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The debate I wish we’d have

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Mitt Romney shakes hands with President Obama at the start of the second U.S. presidential debate in Hempstead, New York (Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar)

President Obama and Governor Romney debated last night at Hofstra University on New York’s Long Island.  CNN’s Candy Crowley moderated the town hall discussion as the candidates answered questions asked by undecided voters.  They were “decidedly more aggressive,” as one report characterized the event, often interrupting each other when they disagreed with statements and characterizations.

My purpose this morning is neither to endorse a candidate nor to discuss the winner and loser of the contest.  Rather, it is to envision a very different debate.  I read through the Bible each year; this morning I came to Hosea 4 and found this statement: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land” (v. 1a).  What is his accusation?  “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land” (v. 1b).

Instead, “there is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery” (v. 2).  Leaders are not exempt: “The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.  They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness” (vs. 7-8).  With this result: “Like people, like priests.  I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds” (v. 9).

If Hosea were writing this cultural commentary, would he hear the same word from the Lord about our culture?  I love America dearly; my grandfather fought in World War I and my father nearly died defending us in World War II.  Every time I travel overseas, when I return I’m grateful once again to live in this great land.  I thank the Lord for the freedom to write this essay and express myself as I wish.  And I pray every day for our president and leaders, as Scripture directs God’s people to do (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

But I’m growing more concerned than ever about the spiritual state of our nation.  Last night’s debate focused on our material prosperity; no one asked the candidates to address our moral prosperity.  Who in the hall was concerned about the growing number of Americans who fail to give “acknowledgement of God”?  Who grieved our “cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery”?  Who criticized the ungodliness of some of our spiritual and civic leaders?  Who worried about the punishment of God on our people?

More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville said of Americans, “It is an arduous undertaking to excite the enthusiasm of a democratic nation for any theory which does not have a visible, direct, and immediate bearing on the occupations of their daily lives.”  Will Hosea’s warning “excite the enthusiasm” of those who read it this morning, beginning with you?