republic, Faith of Our Fathers, Spirit of '76, Save Our Sunday, Put God Back Into Our Schools ..."

Senator Hatch gave my arm a reassuring pat and exited. A good man with good objectives, I thought. Trouble was, I had in mind a prophetic scene and a bit of recent history. They concern events that led to introduction of a national Sunday law into the United States Sen ate and brought the Seventh-day Adventist Church to the very borders of the kingdom.

The prophetic scene

Revelation 17 is a courtroom drama of the final crisis, when a church-state coalition unites to destroy God's diplomatic corps—those who on the hardship out post called Planet Earth, the one rebel world, have faithfully reflected the policies of God and His universal empire. What is the coalition's final strategy? The inspired picture shows the "great whore" offering the world a drink even as Christ offers the world a drink. His, the water of life; hers, a chilling mix of false doctrine and politics. The bubbles frothing through the drink are miracles, agitated by the spirits of devils. They give the mix the look and taste of the nectar of the gods. The men who sip the golden cup find themselves dreaming godlike dreams—of bringing the nation back to God, of making America a truly Christian republic.

"Lord, aren't You glad!In Your name have we rewritten the Constitution! In Your name have we made this one nation under God!"

  The historic preview

Revelation 13 details the strategy of the end-time coalition: Economic boycott, Sunday laws, the state enforcing the spiritual objectives of, the church.

We've already had a preview. Adventist leader W. A. Colcord put the prophetic outline on record in a 1908 Liberty. Prominent in it was organization of the National Reform Association in 1864. The association's objectives were to change the Constitution of the United States and to secure a national Sunday law. By 1888 (a momentous year) that objective seemed in hand. Senator H. W. Blair introduced a national Sunday bill into Congress. In that year, too, the message of Christ our Righteousness came with renewed power to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to prepare it for its final witness.

In 1889 the Catholic Congress, meeting in Baltimore, resolved to unite with Protestants to secure "proper Sunday observance." In 1892 the United States Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, declared, "This is a Christian nation." By 1908 labor leader Samuel Gompers was able to announce that the AFL had done "as much, if not more, than any other organized body of men and women to enforce the observance of the Sunday rest day."

Ellen White was in no doubt about the prophetic significance of such developments. She called the religious amendment "the plain, direct fulfillment of prophecy" (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 719). Writing to A. T. Jones, the editor of the church's religious liberty magazine, she said: "I think the law-making powers will carry their point in this particular, if not now, a short period ahead." Letter 44, 1893. In 1903 she linked labor unions with implementation of the boycott predicted in Revelation 13 (see Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 142, 143).

Nor was Ellen White bashful about condemning the attempt to put enforced religious observances into the public schools: "I do not see the justice nor right in enforcing by law the bringing of the Bible to be read in the public schools."—Letter 44, 1893. "The present effort of the church to get the state to . . . introduce the teaching of Christianity into state schools, is but a revival of the . . . doctrine of force in religious things, and as such it is antichristian." —Watchman, May 1, 1906.

By the last two decades of the nineteenth century scores of Sabbathkeepers were being imprisoned, as conservative Christians moved to make America a Christian republic. It was in those years that the Seventh-day Adventist Church organized a religious liberty department and published, for the first time, a magazine to inform the world of what was really going on.

Some Adventist ministers didn't think their pulpits should be used to alert Adventists to the designs of the National Reform Association or the religious amendment. They had better things to preach about—such as righteousness by faith.

I can imagine Ellen White rolling her eyes toward heaven as she wrote, "May the Lord forgive our brethren for thus interpreting the very message for this time."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 715. It is no coincidence that she placed the mes sage of righteousness by faith squarely within the context of the third angel's message.

Worthy of a closer look is the evangelical intent to make America a Christian republic. I share their belief that God had a hand in the founding of our republic. To understand Revelation 12 is to believe this. I believe, further, that the United States Constitution reflects some of the highest ideals ever penned by man. And separation of church and state is one of them. Something more than human wisdom inspired the First Amendment.

Our forefathers had the vision of a government neutral in its relationships with all religions, a secular state. I re minded Senator Hatch, who had spoken of America's religious beginnings, that a 1796 treaty with Tripoli, framed under the administration of George Washing ton, assured the Moslems that "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." The Senator quickly became preoccupied with another re porter's question.

