Now that the election is over, what do you observe in the nation's mood?
These are tough times. When we trace the headwaters of our conflict back to their source, it seems to me the real question we're wrestling with is, What does America do with God? What do we do with God? One extreme says, There is no God. The other extreme says God should determine what tie the president wears everyday.
A lot of unfair statements are being bantered back and forth between the red states and the blue states, a lot of misinterpretation. If I could take the whole nation, I'd put the whole nation on a prayer altar and say, "God help us." Unity is the most difficult thing to achieve; it's even more difficult to maintain-it's a work of the Holy Spirit. And now we have people who are really polarized from one extreme to another. What do we do with God? I think only God can help us answer this. So I would urge the country to watch their language. I think some of our political talk shows are like wrestling matches, just kind of, let's get in there and beat each other up.
Can we bring the extremes together?
If I could wave the magic wand, you know what I would do? In my office I have a little prayer altar, and when I do marriage counseling, I urge those couples to quit using inflammatory language. I mean, that's just a rule; in my office you can't call her names, you can't speak with generalizations, you can't say, "He always does this." I really work with them on the language they use because that inflames people. What I do is, I get the husband and wife to kneel at the prayer altar and I pray for them. It's a very tender moment. They're kneeling side-by-side; sometimes they're not even touching. You can see sometimes they're squeezing to one end or the other-it's only a little four-foot prayer altar. But I have never ceased to be amazed how when they stand up afterwards , there's a sweetness to their spirit. It may take five or six sessions, but when they leave my office I've noticed when I work with them on prayer, it softens their hearts.
Is there a way that religious leaders like you can help heal the rift?
I think so. I certainly have a responsibility in my church. You know, I can't pastor the whole world but in our church, the Sunday after the election, we all got on our knees and we asked God to heal the country.
We all got on our knees. And we're not a kneeling church. We don't even have kneelers-I wish we did--but I said, This is such a big deal. And I said, We're not Democrats or Republicans in here. We believe nations exist to serve God; God doesn't exist to serve the nation but we serve him. Let's ask for him to take over now. And I think that's the role of the clergy.
You may have heard some Christians saying that God had, essentially, intervened in the election to have Bush be re-elected. What do you make of that idea?
I think if you believe in a sovereign God, then you say, "God, here's what I want, but your will be done." And a Christian should be just as much at peace had John Kerry won as he should be now that George Bush has won. You know, God doesn't exist to bless the nations, but nations exist to bless God. And that's something that we've missed, somewhere along the lines I think.
Really, America exists to be a studio in which God can do his work; all nations do, all nations do. The only exception might be Israel, depending on your interpretation--there seems to be a unique connection between God and Israel. But the rest of the nations since the beginning of time to the end of time are used by God to advance his cause. God is not beholden to any particular nation. But we've almost thought that God is an American God. That's a dangerous road to get on.
Do you lead a red-state congregation, primarily?
We're pretty much a red-state church. But some of our strongest members are diehard Democrats, and I think they feel included. I don't put a bumper sticker on my car; I don't want anybody to know how I vote. I do everything I can to urge people to remember that God was the one who chooses the leaders of a nation even if the leaders don't choose God. We didn't have anyone leave during election, I know that.