As we approach Easter, Christians around the world would, in normal times, be planning to come together for worship with their minds fixed on the passion of Christ. However, we now find ourselves distracted and most churches are closed because of the coronavirus crisis. Furthermore, the vast majority of people are staying at home, as all of us have been advised to do. In normal times, the followers of Jesus would be looking forward to the proclamation of “good news”, a glorious celebration of Christ’s victory over sin, suffering, and death on Easter Sunday. Instead, our minds are being bombarded with “bad news” every day, as this expanding health crisis continues to escalate and accelerate.
This hurts and grieves all of us, not just those who have experienced such separation and sorrow, loss and loneliness. It hurts not only Wall Street, but Main Street. Not only big business but small businesses. Not only doctors, nurses, and medical researchers who are serving day and night to care for the sick and dying, hoping a cure will be found, but every caring and compassionate person on this planet. It hurts and grieves the people of all nations, all cultures, all races, and all religions — for this is truly a global crisis.
However, many of us who are Americans have become more and more aware during these critical times that there is an even deeper sickness that has settled on our land, one that poses an even greater threat to our nation than the alarming spread of this destructive and deadly virus. It’s a crisis which many have been unwilling to acknowledge until now: the lack of moral leadership at the highest levels of government, dishonest practices that have been allowed to mar our political system and now threaten our democracy, and the erosion of the high ethical standards and moral values that have always been essential elements of practical and basic Christianity. These values have served to make the United States of America unique among the nations of the world: a “nation under God”; a nation “with liberty and justice for all”, welcoming victims of tyranny and oppression; a sanctuary and refuge for the displaced and disenfranchised peoples of the world; a nation recognizing the equality of all people; a land where freedom reigns, including the freedom of religion.
The virus pandemic that has so monopolized media reports has also served to expose this more insidious sickness that actually poses a greater threat, with longer-lasting consequences for the nation we Americans love. There is a moral and spiritual crisis to which many among us had been blinded by our cultural, social, racial, political, and religious differences, allowing these differences to divide and fragment us as a nation.
This division creates a far greater threat to the survival of America as the nation we have known and for which we have fought too many wars to protect and preserve. We have allowed systemic problems to go unchallenged, unchecked, and under-corrected. Greed, self-interest, corruption, abuse of power, poverty, injustice, racism, senseless violence, and widespread moral decline — so evident in a contagious indifference and complacency — have resulted in a spreading integrity crisis, an inability to see the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies, good and evil (even to the point of calling evil good, and good evil). Suffice it to say, we have surrendered the faith of our founding fathers and mothers to those forces that have been arrayed against our way of life, the Judeo-Christian values and virtues that helped to shape America into a country that has always been unique among the other nations on planet Earth.
This is a time for the putting up of storm signals, a time to shine a light in the darkness, to bring out into the clear light of day these underlying problems that hinder effective leadership at the highest levels today. These things are all signs of a deeper sickness that has settled on our land:
- An unwillingness to stand for the hard right against the easy wrong.
- The desire for more (enough is always more): more power, more influence, more money, more the things this world offers, things that appeal to the flesh and that our human instincts crave.
- The hunger for recognition and reputation.
- The desire to be served rather than to serve for the common good.
- The stubborn and selfish refusal to work together across party and political lines for the healing of our land.
- The self-interests that bend and yield to the unrelenting pressure exerted by special interest groups.
Those among us who are professing Christians should become practicing Christians, in the forefront of those who are standing up, speaking out, and supporting all those who are seeking a cure. This certainly includes a call to genuine repentance, a turning from our sins of commission and omission and a turning back to God, respecting and obeying His commandments, and fervent prayers for the healing of our land (2 Chronicles 7:14) by the pursuit of righteousness. The other things believers usually pray for, such as peace and unity, deliverance from injustice and the abuse of power, freedom from intolerance and rampant racism, and justice for all — these are actually by-products of righteousness. That is why Jesus taught his disciples to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” and to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Such comments from this biblical perspective have been conspicuously absent from public debates, interviews, and broadcasts during this entire time of national crisis and communication about the coronavirus and how all of us can contribute to the healing of our land. There has been abundant wise counsel from health experts, as well as too many confusing and conflicting opinions from politicians who are in adversarial positions with each other. What we now need most is more men and women in positions of leadership and authority who can provide moral and spiritual leadership, who because of their integrity and credibility as men and women of faith can speak with a prophetic voice. We have always heard a lot in our churches about the “priesthood of believers”, but very little about the “prophethood of believers.” We desperately need another Moses, another Elijah, another Amos, another John the Baptist, another Paul. We need people who will have the ear of America and the boldness to proclaim in our day what Benjamin Franklin told America in its infancy, at the framing of the Constitution:
“I have lived a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it possible that an empire can rise and survive without his aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that except the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. I firmly believe this and, without the concurring aid of the Almighty, we will succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
We have always experienced a spiritual awakening in times of crisis and it may be that the healing of our land will come as a result of this health crisis that has disrupted all our lives. It is causing us to think of our own mortality, consider what is most important in our lives (i.e., our relationships with God, with ourselves, and with one another), and question how we can make the most of the rest of our lives.
