Joe Wright's prayer
In a published sermon Dr James Kennedy, the Pastor of the huge Coral Ridge Prebyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, tells of another American pastor, Joe Wright, from the Central Christian Church, Wichita. Not so long ago Pastor Joe had been invited to "deliver the invocation" at the Kansas State Legislature. But he caused something of an uproar.
In fact no sooner had he ended his prayer than three Representatives on the State Legislature were on their feet at microphones and protesting. "He can't talk like that about us!" shouted Representative Delbert Gross, calling the invocation "divisive", "sanctimonious" and "overbearing". Representative David Haley called it "blasphemous and ignorant". Representative Sabrina Standifer agreed.
So what had Pastor Joe prayed? He had prayed as follows:
"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.
We know your word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of moral pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it "multi-culturalism".
We have endorsed perversion and called it an "alternative lifestyle".
We have exploited the poor and called it "a lottery".
We have neglected the needy and called it "self-preservation".
We have rewarded laziness and called it "welfare".
In the name of "choice" we have killed our unborn.
In the name of "right to life" we have killed abortionists.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it "building esteem".
We have abused power and called it "political savvy".
We've coveted our neighbours' possessions and called it "taxes".
We've polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it "freedom of expression." We've ridiculed the time-honoured values of our forefathers and called it "enlightenment".
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today. Try us, and show us [if there be] any wicked ways in us. Cleanse us from every sin, and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas and who have been ordained by you to govern this great State.
Grant them your wisdom to rule, and may their decisions direct us to the centre of you will.
I ask it in the name of your Son, the living Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen."
Many people in the United Kingdom would say, "Only in America!" But perhaps that is a reflection of our own spiritual inertia. We could not imagine someone praying like that here on a public occasion. But Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, would have prayed like that. And Pastor Joe did.
The Politics of Culture
Nor were these issues Joe Wright prayed about irrelevant to the Kansas State Legislature. They were and are highly relevant both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, they are moving to the centre of public life.
Many are now claiming that what is fundamental for our public life are no longer the old issues that used to divide the "left" and the "right" but what are called "cultural" issues. I have quoted elsewhere (Church and State in the New Millennium, p viii) a consultation paper from our own Lord Chancellor's Department. It draws attention to the argument ...
"... that recent trends in society indicate that politics is becoming more cultural or value based ... Party loyalties, it is said, have become weakened where traditional left/right supporters have become more volatile and are voting according to issue or value priorities."
It then speaks of "a variety of issues including sex, homosexuality, education, religion, drugs and single parents" as key "post-material non-economic concerns" for public life.
And it is the same in the United States. Francis Fukuyama, the Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, Washington DC, also admits that these moral and cultural issues are now centre stage. But he does not seem to see any great hope of "remoralization" through the current political agendas of the main parties.
He admits that the evidence has been well marshalled to prove that the decline of the traditional, two-parent married family is socially disastrous. But in the current situation, political proposals aimed to redress things, like reintroducing marriage tax allowances, are little more than "symbolic hand waving".
"This," says Fukuyama, "leaves many [ethical] conservatives hoping for a religious revival, or a cultural shift like the one that took place during the Victorian era." Many are merely complaining about "moral decline" in a society in which "the greatest moral passion turns out to be hostility to 'moralism' in areas related to sex and family life." However, he claims that "the cultural issues are the only ones still capable of stimulating voter passion."
Richard Neuhaus comments on Fukuyama as follows:
[he] is undoubtedly correct in recognizing that most [ethical] conservatives, thinking themselves to be hard-nosed realists, have not faced the reality that politics today is pre-eminently the politics of culture. Deploring moral decline is necessary, lest we get used to the way things are, but it is not enough. The winning side will be the side that more convincingly articulates a more promising future that both accommodates legitimate interests and appeals to a sense of moral possibility.
Shifting the public agenda
This is now, therefore, the time for Christians to be in the front line. We need to help shift the public agenda to these moral issues and work for new political commitments. For example, we need to challenge our candidates at the forthcoming General Election over their party's position on "pro-life" and family issues such as abortion, euthanasia, research on embryos, sexuality and marriage; on church and state issues - especially matters of religious freedom, and not least in respect of religious broadcasting where Christians are discriminated against; and on education and the importance of parental choice.
Christians will, rightly, be concerned about many other issues. But these are issues where if Christians do not take action, no one else will.
Of course, evangelism has a priority over political action and argument, as "faith" has a priority (theologically) over "works". Faith in Christ is the only way to begin, really, to live a new life. Unless there is a spiritual revival there is little long term hope for a moral revival in Britain.
But God out of his "common grace" has provided us with laws and governing institutions to restrain evil, to show us our need of a Saviour, and to guide us in right living. Our Christian duty is to pray and therefore, in so far as we can, work for laws and governing institutions that are more, rather than less, in accord with the God's word. So Paul writes to Timothy that he is to pray ...
"... for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2.2-4).