Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Everybody claims to believe in it. Countries like to have it in their names (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). All recogonize it as a supreme virtue, and as a measure of the "goodness" of a society. While countries like China maintain that they are not able to adopt it completely, none would dare to repudiate it. During the recent elections in Iraq, a political cartoon in the China Daily showed a dove with an olive branch in it's beak flying over a war-torn area (obviously Iraq), and discovering a ballot box. The subheading under the cartoon was one word: Hope.

We say that democracy began with the Greeks, but the democracy of the Greeks was pretty restrictive by modern standards. Certainly there have been experiements with various levels of democracy down through the centuries. But what we understand as "democracy" really began with America. Before the dawn of the great American civilization, nothing like what we take for granted had ever been implemented in any society ever. As I said, there were certain elements of democracy and democratic rule, but America truly is the first of the modern democracies.

How, then, did democracy, this most dangerous of social experiments--this first-cousin to mob rule, come to be viewed as the supreme virtue to which all men and nations ought to aspire? The answer to this question can only be found by understanding where American freedom came from. Americans were blessed with a very unusual measure of freedom, because America was founded by people who went to America because they wanted to be able to worship God freely. A number of years ago, I took my children to the Mayflower (a complete replica), and the Plymouth Plantation (a living history community, where historians dress in period costumes, and play the roles of the original pilgrims). As I was standing there in that community with my children, I saw some soldiers in period costumes, marching back toward the village. I watched for awhile, and it became evident that this was a militia made up of men from the community. I picked out one of them, who was playing the role of a blacksmith. I followed him into his blacksmith shop, and watched him take off his armour,

"I saw you marching out there. Who are you defending yourselves from?"

"The Spaniards."

"Why are you worried about the Spaniards?"

"Because they are Papists, and we fear and hate them."

"But you don't get along very well with the Church of England, either, and they're not Papists."

"They might as well be."

The Pilgrims were separatists. They were extremely independent, and isolationist. When they first landed, they were obliged, by the circumstances, to tolerate among them the presence of the ship's crew, who could not return immediately to England. They hated this. Ordinarily they would not have anything to do with "strangers." But in this situation, they had no choice, so they drew up an agreement called the Mayflower Compact, which was basically, in their minds, a written agreement between the saved and the damned. You can read any number of copies of the Mayflower Compact on the Internet, but what is missing from all of them is what you see if you actually go to the Plymouth Plantation, which is the statement that this is a covenant between the "Saints and Strangers." The "Saints," of course, are the saved. The "Strangers" are the damned. The Pilgrims were not missionaries. They were hyper-Calvinists. But they changed their world because of their determination to be themselves, and to honor God above all things.

I said all this to say that America became a great nation, and a great civilization precisely because of people like this. God blessed America because of people who were determined to honor His name. Becuase they feared Him, he could risk letting them have democracy. But democracy in and of itself is not good government. Democracy just means "rule of the people." If the people are good, you have good government. If the people are evil, you have evil government. There is nothing about democracy that is inherently better than a monarchy. If you have a good king,you have good government. If you have a bad king, you have bad government. Now, it is true that a democracy is very good if the people have a standard of righteousness. But it is the right living of the people that makes a nation great, not democracy per se.

This is where America has fallen. When once the Americans gave glory to God, they were, in turn, given a great measure of freedom, a freedom so great and so profound, that they were able to implement something as risky as democracy without harm. But now, instead of giving glory to God for their freedom, they give glory to democracy. And instead of bringing to the nations their message of hope through sound Christian principles (as MacArthur sought to do in Japan), they are exporting democracy. The Americans believe that democracy exalts a nation, and that tyranny is a reproach to any people. But the Bible says, righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people. The Biblical value does not set well with most Americans, because Americans tend to prefer a sinful democracy. So they strive to make America (and every other country) more democratic, but in the process, they have had to sacrifice freedom, because freedom comes from God, not from democracy.

America is getting more democratic. There's no question about that. A few days after I finished high school, I hitchhiked across the country from Oregon to Florida. In Florida, I got involved with a project by the Miami Baptist Association, where we were sharing the Gospel with demonstrators in the streets during the Democratic Convention. At the time, although I was certainly interested in current events, I was not that interested in politics, because I did not believe that political systems had the answer to the basic problem of man, which is alienation from God. There was a lot of talk about revolution in those days, but what I was most interested in was spiritual revolution. It was 1972, and Hubert Humphrey showed up at the convention without having run in the primaries, hoping to be drafted by the convention. He was a generation too late. That's how they used to do things in the old days, but things had changed by 1972. And after 1972, the rules were changed even more, so that the selection of party candidates has gotten more and more democratic all the time. There is nothing in the Constitution that mandates this. All parties have a right to select their own candidates their own way. But the parties have chosen to "democratize" to the extent that now the candidate of the party is pretty much a foregone conclusion by the time of the party convention. No more floor fights. No second or third or fourth ballots. It's all a done deal before the convention even starts. So America is significantly more democratic in the way presidential canditates are selected. But does this mean that America is more free?