That treaty simply incorporated the principles of the First Amendment—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Federal Conventions, with little debate, adopted Article Six of our Constitution—"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

These documents stand in opposition to an evangelical spokesman's assertion that "the Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order."

The great image of Daniel 2 had feet of iron mixed with clay. The image represented world history from ancient Babylon to the establishment of Christ's kingdom of glory, which is symbolized by the stone "cut out without hands" that struck the image on the feet. What did the clay in the feet represent? On inspired authority I can reply, "The mingling of churchcraft and state craft." —The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Dan. 2:43, p. 1168.

But did not Babylon, the head of gold, also mingle church and state? Why, then, do we not see the clay in the head, as we do in the feet, which represent church-state unions of our day? Why do we not see clay in Medo-Persia? Greece? Rome which deified the state itself? Why does clay appear only in the feet and toes, representing post-Roman Empire nations?

Christ's kingdom

From the time of the promise of a Redeemer made to earth's first parents, Lucifer knew that God planned to set up His kingdom on earth. And he deter mined to establish his first. He would have the most magnificent, the most grand kingdom.

And what of Christ's kingdom? It was not to be a kingdom of armies and tax collectors, nor of politicians competing for office. Said Christ, "My kingdom is not of this world." It was this divine truth that pierced the pretense of human kingdoms to union with the divine. And clay showed through. And so did Christ say, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

This principle of separation was first written into a nation's basic law by our American forefathers. And it was this document, reflecting Christ's teaching on the nature of His kingdom, that for ever exposed the pretentions of a state to being Christian, forever exposed the weakness of church-state union. To pursue the Holy Grail of a Christian republic is to defy the dictum of Christ, to deny His kingdom's essential nature, and ultimately to deify the state.

The name of the game

To understand the potential for mischief in the Christian Voice and other such organizations, we must appraise their objectives in the context of today's radical theology.

Today, evangelism is politics, as George Webber says in his book The Congregation in Mission (Abingdon, 1964), page 67. In an appendix to the Secular City debate, Theologian Harvey Cox said: "Ministers and nuns on picket lines are not just signs of the church's social concern. They are evangelists, telling modern man what the gospel says."

And what does the gospel say? A priest put it succinctly at a meeting in Chicago: "Power is the name of the game."

One of the most articulate advocates of the new evangelism is Jurgen Moltmann. To him, the New Testament is a political book of revolution. The Christian is not only the salt of the earth, but also its dynamite, set here to explode existing social and political structures. Thus we are called to be prophets with a gun. For power grows out of the barrel of a gun. And power is the name of the game.

It's a mixed-up theology. Receive into evidence this gem from one of its proponents: "We want to create a world in which love is more possible." And how shall that world of love be achieved? He explains:

"Revolutions do not take place in velvet boxes. . . . Nuns will be raped and bureaucrats will be disemboweled.'' Carl Oglesby, president of the Students for a Democratic Society, advocated this novel way of creating a world of love in a speech at a Washington, D.C., peace march!

And how can we distinguish between legitimate power and naked violence? Says Moltmann: "Simply that it be justified: whether the means are proportionate to the ends." —Religion, p. 143.

How influential is the new revolutionary theology? Several church organizations have bought it, lock, stock, and gun barrel. The World Council of Churches bought it at Notting Hill, London, in May, 1969, in response to a recommendation of a committee that "all else failing, the churches should support resistance movements, including revolutions." And in South and Inter- America Roman Catholic priests are engaged in revolutionary activities.

Power is the name of the game. And ultimately the radical's objective—to create a kingdom of justice on earth—and the evangelical objective to make the United States a Christian nation—may coalesce in prophetic scenes, one of which takes place in a courtroom as the seventh plague begins to fall.

Nothing I have said should be construed to mean that church members should be unconcerned with politics as they touch human rights. Love does have social significance, and truth may have a political dimension. It seems to me that there is room for improvement in our citizenship, our voting, our concern for our fellow men. But power is not the name of the game. And the ends do not justify the means.

