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Bracing for the worst

National | Can't wag the dog unless the dog wants to be wagged

Issue: "The Sudan crisis," June 10, 2000

Flag Day is supposed to bring forth outpourings of patriotism, but this year the politically astute are tuning into Hardball with Chris Matthews to adopt the proper jaundiced take on presidential politics: Gore could quite possibly win the presidency. Buchanan may draw support away from Bush. But Bush might pick a pro-choice running mate. Gore might lose the election, but Hillary might win the Senate, and anybody who thinks she's not running for president is crazy. And so forth. All of this speculation understandably gives us the creeps, and our reactions vary. Some of us start limbering up for our stints at the telephone bank (again), others of us console ourselves with the thought that these are the Last Days, while still others just stare at the television set dumbfounded.

When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, one of the things she said was that God clearly loved the people of Israel, and that this was evident in the civic wisdom He had given them in Solomon. The Bible teaches that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to a people-not just a disgrace to the leaders whose bright idea the sin was. So in a very real sense, we are represented by our leaders whether we supported them or not, whether they are godly or not, and whether their campaign bumper stickers adorn our vehicles or not.

Some people think they can detach themselves from the disgrace through personal disapproval, a view reflected by the popularity of the bumper sticker: "Don't blame me, I voted for the Other Guy." We may vote, but ultimately God chooses which candidate best represents a country in the civic realm. Of course, this does not mean that because God chose "so and so" that the said "so and so" is the one we should support. That Nero was the Lord's appointment did not make him good. God chooses evil rulers to be an affliction to a disobedient people as well as good rulers to bless a good people.

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In our individualism, we think that the only way to express disagreement is through separation, and that understanding our essential civic unity is synonymous with applause. Few comprehend a combination of covenanted civic unity and profound opposition. Virtually no one understands that the church should identify with the current culture in order to confess the sin of that culture. When Daniel confessed the sin of the people near the end of Jeremiah's 70 years, he identified with them completely, confessing sin that he himself as an individual had not committed.

The church today either separates to accuse or unites to compromise. But the current need is to identify in order to confess. Today we have government by celebrity, government by postmodern spin, government by therapy. We live in a therapeutic culture, one that wants us all to feel better about ourselves. Does anyone want to seriously maintain that these trends are not also within the modern evangelical church? All our bluster aside for a moment, we are not really opposed to these things in the civic realm until we see, through an honest and thorough confession of sin, that we acquiesce to the same things in our evangelical families, churches, radio stations, publishing houses, and all the rest of it. We are not there yet. This means that we do not yet see how our modern American state is simply our own reflection. We are in a long, shrill argument with the mirror.

One proverb aptly says that it is impossible to cheat an honest man. Moving this over into the political realm, it is not possible for an elected spinmeister to wag the dog unless the dog wants to be wagged. Many activist Christians think that if the people knew they were being manipulated, they would rise up in indignation. They still believe in that idolatrous campaign sloganeering workhorse, which always appeals to the "basic decency of the American people." But no. We know we are being manipulated, and we like it.

And so this brings us down to the point where we must brace for the worst. The worst is not that we might have four years of Gore, or eight. The worst is not the notion of a vacillating and timid Republican administration. Nor is Bill Clinton as first husband the worst scenario.

The worst is that, if it happens, we will have deserved it.

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