Prior to the eighties, when the equal time provision was lifted, a phenomenon like Rush Limbaugh would not have been possible. Radio stations that aired a program which could be identified as having a political position, were obliged, by law, to give equal time to the opposing position. Since Rush Limbaugh's program is three hours long, the cost of finding enough people to fill that much time with stuff that advertisers would not be willing to pay for would be prohibitive. But things changed. After the equal time provision was lifted, stations didn't have to fill that requirement. They could air any opinions they liked. This, of course, made people like Limbaugh wealthy, but tended to frustrate those from the other end of the political spectrum, who felt that Rush Limbaugh's viewpoints should be balanced with equal time. Limbaugh's response to all this was vintage Rush, "Wrong. I am equal time!"

But it started before Rush. It was Ted Turner, really, who opened things up. Before he came along, there was a mainstream position in the press (at least the television press) that was decidedly liberal. So when you watched a show like Washington Week in Review, which contained political commentary, what you got was several different versions of the standard, politically correct position. Ted Turner changed all that. The show was called "Crossfire." I first saw it in 1981. Pat Buchanan on the right and Tom (Eight is Enough) Braden on the left. I was astounded. Journalists who would actually admit that their viewpoints were either "left" or "right?" TV journalism was never the same after that. It never used to be that way when I was a kid. Clearly the people have more choices now.

But do they really have more freedom? I don't think so. I believe that freedom has been steadily eroded for most Americans. It started with the Supreme Court decision which many believe outlawed prayer in school. In fact, the Supreme Court ruling did not actually outlaw prayer. It merely said that the State of New York could not dictate prayers which students would be required to pray. Well, this provision was widely interpreted to mean that, in order to avoid lawsuits, a school would be better off just not having any prayer at all. I was a country school teacher in North Dakota during the eighties, and I had prayer with my students quite often. But I was particular. I never forced anyone to pray, and I never, never suggested a prayer that students should pray. I always made it optional. You see, prayer in school is actually not illegal. But because of the Supreme Court, and the role it plays in American society, freedom was effectively restricted for most Americans.

The second major restriction of freedom came with the Supreme Court decision in 1973, when a lady in Texas (who now admits she was lying) said she had been raped and needed to have an abortion. The Supreme court not only allowed the abortion, they said that individual states no longer had the freedom to pass laws restricting abortion rights. This ruling spawned a whole host of other provisions, such as the common practice of providing abortions to high school students without the consent or even knowledge of their parents. The freedom and independence of families has been sacrificed on the altar of democracy and individuality. How could this happen in America? Because America is a democracy ruled by a people who have forgotten God.

The third major restriction in freedom came in the decade of the seventies. Between 1970 and 1980, 48 states out of 50 passed "no fault" divorce laws. These laws were supposed to make divorce less acrimonious, because neither spouse would be tempted to "invent" accusations of adultry in order to get out of an unwanted marriage. But the "no fault" divorce actually exacerbated the problem considerably, because it made divorce easier, and the presence of children in the conflict ensured that there would still be plenty of animostiy. Children are now basically viewed as wards of the State, and the State decides whether or not you get to keep your family together.

The fourth and most recent restriction in freedom has to do with the most "sacred" of rights in a market economy, and that is the right to private property. In the case of Kelo v. City of New London last June, the Supreme Court allowed the City of New London, Connecticut to seize property from individuals who did not want to sell it, for the purpose of creating a new large business development. This case is controversial, and perhaps a bit confusing to some, because most Americans are familiar with the concept of eminent domain. It is widely understood that governments have the right and authority to take land (with compensation) from private individuals for public use. Some naturally wonder why this case should be any different, or how the case could even be argued. But this case is very different. One of the most basic tenets of English Common Law is that the government may not take private property from one person, and give it to another person. In Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court basically forced private individuals to yield their private property to other individuals to be owned by them as private property. The court's reason was that this was going to be used for business which would benefit the public, and help the economy. But this is tortured logic. Private property is private property, and either we respect it or we don't. The point is that for the first time in American history, the government was allowed to violate one of the most fundamental principles of a free society.

