‘DARK GLOOMINESS.’ That’s how Joel Belz in our last issue characterized the expectations of many WORLD readers who wrote to him about the cultural challenges that lie ahead. I wish the major events of 2013 provided evidence to pierce the darkness, but all I can find is one ray of hope.
The political year was certainly gloomy. In January, hope sprung eternal concerning President Barack Obama: Fresh off an electoral victory, might he move from first-term agitator to second-term statesman? By the fall, it was clear that ideology once again had trumped prudence.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the Obamacare debate. The president had pushed through a centralization of medical power by the thinnest of margins in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. It turned out that to win he had made false claims, stating repeatedly that forced equality would not violate the liberty of individuals to choose their own doctors. In 2013, millions of Americans learned differently, and Obamacare failures became fodder for bitter comedians.
The economic year was exuberant for stockholders and a relief for homeowners as housing prices finally rose, but beneath temporary joy lay fear that Washington was creating a new bubble by printing a surplus $85 billion per month and doing other fast shuffling to create the illusion that happy days are here again.
Nowhere was this more evident than in stock trends, where Federal Reserve shenanigans plus expanding corporate profits pushed markets to new highs. Analysts debated which was the larger factor, but late in the year good economic news tended to bring market declines because investors feared that a true recovery would force the Fed to halt its dangerous artifices.
The foreign policy year brought one disaster after another. Syria’s fratricide went on and on, with President Obama abandoning a pledge to push back against chemical warfare. Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons, with signatures on a piece of paper looking like those in Munich 75 years ago. China, Russia, and even North Korea flexed as the United States fluttered.
Nowhere was Obama diplomacy more in need of a reset than in the administration’s cultural imperialism. In one small but poignant example, Croatia (a 90 percent Catholic country grown out of the former Yugoslavia) in 2013 decided to vote on a constitutional amendment to affirm traditional marriage. The U.S. State Department dispatched diplomats to push gay rights there and elsewhere. Outcome: Croatians in December voted 2-1 against same-sex nuptials.
IN ALL THESE AREAS our mainstream press failed America by presenting stories almost always based in secular liberal assumptions. Maybe this becomes clearer if we look at an Associated Press story from 70 years ago:
“Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler has stared down protesters, laughed off those who call him ‘gypsy killer,’ and smiled through clenched teeth while bantering with people who want to close his concentration camps. He’s facing some of the biggest pressure he has ever seen. … ‘If they think they’re going to make me feel badly about what I do—not gonna happen.’ Just as protesters say they are following God’s will by praying outside concentration camps, Himmler said he, too, is led by divine guidance to provide a place to terminate gypsies: ‘I feel like God wants me to do this job.’ Concentration camp supporters said Himmler is doing important work: ‘It really matters tremendously—the courage, the bravery, the self-sacrifice to keep defending our right to improve Europe.’”
That’s outrageous, you might think: AP wouldn’t have praised a Nazi mass murderer. You’re right. That story never happened, back then. But if you change “concentration camp” to “abortion clinic,” “gypsy” to “baby,” and Himmler to an abortionist, you’ll have the essence of an Associated Press story from 2013 that ran in many newspapers under the headline, “Abortion clinic owner stays committed despite pressure.” (See, for example, charlotteobserver.com/2013/11/23/4491614/abortion-clinic-owner-committed.html.) AP nowhere argued that unborn children are not human beings, but such an assumption underlay the story, making abortion seem a reasonable procedure rather than an atrocity God hates.
IN THE FACE OF political, economic, and foreign policy gloom-inducers, along with press failure to tell the truth, it would be great to hold up Christian institutions as beacons of light rather than beakers containing more toxic chemicals. But 2013 was a troubling year for leadership in many long-respected Christian groups. Examples: Vision Forum and Exodus died as their leaders faltered, while the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities and the American Bible Society (ABS) chewed up and spat out presidents.
