This story dominated the news over the weekend and is spilling over into the week: Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives are deeply divided over so-called infrastructure bills. The Washington Post reports: “Many liberals don’t trust moderates. Key moderates no longer trust congressional leaders or the White House. And few in the House trust the Senate.”
What is going on in Washington?
Today’s New York Times has a good explainer. It notes that President Biden ran on a platform of unifying the country, appealing both to moderates and to liberals in his party. Now moderates in Washington support his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill called the “American Jobs Plan” but have serious doubts about his $3.5 trillion “American Family Plan.” Liberals (sometimes called “Progressives”) support both and are afraid that adopting the first will cost them the leverage they need for adopting the second.
Both sides claim to be representing and advancing the president’s agenda. And so we have partisan bickering and deep divisions inside a political party, not just between the parties.
The good news
Here’s the good news: the system is working as it was designed.
America’s Founders designed a democratic governance not because humans are so good by nature that we deserve to be elected and to lead. Rather, we are so corrupt by nature that we cannot be trusted with leadership. Thus our leaders need perennial accountability furnished by voting, a free press, and a three-branched governmental system with inherent checks and balances.
The Founders also knew that America even at its infancy was too disparate for one leader or philosophy to represent all people fully and fairly. Thus they constructed a republic in which communities would elect leaders to represent their interests in conflict, cooperation, and compromise with those who represented the interests of other communities.
When my wife and I were in Vermont recently, we understood better why Bernie Sanders has been in political office there for forty years. We saw Pride flags in every town. We went through several bookstores on our travels—not a single one had a single Bible for sale. His secularism obviously represents Vermont, which is the third-least religious state in the US.
By contrast, my home state of Texas is represented in the Senate by Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. It is hard to identify more disparate leaders in Washington than Mr. Cruz and Mr. Sanders. Our system is designed for them to bring their conflicts into a single forum where compromises and synergies will emerge that will benefit the nation as a whole.
The alternative to pluralistic leadership is monolithic despotism such as we see in Cuba, where a pastor has been imprisoned for two months without trial by the communist regime for participating in peaceful protests against the government last July.
Watching the chaos in Washington, we see illustrated Winston Churchill’s famously perceptive observation: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
The bad news
Here’s the bad news: we are losing the consensual morality that makes democracy possible.
I cannot converse with someone who speaks Russian since I don’t speak Russian. It is difficult if not impossible for congressional leaders to work for the greater good if they disagree vociferously on the definition of that good. Then politics becomes a zero-sum game: if you win, I must lose, and vice versa.
Such a crisis of governance has been predicted by many cultural analysts for decades. For example, Philip Rieff warned in 1966 that the “triumph of the therapeutic” would replace democracy with barbarism. He noted that in response to the Freudian psychotherapeutic worldview, secular Western culture has abandoned its purpose of regulating conduct in line with our shared conceptions of good and evil. In its place, we are encouraged to cast off the moral prohibitions inherited from Christianity in pursuit of our “authentic selves.”
Here’s the problem: my “authentic” self is not your “authentic” self. If you demand recognition for same-sex marriage and transgender rights, for example, while I demand recognition for religious liberty in defense of my biblical moral convictions, one of us must lose the fight.
And it’s clear who is losing the “culture wars” of our day.
The best news
Whose fault is this?
Yours and mine.
Who can therefore make a foundational and crucial difference in our broken culture?
You and me.
Jesus did not say, “Caesar is the light of the world.” He did not announce that the high priest, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the priests in Jerusalem were the light of the world. He said to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The definite article is intentional: we are the only true “light of the world.”
If the room in which you are sitting is dark and you hold the only flashlight, who is at fault?
How do we recover and renew our calling to be God’s light in our broken culture? How can we restore a consensual morality without which democracy is imperiled?
The answer begins with the very word of God in which we find our commission.
As I noted Friday, the battle for our culture begins with the battle for our minds. And the battle for our minds is won by what we feed our minds. “GIGO” (“garbage in, garbage out“) is more than a computer programming slogan—it is a description of intellectual reality.
“The answers for all the problems men face”
Tomorrow we’ll discuss some practical ways to feed our minds with God’s timeless and transforming biblical truth. For today, let’s decide that we want to do so. Let’s decide to begin every morning by meeting God in his word. And let’s decide to walk through the day seeking biblical wisdom for the decisions, opportunities, and challenges we face.
This is how you can be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” each day (Romans 12:2). And how you can be an agent of catalytic transformation in our broken culture.
Ronald Reagan claimed, “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.” However, Billy Graham warned: “If you are ignorant of God’s word, you will always be ignorant of God’s will.”
Dwight Moody was therefore correct to assert: “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.” He added: “I never saw a useful Christian who was not a student of the Bible.”
Will you be a “useful Christian” today?
NOTE: My newest and most pivotal book to date, The Coming Tsunami, is a warning sign. It’s a cultural wake-up call about the impending tidal wave of threat and opposition we will face for our faith as Christians. And I want to put a copy in your hands when it’s released. So please pre-order your copy of The Coming Tsunami today—and be ready for the tidal waves that are threatening to submerge evangelical Christians in America and the biblical morality we proclaim.