This coming Sunday we celebrate the tenth anniversary of 9-11 when America was attacked by Muslim jihadists and three thousand innocent people died.
Like many of you, I remember where I was when I heard the news. I spent the day glued to the television set–even watching in real-time the second plane hit the Twin Towers. I remember the Pentagon being rammed by a third errant aircraft, and the courageous decision of the passengers of Flight 93 to stop the fourth flight from raining more devastation down on Washington, D.C.
I remember people praying and turning to God during the months following the Al Qaida attack–especially the US Congress singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.
This Sunday we will commemorate the event at Ground Zero in New York and in numerous services and ceremonies throughout the country. But I’m afraid there are two lessons we haven’t learned from the 9-11 tragedy. And both conservatives and liberals are to blame.
First, let’s discuss contemporary conservatism and liberalism as practiced in the United States. The Republican Party is generally associated with conservative political positions and policies. The Democratic Party, especially in the current era of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama, is known as the party of liberalism.
I am a conservative because the conservative philosophy is historically wedded to the Christian view of reality. Most conservatives believe in God or a Higher Power. They understand that we live in a fallen world that has been affected by sin. They believe in God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Conservatives understand the need for civil government, but due to man’s fallen nature, they believe this power should be limited.
Christian conservatives believe that Jesus transforming individual lives is the key to a moral and prosperous society. Christ’s power within produces self government or control that allow human laws and civil governments to be minimal and non-intrusive. As James Madison once declared, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Free enterprise or capitalism is a result of the Christian conservative view. Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism (The Wealth of Nations), was a Christian conservative who studied to be a clergyman. When self-controlled people are at liberty to dream, create, and pursue their livelihoods in free societies, then the greatest advances, inventions and corresponding prosperity are possible.
Conservatives also believe in the importance of marriage and family as God-given bed-rocks of society. They believe that morality produces true freedom, and liberty allows people to soar.
According to conservatives, governments are ordained by God (Romans 13:1-8) to protect the citizenry from enemies, both within and without. Thus conservative governments are usually strong on national defense and all aspects of law enforcement.
America’s conservative movements were fueled by a number of religious revivals throughout our history.
On the other hand, political liberals generally have a different view of life. Though some are people of faith or espouse a form of spirituality, a significant percentage are either atheists, agnostics or secular folks. To most liberals, the Higher Power they acknowledge is an ever-expanding Government which re-distributes wealth, provides a safety net for the poor, and is the focus of man-directed “salvation” in society.
Liberals don’t like capitalism. They want governments to increasingly control the means of economic production and are generally in favor of increasing government regulations for the “good” of the people. For liberals, power is concentrated in an intellectual elite rather than in the sovereignty of the individual. Liberals promote democracy, but their worldview tends to produce socialism, fascism, and ultimately communism. All of these “isms” simply describe different degrees of control by the State.
The liberal worldview is very much in keeping with secular atheism. Because there is no God or certainty of moral truth, liberals tend to want to “progress” beyond Christian morals to complete licentiousness in personal lifestyles. They are usually pro-choice regarding abortion–it’s one of the “sexual freedoms” they won in the 1970s–and are in the forefront of wanting to change the definition of marriage.
Liberals are generally weak on national defense because they do not share the biblical view that man is fallen and that evil is a danger in the world. Liberals believe that people are inherently good and simply need to be educated or “enlightened.”
Modern liberalism was a product of the atheism-based Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries which was re-born in the 20th under Woodrow Wilson and the “Progressive” movement.
Here’s a simple summary of conservatism and liberalism:
- Conservatives believe in God and want controls on morality and freedom in economics.
- Liberals believe in themselves and desire controls on business and freedom in morality.
America is currently in an all-out war between these competing worldviews.
Though I am conservative, I have to admit that both sides have a glaring weakness. This is a great concern as we face the lessons we should have learned since 9-11. These two weaknesses relate to the essence of the gospel message.
Jesus first words to the masses when he announced his ministry on earth are found in Mark 1:15. He said:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.”
Repent and believe.
This is the heart of the Christian worldview. We are sinful people who need to repent–to express sorrow for our sins, fear God, and turn away from them. We also need faith–to trust that God can forgive us, empower us, and help us overcome the world.
Conservatives should be strong in both repentance and faith. After all, our political worldview comes out of the Bible and its principles for living. I believe we are generally strong on the faith side of the ledger.
It’s the repentance aspect that conservatives have downplayed in the past thirty years. We don’t like to talk about sin anymore.
The churches are responsible for the shift. How many sermons on sin, hell, or repentance have you heard in the last decade? How many tear-stained altar rails have you recently visited?
Very few. Yet, the subjects of sin and repentance were forefront in America’s great religious revivals. During those seasons (e.g. The Great Awakening in the 1730-40s or the Great Revival in the 1860s) God revealed his holiness and justice, convicted people of their sins, and empowered them to cast off their chains of apathy, disobedience, and rebellion.
National disasters like war and economic problems were used then to bring people to repent–to change their hearts and lives.
That process began to happen after 9-11–but the conservative movement via the churches did not fan it into a 21st century revival.
Why? Because of a desire to be relevant and appear to be positive, many churches have stopped preaching and teaching the ugliness of sin and need to repent before God. Repentance has become old-fashioned and too narrow (too conservative?).
Because of this, conservatives tend to emphasize only the faith side of the equation. One form this takes is the conservative emphasis on American exceptionalism.
I was listening to Rush Limbaugh share on this subject the other day. He was referring to Shelby Steele’s excellent article that was recently published in the Wall Street Journal. It is entitled “Obama and the Burden of Exceptionalism.” You can read it here. I agree with everything Mr. Steele says.
It’s what conservatives don’t say that bothers me. They are not calling the nation to repent before God. They are emphasizing our unique heritage, our role in the world, and our values that made us great. That’s the exceptionalism part–or the faith part.
But we also have many sins that need to be abandoned.
We haven’t repented of those sins since 9-11.
Liberals don’t really understand repentance because many of them don’t believe in God or sin. So it’s natural that they are not involved in this aspect of the gospel equation.
But liberals don’t have faith either. Like our current American president, they don’t seem to have great vision or hope for the future. They apologize for America around the world (I guess that’s their angle on repentance), believe we’ll be stuck at nine percent unemployment for years, and like Jimmy Carter opined thirty-five years ago, talk about an American “malaise” that is extremely crippling.
So the conservatives have forgotten repentance and the liberals are lacking faith.
This is what we’ve failed to learn since 9-11. Great individuals, families, and nations are built on the foundation of repentance from sin and faith toward God.
Ten years since 9-11, our greatest needs as a nation are repentance and faith. Start with yourself. I’ve been doing that recently in my own life.
Remember that “revival is God’s finger pointed at me.”