Did God Intervene?
Evangelicals are crediting God with securing re-election victory for George W. Bush.
, a historian at Baylor University, says these sorts of beliefs arose with the founding of the nation and persist among certain Christians. "There is a strong cultural belief among Protestant Christians that America is a vehicle for God's will," he says. "If you scratch people enough below the surface, there's this belief that Providence has a hand in everything that happens in America. And at times like this it comes out because it's in the back of people's minds or hearts."
The Puritans believed they were establishing the New Israel and that their enterprise was guided by God--that they were God's chosen people headed for the Promised Land. But that metaphorical idea, that America was a beacon, began to mutate by the early 19th Century into the belief that America was the literal instrument to lead a world transformation to Christian democracy.
"That's been a powerful idea in American history, and it usually lays dormant," Hankins says, "but at times, the language is so powerful that when positive things happen in the eyes of evangelicals, there's a tendency to fall back into that language."
The last time this triumphal view was common was during the Reagan Administration. Before then it was the Cold War struggle of the 1950s. "It was very difficult for evangelicals to stop short of saying God was on our side," Hankins says.
Not all evangelicals buy the argument, however. Erwin McManus, a rising evangelical leader who leads a Los Angeles church calledMosaic
, believes this interpretation is short-sighted and isolationist. "What we really need to ask is, what choices do we make that serve humanity the best and reflect the value system the Bible teaches? How do I relieve the most suffering? How do I do the most good? How do I give people the best options to live the life they should live? How do I create a culture of life?"
McManus, a registered independent who voted for Bush, says members of his conservative, evangelical, Bible-centered church don't believe God intervened in the election. Their average age is 25 and they represent 57 nations. "They feel embarrassed when they hear language that sounds elitist, because that isn't Christian to them," McManus says.
But that isn't how many evangelicals understand their language. They consider it fair warning. Land looks to the Old Testament for proof. "When God's people were idolatrous and rebellious he sent justice--sometimes evil kings and sometimes foreign conquerors," he says. "I've said on numerous occasions, that if God would allow his chosen people to be taken off into captivity, don't think he won't judge the United States."