How then, came this great democratic civilization to voluntariy surrender it's freedoms one by one? The reason, of course, is that a democracy ruled by a people who do not value freedom, will not, ultimately, be a free society. Freedom, then, does not come from democracy. It comes from God, as a gift to a righteous people. America is clearly a civilization in decline. I believe this is because America has turned from God. And because of this, certain forms of unrighteousness have been institutionalized. Every time there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, we begin to hear a lot of discussion about about whether a given candidate is "liberal" or "conservative." But when it comes to an issue like abortion, the discussion is largely irrelevant, because we seem to have evolved a status quo such that no candidate can be approved without giving assurance the he or she will not make any decisions that might encroach upon the institutionalized slaughter of innocent unborn children. On the plane flying down from Beijing last Friday, I was listening to the NPR podcast of the Roberts confirmation hearings. It was both amusing and pathetic to hear the kind of causuistry that a candidate is "forced" to engage in to get through one of these confirmations. Roberts reaffirmed his commitment, made when he became a federal judge, to the principle that Roe v. Wade was "settled law." But he stopped short of promising not to overturn it. His statements were made in such a way that organizations like Planned Parenthood do not have confidence that he will protect their "reproductive freedom,” and thus oppose his nomination. But if he ever does vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, those same groups will probably say, with some justification, that he dissembled during the hearings. How could the discussion of such basic principles as the sanctity of human life be turned into such a circus in a Christian society? The answer is simple. America is not a Christian society. America is a democracy. A democracy ruled by people who no longer believe in the sanctity of human life.

But what does this have to do with China? Quite a bit, actually, because so much of the talk about China coming from the West centers around human rights and the need for democracy. But democracy is not the answer for China. The best description of the spiritual condition of China is found in Luke 11:24-26:

"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first."

Clearly, the demon has been cast out. The Cultural Revolution is over. During the three year period before I came to China, I read a lot of books about the Cultural Revolution. Most of them were personal narratives. Of course everyone's story is different, but there was one thing they all seemed to have in common. At the beginning, the authors of these narratives were believers in the system, but they all became disillusioned with the god they had worshiped. And in every one of these books, I could identify the point where they stopped believing. A graduate student at Arizona State University once told me, "In China, we have lost our religion." So many times since I have come to China, I have heard someone say, "We Chinese don't believe in anything," or "We Chinese have nothing to believe in. This is our problem." Never before have I heard so many people express such sentiments.

Many people here ask me how I feel about China, and especially about the future of China. I always tell them that I believe China is at a critical crossroads. It is as if God has given China a second chance. If China turns toward God, and follows after truth and justice and right living, then this country will be blessed as never before. But if the people are thinking only about making money, then the future for China will be very dark. There is a tremendous spiritual vacuum on this country. The only question is who or what will fill it.

I love freedom. I thank God for freedom. But I don't thank God for democracy, because I can't. I don't live in a democratic country. I don't have democracy. But I do have freedom. Freedom to live and work and worship God. Religion is regulated in China, but this does not mean that China does not have freedom. And there is much talk about websites being blocked, but I listen to Christian radio every day, and I have never had trouble getting through.

So what about China and democracy? As I said before, it is righteousness that exalts a nation, not democracy. If China has righteousness with or without democracy, China will be blessed. But democracy without righteousness would be devastating. I cannot imagine a worse fate for this country. And what about America? In many ways, the case of America is more precarious, because America is a civilization that once had the light and is now in the process of turning from it. It has happened before. Having been delivered by God from the bondage of Egypt "with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm," the Children of Israel, instead of giving glory to God, built a golden calf and offered their thanks to this idol. Democracy is the "golden calf" of the Americans.

During the sixties, we used to watch a program called, "Slattery's People," which always opened with the following line (obviously a paraphrase of Churchill):

"Democracy is a very bad form of government, but I ask you never to forget it; all the others are so much worse!"

The first part of that statement is still true. But we can no longer be sure about the second part. Why is this? It is because America has turned from the light. The money still says, "In God We Trust," but if it were expressing the sentiment of the American people today, it would say, "In Democracy We Trust." But God is not mocked. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Because the Americans refuse to give glory to God for their freedom, because the Americans persist in their unbelief, and in the mindless slaughter of the innocent, with no sense of accountability except to the democratic process, God, in His infinite wisdom, has allowed that the Americans should experience greater and greater democracy, all the while enjoying less and less freedom.

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