America: more divided than ever?

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America: more divided than ever?

July 15, 2014 -

As a boy, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every school day.  I’ve said these words thousands of times: “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  How true are they today?

Are we “one nation under God”?

Fifty years ago, America’s religious landscape was dominated by Protestants and Catholics.  But as Diane Eck shows in A New Religious America, the U.S. is now the world’s most religiously diverse nation.  This diversity can be traced back to 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed a new immigration law that led to a significant surge of immigrants.  As a result, Muslims in America now outnumber Jews, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians.

In addition, our nation has seen a tremendous upsurge in those with no religious affiliation.  In 1948, 69 percent of Americans were Protestants; today their number has fallen to 48 percent.  Catholics are stable, growing from 22 percent to 24 percent.  But those who have no religion have grown from two percent to 15 percent, the largest number in history.

And the “unaffiliated” are apparently our future: three times more Americans are becoming “unaffiliated” than those leaving that category to join religious organizations.  Nearly one in five men have no formal religious affiliation.  Seventy-one percent of the unaffiliated are under the age of 50.

Are we “indivisible”?

Partisan politics in America are more heated than ever.  For both Republicans and Democrats, the number with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled in the last 20 years.  Most of these intense partisans are convinced that the other party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

Social issues reveal the ideological chasm in our nation.  For instance, 28 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under any circumstance; 21 percent believe it should be illegal in all circumstances; and 50 percent believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances.  While 55 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage, 42 percent are still opposed.  Forty-two percent favor legalizing euthanasia, while 36 percent are opposed.

Do we believe in “liberty and justice for all”?

According to the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of Americans believe that “we should not think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home.”

As an example of this growing isolationism, 63 percent believe the U.S. should be less involved in Middle East political change, while only 23 percent say we should become more involved.  Regarding our top foreign policy goals, 83 percent agree with “protecting U.S. from terrorist attacks,” while only 18 percent agree with “promoting democracy in other nations.”

How is the church doing?

Isolationism and political division have been part of American Christianity for many years.  As Jonathan Merritt shows in his excellent A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars, both the religious right and the religious left are polarized and polarizing.

How is our political rhetoric working for our Kingdom mission?

According to Merritt, 70 percent of non-Christians ages 16 to 29 say Christians are “insensitive to others.”  It’s not surprising that two-thirds of young Protestants between the ages of 18 and 22 are leaving the Christian church.  Merritt quotes philosopher Jacques Ellul: “It seems as though politics is the Church’s worst problem.  It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the Prince of this World.”

It’s not that God does not want Christians to be involved in politics—far from it.  Christian statesmen like William Wilberforce and George Washington have changed our world for immeasurable good.  I’m convinced that God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call.

It’s that the gospel is not partisan.  God loves both Democrats and Republicans.  Jesus died for liberals and conservatives.  When the church aligns its core Kingdom message with its political agenda, the latter co-opts the former.

God wants us to separate our biblical message from our political opinions and share the truth of God in love (Ephesians 4:15).  He is calling us to know Christ and make him known, joining Jesus as he works to draw all men to himself (John 12:32-33).

The more Americans make Jesus our Lord and King, the more ours will truly be “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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