Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom
The American founders recognized that man, by nature is flawed and capable of great evil. This is why they distrusted rulers. But they also recognized that for a society to be free, its citizens must be virtuous. James Madison noted, “a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.” Similarly, Patrick Henry declared, “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” John Adams, who would go on to be our second president, noted, “The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.”
Without virtue, there is no hope. Without God, there is no virtue.
Even the skeptical Benjamin Franklin recognized that, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” But even more directly, Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalteth a nation.” It would seem that our framers were speaking of a government whose aim was to govern those who were already engaged in private, self-governance. It seems that they were speaking less of a freedom to do what we want, but rather, a freedom to do what we ought.
America is truly a beautiful place. It isn’t made beautiful because of our inherent goodness, however. It is beautiful because God has blessed our land with His divine providence, allowed us to flourish, and given us His blessing. She is only beautiful because, for America, God shed His grace on Thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.
The framers all have a common theme in their words: Virtue is required for freedom. They also acknowledge that Faith is required for Virtue. It is with this truth that we have what Os Guinness calls the Golden Triangle of Freedom:
Freedom requires virtue. Virtue requires faith. Faith requires freedom.
In 2016, I would argue that virtue is a relic of a long forgotten and provincially simple past. It is an afterthought—condemned to oblivion in the hearts and minds of most Americans. On the other hand, faith has been so pushed to the periphery of the public square, systematically attacked through government and culture, that, for the majority of Americans is not a part of their lives.
When faith and virtue become scarce, freedom becomes extinct.
Freedom is not doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. That is anarchy. Freedom is the power to do what one ought. You can see how the other necessary intangibles are important. Without virtue, we cannot be free. We are not capable of doing that which we ought. Without faith, we can have no virtue. We must have faith to believe that God’s precepts and His moral law is right. And without freedom, we cannot practice our faiths in the public square.
Some say, “We have the right to have faith. Even in China they have the freedom to worship.” No, my friend. The Constitution guarantees us the right to exercise our faith. No family owned business should be forced by the government to provide contraception if it violates their Christian faith. Exercising our faith is a command. We must exercise our faith. In fact, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead. It is not enough to just know truth. We have to act on it.
We live in a culture that wants to do away with consequences. We want relationships without commitment. We want sex without babies. We want money without earning it. We want results without discipline. We want freedom without the responsibility of virtue, and without the challenge of faith.
Where am I going with all this? I think this election is a referendum on whether or not we want faith to be completely pushed out of the public square altogether. I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is Nero. What I am saying is that this election is clearly about going in a specific direction.
The direction of more state or less state.
The problem is, we want more state. We aren’t governing ourselves! Because our citizenry by and large has rejected virtue and faith, we are not capable of freedom; and as a result, we are in danger of losing our Republic. Only a virtuous citizenry can govern themselves. What happens virtue is gone? I think we end up with an election that offers the choices we see before us.
The Bible talks about this. In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6 we read:
For a long time, Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.
As Tony Evans notes, “When God is your problem, only God is your solution.”
So what do we do? Well, it isn’t as simple as just electing the right president. Revival never starts at the White House. It starts in your house. We must be people of the Book. We must be people of prayer. We must be people who fast, discipline ourselves, teach our children the way of the Lord, and make disciples. We must be people who engage the Bible more than just Sunday morning at Church. We need to be in regular deep, critical, Bible study.
Can you defend your faith? Can you give good arguments to destroy evil arguments?
Doing our Christian and civic duty is a responsibility. It isn’t enough to attend church on Sunday and vote every four years. That is a recipe for pretty churches, but dead souls. It is a recipe for candidates who lie, cheat, and steal—and then tell you what you want to hear at election time.
Hint: They know this about the culture. They know we are docile. They know we cannot govern ourselves. They know they can lie without accountability.
Unfortunately, that mindset in both the church and the culture is why we see what we see.
You see, many of us want a McDonalds type of faith. We want to drive up and take the things we want off of the value menu, but leave the expensive stuff alone. It costs too much. No, my friend. We are called to take it all. We are called to become like Christ.
Too many of us want to work part time for God but get full time benefits. We want love without sacrifice. We want meaning without truth. We want design without a designer. We want good without the prospect of evil. We want law but no lawmaker. We want god but no God.
Likewise, as citizens, many of us know virtually nothing about our country. We know where to locate it on a map but that’s about it. We are more likely to know the characters of the Kardashians or Chrisley Knows Best than we are to know how many members of Congress there are.
That being said, we are at a critical point, but we aren’t a people who are capable of governing ourselves! We aren’t prepared. We have given that away. We want full control over our 1,000 cable TV channels, but when it comes to things that matter—like health care—we have given that decision away! We have abdicated it elsewhere. So what do we do?
I argue that for Christians, the first responsibility is to actually commit to the Lord. We must change. We must take Him seriously. We must turn from our current lackadaisical ways and make Him our priority and source of strength. We must realize that we as Christians are the blame. We are a barometer for the culture. A cold in the Church is pneumonia in the culture. Think about that. As the Church goes, so goes the culture.
Meanwhile, if we are interested in preserving a culture that is at least not violently hostile to our living our faith in the public square, we should choose the best candidate with a chance of winning who does not show an open animus toward us. Notice that I didn’t say that person has to be a believer himself. There have been numerous examples in history where non-Christians have governed in a way that was not dangerous to Christians. Can one choose between Constantine and Diocletian?
What I am not saying: I am not saying that a government must be tolerant of Christianity for Christianity to survive. I am not saying that. Christianity has outlived all of its pallbearers. Chesterton notes that the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times. Each time it was the dog that died.
Can an immoral man be fit to lead? Could a Christian possibly vote for Donald Trump? I cannot answer that for you. All I can say is our country is not at the point where it could elect a Godly leader. Aristotle in his book Politics talks about a righteous man amongst a sea of immorality. He says the righteous man would be cast out.
We are an unrighteous people today. There is no righteous candidate. Any candidate who was close to being one was cast out.
I have said it before, elsewhere; I am a one issue voter. The choices before me are bad on the one hand and catastrophically horrible on the other. I will also consider which candidate, aside from his personal exploits, will be less hostile to the Christian faith. It is something to think about.
But regardless of the election, let me just say this: We as the Church have much work to do, and it might be extremely uncomfortable.
I leave you with a quote from one of GK Chesterton’s political novels. Chesterton firmly believed in a fallen human nature. Because of this, he thought society would eventually give up on the difficult task of democracy. Look at this prophetic quote from the story:
We are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed how continually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. … The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that all men were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Why should we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that we want for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look over some petitions and sign some proclamations.