The Wave That Wasn’t
There are no political solutions, certainly not nationalized or federalized solutions, only cultural solutions. The Christian stake in politics is to miniaturize today’s maximized politics.
Dear friends and supporters:
And that’s why they have elections. It seems that both the panic of the Democrats and the glee of the Republicans at the widely predicted red wave were both premature. As I write these lines, the control of the Senate hangs in the balance, to be determined (yet again) by a December Georgia runoff. But the red wave, much less the longed-for red tsunami, simply did not materialize. To the extent there was a GOP victory, it was at best a gently rising swell.
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For 23 years, I’ve led the Center for Cultural Leadership, not the Center for Political Leadership. Politics is only one aspect of culture, and not the most important one, despite the mega-amp it gets from the 24/7 news cycle. Culture, Henry Van Til famously observed, is religion externalized. We at CCL are interested in culture — in religion, in other words — and in politics only as it is a reflection of that underlying religious impulse.
With that proviso in mind, I’ll offer several preliminary cultural observations on the already excessively analyzed 2022 election:
The Cultural Divide
This razor-close election reflects a razor-close cultural divide. The politically conservative intelligentsia is currently roiled over the advisability of embracing a nationally imposed “common good conservatism,” but it’s increasingly clear that most Americans have raced to their corner of the ring to join their respective tribes. They’re not interested in a commonwealth. And as a commonwealth erodes, workable, peaceful political processes are increasingly impossible. This is true whether the society is a hereditary monarchy or a constitutional republic.
The United States in which I was born included two main political parties, at odds over political outcomes, but not over the underlying political philosophy and the procedure for obtaining those outcomes. In other words, both parties were committed to the Founders’ idea of what we today call classical liberalism — religious and political and economic liberty; free-speech; the rule of law; and negotiated politics. Large tribes in American society have increasingly questioned this traditionally American political philosophy. On the Left are Cultural Marxists, who wish to destroy liberty because it permits the dominance of views they find unjust.
On the Right, the populists wish to destroy liberty because it, well, permits the dominance of views they find unjust. They (correctly) disagree with Leftists over what is unjust, but they agree with Leftists on the statist strategy to coerce it. But when you disagree on the political ground rules, political outcomes are always dangerous — even if it’s the outcomes “our” tribe champions. My colleague Brian Mattson declares:
Here’s a newsflash: we are a polarized, divided nation. And sometimes an election like this is good in that it can remind us of this fact. It is so easy to get carried away, to believe your own propaganda, to really believe there is some decisive silent majority just waiting to spring into action, to think that this time we will send the other side into oblivion! Well, the “other side” gets to vote, too.
If you don’t gasp this truth, you might assume you must get your way politically by circumventing and crushing culture, the very culture you claim to be rescuing. But a politically coerced culture is not a just culture.
The Pro-Life and -Death Divide
Second, it is manifestly false that if Americans across the board have the opportunity to criminalize abortion, they will vote to do it. They will vote to criminalize in some states, and not others. We live in a deeply divided country culturally, not just politically and, in fact, politically precisely because culturally. Dobbs overturning Roe created an opportunity, not a panacea. But where there’s an opportunity for godly success, there’s usually an opportunity for ungodly success.
Widespread commitment to legalize abortion is actually much more a cultural problem than a political problem. Roe was the legal success in 1973 precisely because the culture itself had increasingly come to terms with legalized abortion. Dobbs was possible because of a somewhat broad cultural push-back toward life. Broad, but not overwhelming. And the solution to this pro-death legalization is not a federal law criminalizing abortion, which would be ripe for a countervailing federal law forbidding the criminalization of abortion but, rather, state laws criminalizing abortion. That requires cultural change, which, in turn, requires extensive persuasion — under the power of the Holy Spirit.
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Third, we live in an age of messianic politics. The state, and in particular, national political government, is seen as the savior and protector of all things good. This has long been a guiding premise of the Left, and especially in the last few decades with the assimilation of Cultural Marxism, which sees the state as the creator and the guarantor of the just society: sexual, economic, and intellectual egalitarianism. The Left must capture the engine of the federal government in order to drive culture madly toward Utopia.
One of the oddest developments has been the recent messianic politics on the Right. Conservatives, one of whose foundational tenets has been limited government, have cast it aside in favor of grand coercively political visions to destroy the successes of the Left. Few people have put it as starkly as John Daniel Davidson, writing in The Federalist, prominent conservative organ:
The left will only stop when conservatives stop them, which means conservatives will have to discard outdated and irrelevant notions about “small government.” The government will have to become, in the hands of conservatives, an instrument of renewal in American life — and in some cases, a blunt instrument indeed.
If this isn’t tyranny, it’ll do until the tyranny gets here.
It’s also a radically contra-biblical approach. While Israel’s commonwealth was unique, and no political body in the new covenant era is meant to mimic it, it does display God’s basic design for civil government. And it was radically decentralized. The most intense political authority was local, and disputes were handled in an appellate system that ended (only rarely) with Moses himself. When Israel desired the consolidated authority of a king, God demanded Samuel warn them of their centralizing political lust.
Let’s put it simply and boldly: small political government is God’s design.
In radical contrast is God’s assessment of centralized political power. Again and again the ancient empires are depicted as pernicious, the enemies of God and his people. Even when the Lord uses them for his purposes to judge his rebellious people, as he did with nations like Egypt, Babylon and Assyria, he hastily crushes them after they have done his sovereign work. And in John‘s Revelation, the grand political power of ancient Rome is compared to a beast or harlot, doing the bidding of the Satanic Dragon (ch. 13). The state is a monster that the Man-Child born of the woman will overthrow (ch. 12). It is true that civil government in a fallen world is given to suppress external evil (Romans 13), but it may not exceed its severely limited authority. When it does, it becomes a monster.
We might even venture to suggest that behind the relentless desire both Left and Right today is a diabolical impulse, whether those perpetuating it are aware of it or not. Satan is attracted to power, to overthrow God’s authority (Isaiah 14:12–21), and in the modern world power is exercised no more coercively than in politics.
The calling of Christ’s Kingdom people in today’s political climate is to stand against statism both Left and Right. It is to hold that social change is achieved fundamentally by cultural change, which is to say religious change, which in turn is to say the biblical gospel and adherence to biblical law. In the end, there are no political solutions, certainly not nationalized or federalized solutions, only cultural solutions. The Christian stake in politics is to miniaturize today’s maximized politics, and expect widespread cultural success — including politics — before the Second Advent.
The lust for centralized political power is diabolical.
It would be beneficial if our enemies — and our friends — understood this.
On Tuesday Sharon and I are headed to the Growing Kingdom conference outside Mexico City. I'll be addressing five sessions on topics ranging from the present Kingdom, identifying God's chosen people, and an optimistic eschatology. Will you pray for us? This will be our last big trip of 2022.
The annual CCL symposium is coming up December 3. Please contact me if you want to attend. A few more spaces are available.
I deeply appreciate each of you friends and supporters.
Yours for the King,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
The Importance of Prayer
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