The ABS story in some ways shows in microcosm what Christianity in America faces. ABS began in 1816, a year after the United States survived a war with Britain begun when the U.S. Department of State protested not only British impressment of American sailors but also British harassment of American missionaries in India and elsewhere. The first ABS president was Elias Boudinot, who had been president of the Continental Congress in the 1780s. The second was John Jay, who had been chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The ABS vice president from 1817 until his death in 1843 was Francis Scott Key, who had seen bombs bursting in the air and then written what became the national anthem.
In short, the goals of ABS and many America leaders were similar, and they came from the same stalks. ABS provided the first pocket Bibles for soldiers (during the Civil War), gave more than one million Bibles to poor individuals and families in the post-war years, and by 1934 had sent 70 million volumes of Scripture to China, planting seeds that finally sprouted in recent decades.
In recent years, ABS has been wealthy, but our Department of State hampers rather than helps missionaries, and ABS has to decide how counter-cultural it wants to be. Our article later in this issue—see "Going public" in this issue—views the ABS dilemma as in many ways indicative of the pressure American Christianity faces. As WORLD’s news coverage over the years demonstrates, we’re not out to find scandals that finish off organizations with a loud bang. More often, we’re called to report on small storm clouds that together create gloomy skies like those many of our readers see.
THAT LEADS ME to the ray of hope. For many years I was mistaken regarding the origins of a beloved hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” Seeing its initial publication in 1866, and singing verses like “’Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore,” I thought it emerged from the American Civil War, which split not only a nation into North and South but Protestant denominations as well.
Uh-uh. Samuel Stone wrote the hymn regarding church conflicts in South Africa. It could be and has been sung in just about every country in just about any era over the past century and a half—which means that a normal part of the Christian life is what we’d like to think is abnormal. The Church Triumphant? No, “with a scornful wonder, this world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” We can pray that the sad state of America and the church in America does not mean that God has abandoned us, but that He’s maturing and disciplining us—and He disciplines those He loves.
“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. … From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride. With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”
Amen. Come, 2014. Come, Lord Jesus.
The Year in Photos
Runners continue to run in the Boston Marathon as an explosion erupts near the finish line of the race. Two nearly simultaneous explosions ripped through the crowd, killing three persons and injuring an estimated 264 others. (Photo: Dan Lampariello/Reuters/Landov)
A Syrian boy holds in his hand a bird that was injured in a government airstrike that hit the neighborhood of Ansari, in Aleppo, Syria. (Photo: Abdullah al-Yassin/Associated Press)
Rescue workers pull a still-alive woman from the rubble of a garment factory 17 days after the building collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh. killing more than 1,000. (Photo: Sohel Ahmed/Reuters/Landov)
Rochelle Claitt reacts as she gets her free flu shot from nurse Gloria Oniha at the Laurel Regional Hospital, Laurel, Md. A widespread flu epidemic peaked in January with the highest number of cases reported in five years. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times/Landov)
A man carries an injured child away from the site of a car bomb explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan, that killed 40 persons. It was the third blast to hit the city in a week. (Photo: Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press)
Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary after an F-5 tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City. No one died at the school, but seven students were found dead at nearby Plaza Towers Elementary. Ten children were among the 24 total killed by the tornado. (Photo: Paul Hellstern/The Oklahoman/AP)
Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi clash with police and army in Cairo. (Photo: Giulio Piscitelli/Contrasto/Redux)
Inmate firefighters walk along state Highway 120 to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif. Started in Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17 by a hunter’s illegal campfire, the Rim Fire was California’s third-largest wildfire since the 1930s and the biggest ever in the Sierra Nevada mountains. (Photo: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)
Kenyan security forces search for gunmen at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. The Somali terror group al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, attacked the upscale shopping mall, killing 67 persons and wounding more than 200. (Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times/Redux)
Auburn cornerback Chris Davis returns a missed field goal attempt 109 yards on the last play of the game to defeat No. 1-ranked Alabama, one of the most memorable finishes in the history of college football. (Photo: Dave Martin/Associated Press)