I’ve been invited to participate, with the rest of my conservative evangelical church, in a simulcast tomorrow night on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack. I’m in conflict about whether to go or not. I don’t know whether the event will encourage me in my faith or just make me angry.
On the positive side, one of the speakers is Anne Graham Lotz, about whom I have heard good things. Furthermore, the web site for the simulcast says this, “Join us as we consider the times in which we live, refocus on Jesus as our Hope for the future, and ask God to re-ignite such an intense longing for His return that we live the rest of our lives with no regrets.” That sounds promising. The Bible warns us repeatedly against “worldliness”, which has to do with adopting the values and goals of the world around us as our own. One of the signs of worldliness in the American church, in my opinion, is our being so easily caught up in the culture war taking place in the U.S.
Now, I agree with most of my fellow evangelicals that some important spiritual truths have been repeatedly attacked in our country during the last few decades. I also agree that there is hostility toward the West and toward Christianity from many different groups around the globe. The attack on the Twin Towers was a part of this; the current political turmoil reflects it as well. I also agree that we have every right as citizens of the U.S. to exercise our political rights by voting, by campaigning for those who will support our views, and by speaking out for what is important to us.
What is wrong, though, is to lose sight of God’s eternal purposes and resources because we are so focused on winning victories here. What is wrong is to forget that we fight not “against flesh and blood” but “against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). None of the people around us — whether Christian, Muslim, or atheist, whether Democrat or Republican – are the enemy.
We are not called to conquer in Jesus’ name politically. We are called to speak truth, to serve people, and to do it all in meekness and love. We are called to demonstrate that ultimately all our hope is fixed on the kingdom yet to come.
That’s why I hope the simulcast will do what it says it will: focus us on Jesus – not the Christian right – as our Hope for the future, and ask God to re-ignite a longing for His return – not merely the return of the worldview of 18th century America – that makes us better people.
The reasons I worry about the event tomorrow night are twofold. First, one of our church leaders encouraged us to come to the simulcast because we need to “take America back”. I’m just not convinced that’s a battle we need to be fighting. I wonder if perhaps we need to wake up and repent of even trying to take America back. Yes, we should speak out for the unborn and warn people about hell, and yes, we should try to change our country’s laws and influence its media for the better, but we should be doing these things only because they point people to something beyond our country and its welfare. Does it really matter who wins the culture war? What matters is extending the kingdom of God, and that is not at all the same thing as extending the influence of the Christian worldview in society.
The second reason I worry about tomorrow night has to do with the tagline on the posters, the one that reads “a wake-up call for God’s people”. My concern is that it won’t turn out to be a wake-up call to God’s people.
The reason I worry about that is because I’ve seen how easy it is for events like this to go subtly wrong. We interpret the wake-up call as applying to all those other Christians out there – the ones who aren’t attending church faithfully, or who aren’t standing firm for the central doctrines of the faith, or who aren’t all that committed to Christian living. We want them to come back to the fold. We want to recruit them to fight alongside us.
Perhaps we apply the wake-up call to ourselves as well, but only in the sense of recommitting ourselves to the battle. We know that for some reason God hasn’t blessed what we are doing so far, and we figure that if we can just try harder, He’ll come through for us. It never occurs to us to ask whether we might be working hard to do the wrong things. We dedicate ourselves without reflection, but with a renewed sense of righteous indignation, to the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We confirm each other’s spiritual blind spots rather than exposing them.
I am at much at risk of doing this tomorrow as anyone else. I could easily respond to tomorrow night’s broadcast in spiritual pride, letting myself get frustrated that the believers around me are not open to their own need to repent, while patting myself on the back that I am seeing things clearly. Part of my struggle is how to approach tomorrow night, if I go, with a combination of discernment and humility. Even as I write this, I’m struck by how much easier it is for me to worry about tomorrow night going wrong than it is to simply pray for it!
In fact, it is quite possible that I am being too pessimistic anyway. Tomorrow night could be wonderful, especially if it has been put together prayerfully and discerningly and spiritually by people who are listening very closely to God. My purpose in writing this wasn’t to “complain in advance”. It was because these things were making me restless somehow, and the best way I could sort through them was to analyze them and write them down clearly. Having done so, I’d love to discover tomorrow night that all my concerns were needless.