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.
The difficulty on this election is that we've been dealing with two values in particular--both of which are introduced with the word "sanctity." That is, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life. Sanctity is a holy word; it's a religious word. You're talking about gay marriage, you're talking about stem cell research, which leads us into a discussion again on abortion. These are difficult issues for Christians because for most Christians, they're not optional. They're not something we have a say in; God spoke on these-it's not up to us to change, so this is a difficult one.
One of the things that amazes me about Jesus is that when he had a moral difference with somebody, he drew near to that person and they dialogued about it. There's the story about little Zaccheus, the tax collector; the guy was a crook, but he could legitimately justify his income through the way he interpreted the law--but it was wrong. Jesus hung out with him, and as a result there was a change in Zaccheus's life.
I wish there could be some way in which people who have a preconceived notion of the church, of religious people, could hang out with church-going people for a while. I think that they think every time we're in church we're beating the abortion drum or bashing gay people. We're not doing that-most people are not doing that. We're struggling like everybody else, trying to figure out what we're supposed to be doing in life. So I wish there could be some way that blue states could kind of intermingle with the red states.
And then vice-versa, I wish we could come to a better understanding of the struggle that a homosexual has and why abortion seems to be such a threat to so many people who are pro-choice. There's not that dialogue taking place right now.
What about blue state Christians? What can they offer red state people?
Just because a state is red, doesn't mean there's no blue in it. And so, we really need the Christians in the blue states to keep us from swinging out of touch with reality and keep us from gloating. There's a tendency right now among the conservatives to feel like God gave us the mandate. I feel like if God gave us anything, he gave us a second chance, to kind of catch our breath and evaluate where we were headed--but God despises the proud and he gives grace to the humble.
What can you say to Christians who not only live in the blue states, but who also happen to be blue state voters? That would include Democrats and Republicans who voted for Kerry.
The first thing we should say is, "Hello brother, Hello sister." You know, `cause we're still together, we're still in God's family. A person's not a Christian because of their political beliefs; a person is a Christian because they believe in what Christ did for them on the cross. And so we cannot let the sacrifice of Christ on the cross be forgotten; that's what unifies us. Beneath the shadow of the cross is where we have these conversations, albeit very difficult ones. I would say to Christians in the Democratic Party, "Stay strong. Stay faithful. If God has placed you there, God's placed another person in the Republican Party. But remember the purpose is not to promote a party; the purpose is to find God."
If, as you say, Republican Christian values are pro-marriage and pro-life, what are the values of Democratic Christians?
Traditionally, they've had a deeper concern for the poor, for the forgotten among us--greater equality among the cultures, especially for immigrants. They've been more concerned over men's and women's equality; I think that's still something that needs to be addressed. The Democrats have traditionally really helped our nation in the area of racism; I mean where would we be if not for the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s? Jimmy Carter was one of the best presidents America's ever had; there's a man who entered the office in faith and, like George Bush, was criticized for making decisions on his knees. I can remember reading an article like that in 1979; he said he made a decision on his knees. Well, now Bush gets the criticism.
Or the adulation.
Or the adulation, depending on where you come from. And so I believe the Democratic Christians bring a lot to the conversation. Nobody has a monopoly on values, neither party.
So how do we heal?
Well, we get this prayer altar. And have it stretched from one side of the nation to the next..
I say that tongue-in-cheek, but if there was some way, if there really is a God and if that God loves all his children and that God loves unity, then I believe God can create unity among his people.
I know that the secularists would have a heyday with it, but if the president could call for a national day of prayer of reconciliation, if there could be some type of bipartisan effort, if we could see 100 senators on the steps of the Capitol asking God to help us.. Those are days we don't see much anymore. And it would be a wonderful, wonderful thing to offer.