It is good that, in such times as these, many people find themselves examining their beliefs, their values, their goals, and giving more serious thought to ultimate reality: the purpose of life, why we are here, where we are going, and where we will be when we get there. All this is encouraging and gives us hope for the future. At the same time, we Christians can be a part of the cure rather than a part of the crisis if we are serious students of God’s word (God’s “revealed” will for humankind at its best), and if we are seeking to be faithful and loyal to the teachings of Jesus (his vision of a redeemed humanity and a new creation). We need to be thinking more seriously about certain biblical truths that need to be proclaimed, truths we ignore at our peril:
- Sin and its consequences, the destructive power of evil in all of its forms, in our individual lives, as well as in our shared life in community.
- Judgment and condemnation, not only God’s just judgment of sinners and his judgment of the nations (Matthew 25), but our own harsh judgment of one another, although the scriptures warn us about the danger of becoming judgmental ourselves (Matthew 7:2).
- The peril of pride and self-righteousness. Perhaps it is because I have not listened adequately, but in the fierce furor of the past few months I have not heard any reference to the danger of the prevalent practice of blaming others and excusing ourselves, of thinking more highly of ourselves than we should, and looking at others critically, exposing their faults and failures in the hope that they will be found guilty and condemned. Then their accusers will rejoice!
Who can deny that an ugly mood has swept across the life of our nation? There has been so much bitterness, so much anger out of control, so many accusations. This includes many who claim to be followers of Jesus and have co-opted Christ for their political campaigns to gain the support of Christian leaders and groups. Suffice it to say, we Christians should make a concerted effort to see others through the eyes of Jesus, especially those who do not agree with our preferences, our policies, our positions, and our practices — not accusing those who disagree with us, wanting them to be ridiculed and rejected (John 8:3-11).
A paradoxical development often occurs in human relationships and experiences, in that the reaction of so many to the sinful behavior of others is so often worse than the sin itself. A case in point: in the biblical story cited in the scripture given above from the gospel according to John, a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus for judgment and condemnation, comes off better than her accusers! As a Christian, I believe it is a part of the paradox of the Gospel itself to recognize that there is more spiritual danger in feeling righteous than in feeling sinful (Luke 18:11). Although none of us may ever be as bad as we could be, the truth is that none of us will ever be as good as we should be!
During this critical pandemic, we have witnessed a widespread critical condemnation of others, one political party against another, conservatives against liberals; the abuse of power and an arrogant refusal to accept any personal responsibility for anything that has gone wrong; the rejection of truth-telling and the acceptance of lies; the “glee” with which adversaries are pursued and punished by politicians, removed from office and demeaned, publicly ridiculed and humiliated. This is the kind of “righteousness” that is so wrong in the eyes of God, a “self-righteousness” that causes one to exalt himself or herself, although the Bible declares: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
Self-righteousness feeds upon itself. This has not only been amply illustrated in the radical and reckless rhetoric of politicians in recent years, but also in the more recent charges leveled at elected representatives by journalists and commentators who have enjoyed “baiting” politicians with loaded questions often designed to trap them by their own often feeble and failed responses. The trick is to take on the look of the moral crusader who is incensed at the words and actions (or lack thereof) of the President, Vice-President, members of Congress, and Senators. The result is increased anger, greater alienation, further fragmentation, and a nation “divided against itself.” Do those words sound familiar? They should, not only because they are biblical, but because that was the theme of President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, often called his greatest speech. Those words, expressing the threat of suspicion, schism, and separation, the danger of divisiveness and the absence of efforts to tear down the walls that divide us as a nation, have never been more relevant. They are as current as this morning’s headlines.
Hopefully, this crucial moment in the life of our nation will cause us to look beyond the coronavirus crisis to sense the urgency of finding ways to heal our land and make America as great in spirit as she has always been in power. Perhaps our citizens will start asking some penetrating questions:
- When did the military become more important than morality?
- When did the economy become more important than integrity, honesty, decency, and compassion?
- When did partisan politics become more important than unselfish public service and the desire to find common ground for the purpose of enacting legislation that will help to cure the sickness that will continue to threaten the health of our nation long after this coronavirus threat is behind us?
I want to see the good people of this good land become angry enough about the lack of moral leadership to elect men and women who will possess the character and courage needed to rediscover and restore the values and standards that made America truly great, when she was at her highest and best. Anger is a normal emotion. The problem is anger out of control, anger that is directed at people rather than the problems that continue to weaken and threaten the health of our nation.
We have not been angry enough about the right things, angry enough to demand change, to become agents of change ourselves, moving out of our comfort zones, making sacrifices, taking risks to become a part of the cure. We can not afford to remain complacent and indifferent, to continue to be silent when we should be speaking out, to remain inactive when we should be serving as best we can, right where we are. There is one thing all of us have in common: influence!
Therefore, we should remember that we are called to be agents of reconciliation, people of hope, doers of God’s Word and not hearers only, making a difference in the current climate as agents of change for the better. In a post-Easter blog post focusing on the theme of hope, I will attempt to explain why we Christians, as “Easter people”, do not lose our hope in times of crisis. This is a good time to remember that, when Jesus died, his followers thought that was the end of their journey with him — but it was destined to become a new beginning.
I firmly believe that this current crisis will also become a new beginning, not only for us who are followers of Jesus, but for the people of the world who have come to understand how much we need each other. The brand of Christianity which is needed most at this time is the bold declaration that our God is great enough to work in all things for good to transform suffering into grace and to bring good news out of bad news!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)