In Alabama on December 12—a week from today—large numbers of evangelicals will cast their vote for Roy Moore, many of whose defenders do not even bother to deny that he is a serial sexual molester of underage girls. The evidence against Moore is so overwhelming that if evangelicals are going to posit the existence of a vast conspiracy to frame him, they owe Dan Brown an apology.
How did we get to this point? That’s a question with a long answer, but a short answer might be: by neglecting our eschatology—and the lesson of Chuck Colson.
Critical Moment in History?
The basic argument of Moore’s supporters is that the stakes in U.S. elections are so high that we have to disregard what might otherwise be valid moral objections to voting for him. Defeating the church’s political enemies is so important at this critical moment in our history that even voting for a monster is justified. One prominent evangelical leader has said that God gave America a “second chance” for survival with Donald Trump’s election, and that second chance will be hindered if pro-life Republicans lose ground in Congress.
I’d be the last to deny that the church has political enemies, although I’d point out that some of them call themselves Christians and run for office as pro-life Republicans. The more important point, however, is that neither the fate of the church nor the fate of the country is going to be determined by this election. Or at least not in the way some Moore supporters are thinking.
I’d be the last to deny that the church has political enemies, although I’d point out that some of them call themselves Christians and run for office as pro-life Republicans.
The church always has political enemies. If that alone is sufficient to justify a vote for a monster, it’s justified any time. But that’s not the argument we’re hearing. We’re hearing that this moment is unique. We face a once-in-a-lifetime existential threat—a “Flight 93” moment in which our national plane is about to crash.
This brings us to the real heart of the issue. Is this actually a critical moment in our history? Believe it or not, that depends on our answer to a deceptively simple question: What is history?
The Church Will Not Fail
Worldly thinking produces a clear answer. The world thinks the “history” of any group, whether it’s a nation or a church, means its history from the time it emerges as a distinct entity until the time it disappears—from collapse, conquest, absorption into a larger group, and so on. So a “critical” moment in the history of a nation or a church is a moment where a group is faced with a choice that could cause it to disappear.
The Bible destroys this kind of thinking. The history of God’s people begins with Adam and has no end. The gates of hell will not prevail against God’s church. His Spirit will always build up his people.
There are no Flight 93 moments for the church; there never have been and never will be. . . . The church’s fate is not electoral; it’s eschatological.
There are no Flight 93 moments for the church; there never have been and never will be. Certainly God’s people will continue to face persecution from worldly powers, as we always have. But the idea that we have to compromise moral standards in order to prevent the destruction of the church reflects an appalling failure to grasp where the church’s fate really lies.
The church’s fate is not electoral; it’s eschatological. The church’s triumph over its enemies comes with the King’s return.
The Fate of the Nations
And what about our nations? God cares about them, too. From the first call to Abram (“in you all the nations will be blessed”) to the tongues of Pentecost to the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22 (“the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”), the gospel has always been a gospel for our nations.
And our nations also have an eschatological fate. In eternity, the world will still be full of nations, and every nation will be a Christian nation.
Not today, however. Nations are not like the church. Our nations, as nations, are not yet in covenant relationship with God. In the present age, worldly powers have not yet been cast down. Only when Jesus returns will our nations, as nations, be God’s nations.
That means, instead of never having a Flight 93 moment, for our nations it’s always a Flight 93 moment. There is always some disaster just around the corner, some foreign power or domestic corruption, threatening to destroy our nations.
Only the special presence of the Holy Spirit in the church permits us to insist “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” Our nations don’t have that yet. They will, after Jesus returns, but not now.
Get an Eschatological Perspective
One of the most intense experiences in my life was about 10 years ago, when a dear friend told me his teenage son was starting to drift toward political extremism. He asked if I could help. I knew his son and had no difficulty turning my next conversation with him toward politics, and sure enough, he was moving toward destructive ideas.
“But don’t you think,” he said, in response to some cautionary word I had offered him, “that America is on the brink of becoming a fascist dictatorship?”
“I think,” I replied, “that every nation is always on the brink of becoming a fascist dictatorship.”
His face changed so dramatically I could almost see the light bulb appear over his head.
Chuck Colson learned the same lesson—in his case, the hard way. In his magnificent address to Harvard Business School, which every American Christian should read or hear, he said he was driven to his Watergate crimes by a sense that the fate of the nation and the future of freedom in the world rested on defeating the Democrats. With the genocidal mass murderers of Soviet communism gobbling up nations around the globe, and Democrats demanding we let them, the stakes were so high that it was necessary to set aside what would otherwise be valid moral objections.
[Colson] said he was driven to his Watergate crimes by a sense that the fate of the nation and the future of freedom in the world rested on defeating the Democrats.
It was a Flight 93 moment—and he thought that was an excuse. It took hard time in prison to give him an eschatological perspective on his vile acts.
What Message Do We Send?
Joe Carter is right that Christians need to avoid a political captivity in which they have to vote for whatever monster “their” party nominates. Staying home, which sends no clear message, is infinitely preferable to sending a clear message that unrepentant predators are tolerable. Where there are constructive alternatives to vote for, as there are in Alabama, every single vote for such an alternative increases the sense that there are limits on debauchery of the public trust.
The bigger point, however, is where we think our fate lies—with our votes, or with God? Whittaker Chambers, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our time, said the particular temptation of the modern world is to think that “the destiny of man is in the hands of man.” Those who think so, he said, would end up committing greater and greater evils in the name of saving humanity.
A week from today, Alabama voters have an opportunity to show whose hands they think their destiny is in.
- The Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem (Joe Carter)