Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 15, 2001
Pulpits 'aflame' with righteousness
Why Gospel is better equipped than social liberalism to curb racism
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Why, despite billions of dollars spent on government social programs, not to mention civil-rights and anti-discrimination initiatives over the past 40 years, are both the quality of life in urban black communities and the general state of race relations in North America now significantly worse than they were in 1960?
Why are blights like crime, family dysfunction, unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, welfare dependency, gang culture, and sexually transmitted disease all rampant - especially in black communities, eclipsing positives like public safety, and in direct contradiction of the social theories that have informed public policy for four decades? What went wrong?
The answer is that most North Americans - black and white - have forgotten God, and that secular liberalism has proved a shabby and inadequate substitute for religious conviction.
When French jurist Alexis de Tocqueville made his famous study of American society during the 1830s, he marvelled at the low crime rate and few prisons. After searching in vain for the explanation in industry, commerce, education and government, de Tocqueville at last wrote: "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!"
Unhappily, in this century America, and Canada as well, have largely discarded the Christian faith as the moral anchor of society, and made a deliberate project of ceasing to be good. As a rule, the pulpits of North American churches no longer "flame with righteousness," that flame long since extinguished by a tidal wave of secular humanism.
The Bible, which U.S. President Andrew Jackson called "the rock on which our republic rests," is ignored as an instrument of public policy and banned from schools.
The continent's great universities, most of them established by Christian churches, have become indoctrination-mills for leftist political correctness, where any serious affirmation of Christian faith invites ridicule, contempt or worse. The original Charter of Harvard College declared that "Everyone shall consider the main end of his life and studies to know Jesus Christ which is eternal life." During Harvard's first century, every one of its professors was a Christian clergyman.
Christianity was the primary agent that catalyzed emancipation of the slaves in the 19th century, and the civil rights movement in the 20th. It was Christians, with their belief in redemption from sin and personal transformation through faith in Jesus Christ, who first became convinced that it was wrong and evil for one Christian to own another.
Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, Benjamin Schwarz of the World Policy Institute argues that it was Christianity, not the "civil religion" of the philosophical Enlightenment embraced by America's sophisticated cultural elites, that provided hope for racial harmony and integration.
Schwarz cites historian Eugene Genovese's observation that Christianity "curbed (slaves') self-destructive tendency toward hatred. It left them free to hate slavery but not necessarily the individual masters," who they were freed by Christ to love as "fellow men before God."
Schwarz notes that northern liberals who joined the 1950s and '60s civil rights movement largely ignored, or regarded as irrelevant, the fact that southern black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King took their primary inspiration from the ideas and traditions of evangelical Christianity. Such willful ignorance was subsequently to be the undoing of black America (and in different contexts, of white America as well).
For most of this century, particularly after the Second World War, the forces of secular humanism have won most of the culture war's battles, and it is understatement to observe that this liberal triumph has not been to society's advantage - especially for blacks.
The Christian faith that carried black Americans through decades of oppression and discrimination with dignity, hope, intact families, and safe neighbourhoods, was rudely shoved aside and discarded by the postwar secularist liberal juggernaut, with resultant consequences grimly manifest for anyone with eyes to see. The same phenomenon afflicts white America as well, although relative white affluence has been better able to disguise its poisonous effects.
It sounds almost trite to suggest that America needs a Christian revival. Indeed, given the depth of the nation's descent into apostasy and neo-paganism; it would be more appropriate to call for a Christian revolution.
However, Christ works through his body of human believers, the Church, and the Church has, in the main, lost confidence in the power of the Christian Gospel, coming to regard it as just another "flavour" in a smorgasbord of morally equivalent religions, rather than the unique truth that alone has the power to save souls from damnation, and to radically transform individuals and the societies they live in.
If North American Christians can somehow rediscover that certitude and propagate it, America, and Canada too, could be both good and great again.
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