Prophetic developments

How, then, shall we view this new evangelical organization, the Christian Voice, with its emphasis on imposing Christian values through legislation? Whatever its future, whatever the immediate success of other such groups (the Christian Embassy coalition for one), efforts to make the United States a Christian republic must be discerned as signs of the times, or, more specifically, as prophetically significant. Certainly evangelical Christianity's move, within the past two decades, to political activism must be carefully watched by all who are keeping track of the prophetic mileposts on the highway to tomorrow.

Our age does seem to be characterized by prophetic developments similar (though with a more secular orientation) to those of the middle and late 1800's. Items:

1. A 1961 papal encyclical, Mater et Magistra, called on all public authorities, workers, and others to observe the precepts of God and "His Church," including the sanctification of Sunday.

2. But in that year the United States Supreme Court said that religious Sun day laws do not belong in America. The Court's decision, however, indicated that secular Sunday laws do belong.

3. In 1961 and 1962 the High Court ruled state-sponsored religious services out of public schools, creating a wide spread backlash of opinion against the Court and sparking the religious-amendment movement, which over the next decade was to spawn hundreds of religious amendments in Congress.

4. In 1973 a Supreme Court decision supporting abortion sparked a Catholic-led prolife movement committed to amending the Constitution. When evangelicals, in the late 1%0's and early 1970's, assumed a more politically oriented stance, cooperation between the two groups on a prolife, proprayer amendment became a possibility worth noting.

5. Then, in 1974, came the energy crisis. And Sunday laws, which had been liberalized or repealed since the 1961 High Court decision, were back in the news. The crisis made them a national rather than a State concern. The nation needed to conserve energy. How better to do it than by closing businesses on Sunday? But suggestions for a national energy-crisis Sunday law—remember Senator Jackson's (D-Wash.) proposal?—were rebuffed.

Still, the prophetic ball game seemed to have passed the seventh-inning stretch. Sunday laws had moved onto the national scene. The President was given emergency powers to take what ever steps he deemed necessary to con serve energy. An evangelical with whom I debated the matter of a national energy-crisis Sunday law on a Washington, D.C., radio station, told me: "I don't agree with your views on closing events. But for the first time I can see how the scenes you envision could take place in a time of national emergency."

If the scenario seems farfetched, consider the Supreme Court's words in the 1972 Yoder case: "Only those interests of the highest order. . . can overbalance legitimate claims for the free exercise of religion." Such interests were not present in the Yoder case, which gave the Amish freedom to educate their children differently from what State educational authorities wished. But the sense of the words is plain: Some interests, of the highest order, can tilt the balance against the First Amendment freedoms most Americans take for granted.

Is the energy crisis one? The decline of the American dollar? A threatened nuclear attack?

6. Another result of the energy crisis is economic: America and other nations are finding no way to cope with today's fuel bills. Double-digit inflation is here. Several countries are de facto bankrupt. And the final scenes', Ellen White makes clear, are to be played out against a backdrop of economic chaos.

7. Is it only coincidental that at this time, as in 1888, the message of Christ our Righteousness is again being sounded with power throughout the church (though we seem to spend more time arguing about its parameters and definitions than experiencing its blessings)?

8. Is it only coincidental that just as the ecumenical movement was faltering, the charismatic movement came on stage as a miracle-working third force comitted to unifying Christendom? (If this movement isn't that last great false revival Ellen White was shown, it will do until the right one comes along.) Take a considered look at the events of our day and I believe you will see an amazing parallel between them and the events of the late 1800's, when our forefathers were brought to the borders of the kingdom.

Godlike dreams

America today is threatened by dangers from both the political left and the political right, from those who deny self-evident truths and inalienable rights and from those who affirm them, dangers from those who want to tear our nation from God and from those who want to turn our nation to God.

We cannot say with assurance at this point that the Christian Voice is the modern equivalent of the 1800's National Reform Association, though its objectives are similar. For now it is enough that we are aware that men who sip the golden cup are dreaming godlike dreams of making America a Christian republic.

And once again upon a golden plain a golden image stands, and men are commanded again to bow. Little comfort that this time the image will have a cross in one hand and an American flag in the other.

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Roland R. Hegstad is editor of Liberty, A Magazine of Religious Freedom.

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