The last election’s missing component: The clergy

| December 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  The Holy Bible: King James Version, Ephesians 6:12

Since election night, pundits, analysts, commentators and educators have extolled every conceivable hypothesis as to the causes that generated the results of the election. Did the GOP rely too heavily on the unemployment and approval ratings? How have the demographics changed? What group contributed the most towards the end result? Hispanics, blacks, single females, etc.? Tremendous time and effort is being expended to record, analyze, dissect, extrapolate, postulate and theorize, as to the cause of the results of the last presidential election. Like the old axiom that ponders the eternal question of the tree falling in the forest making a sound if no one is around to hear it; the new question would seem to be, what if the right message is being announced, and no one is in possession of a mind healthy enough to respond? All these individuals so deep in such earnest activity appear to be overlooking, what I feel is the most obvious answer, and not acknowledging it. Is it reasonable to believe that so many intelligent individuals are that short-sighted? I find that possibility to be highly doubtful. Rather, I believe the solution to be so obvious, that in today’s climate, it is considered to be no longer attainable, and therefor unmentioned.

GOP strategists are not considering the one primary ally that has heretofore long existed in the culture war, but recently has noticeably been too absent from the battlefield of ideas for far too long. It is not so much that the GOP message is what is in need of clarification,  rather I submit for consideration,  the tragic possibility that there is no longer in existence, a sufficient number of citizens cognizant and capable of appreciating  it. Most every ideal put forth in this last election was valid. Individual freedom and responsibility. Individuals rewarded, not punished, for the energy and industry they input into society. Self-autonomy. Simply put basic tried and true American ideals that worked and were sought after by peoples from all over this planet. So what has changed? What transpired to make that message fall on what appears to be, so deaf a collective ear? The one component yet to be adequately discussed in this matter is the church, and its activities, or rather lack thereof. However, this has not always been so.

When the American Revolution commenced, it did not simply spring into being over- night. No such movement, neither for good nor for evil, can in an instant, spring into existence. The ill named “Arab Spring” was not just an organic perchance birth. Neither was our American Revolution. It would be shocking for many today, whose proper understanding of history has been so perverted and curtailed, to be fully cognizant of the fact that all of the rights set forth by Mr. Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence, were nothing more than a culmination of church sermons that had been espoused from church pulpits for more than two decades prior to 1776. Despite the various denominations, ministers of God collectively put forth the very ideas of freedom that fomented into the minds and hearts of many of the citizens. These ministers were unashamed to speak the truth, in a courageous and uncompromising manner. So important to the cause of the American Revolution, that even the British leaders recognized their importance in their ability to inspire and motivate the American common man. This identification of the impact of American ministers was so readily and publically apparent, that they even attached a moniker to those renowned hearty men behind those pulpits from those days of old. The British nicknamed these messengers of the Gospel as “The Black Robed Regiment,” as most all ministers of the Gospel in that day, were traditionally garbed in black robes. The performance of these men, the sermons they gave, and the courage they both displayed and brought forth from their congregations during the Revolutionary period was not unique; they were simply continuing what ministers had been doing to shape American government and culture in the century and a half preceding the Revolution.

Beginning with Virginia in 1606, ministers such as Robert Hunt, Richard Burke, William Mease, Alexander Whitaker and William Wickham were a part of this movement.  In 1619 they played an important role in forming America’s first representative government: the Virginia House of Burgesses, whose members were elected from among the people.  When in assembly, the legislature originally met in the Jamestown church and every session was opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Bucke. Due to the constraints of space, many of the legislators were seated in the church choir loft to conduct legislative business.  So, history observes and records that the first movement toward democracy in America was inaugurated in the house of God and with the blessing of the ministers of God. Less than two decades later, in 1620, the Pilgrims came ashore in Massachusetts in order to establish their colony. Their pastor, John Robinson, issued them the charge to elect civil leaders who would not only seek the “common good” but who would also eliminate special privileges and status between governors and the governed. A highly unheard of and certainly a most radical departure from the practice that was currently being utilized around the rest of the world at that time. The Pilgrims took Robinson’s charge with vigor and zeal and immediately set about organizing a representative government and holding annual elections. Thirteen years later, they had also succeeded in enacting a citizen’s bill of rights in 1636, America’s first. In 1630, the Puritans arrived and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and under the leadership of their ministers, they, too, established representative government with annual elections. By 1641, they also had established a Bill of Rights.  In 1636, the Rev. Roger Williams established the Rhode Island Colony and its representative form of government, explaining that “The sovereign, original, and foundation of civil power lie in the people.”

The power and influence of the American pulpit being enormously responsible for American independence and government, was not lost on our own founding fathers.  John Adams rejoiced that “the pulpits have thundered”  and specifically identified several ministers as being among the “characters the most conspicuous, the most ardent, and influential” in the “awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings” that led to American independence. Before the politically correct rewriting of history began, subsequent generations also acknowledged, the great and positive influence of the Revolution. In 1898, Methodist bishop and church historian Charles Galloway rightly observed of these ministers:

“Mighty men they were, of iron nerve and strong hand and unblanched cheek and heart of flame. God needed not reeds shaken by the wind, not men clothed in soft raiment [Matthew 11:7-8], but heroes of hardihood and lofty courage. . . . And such were the sons of the mighty who responded to the Divine call.”

The notion that everyone in America was ripe for Revolution is not historically factual. Of course there were British Tories who did not want to split from England, but there were many who, like today, simply sat on the fence. Today, they would be considered “undecided voters.” It was as much the force of spirit and fire of passion that emanated from American pulpits that gave fuel to the fire of American independency, which carried forth America into being. But realize at this point, that even though they were “ undecided” they were in church.  The American clergy were faithful exponents of the fullness of God’s Word, applying its principles to every aspect of life, thus shaping America’s institutes and culture. They rightfully assumed their proper position in the forefront proclaiming liberty, resisting tyranny, and opposing any encroachments on God-given rights and freedoms. It was through the actions of Christian ministers, which made the establishment in America, freedoms and opportunities found nowhere else on the planet at the time. Even in Great Britain, this form of liberty was not in existence. Is it any wonder then, these ministers were the “tip of the spear “usually leading the charge ant at the forefront of resisting encroachments on the civil and religious liberties that they had helped secure. Due to their strong leadership, ministers were often targeted by the British.  Christian ministers provided courageous leadership throughout the Revolution, and as briefly noted earlier, they had also been largely responsible for laying its intellectual foundation. King George fully realized this. This is why the British abused, killed, or imprisoned many, and those misters  often suffered harsher treatment and more severe penalties than did ordinary imprisoned soldiers. British officers targeted not just ministers but also their churches. As a result, of the nineteen church buildings in New York City, ten were destroyed by the British, and many of the churches in Virginia suffered the same fate.  This pattern was repeated throughout the American Revolution, which inspired the church destruction scene from the Mel Gibson movie “The Patriot”.  It is a part of recorded history: Christian ministers provided courageous leadership throughout the Revolution, and they were the ones who created its  foundation. It was that foundation upon which our nation’s independence was predicated. The reason that our fight for independence was successful, against all logical odds, was due to the fact that the ministers of the Gospel had prepared the citizenry for the right message at the right time. Had the minds of the citizens not been properly educated and prepared, the spirit of 1776 would probably not have been. No doubt, we would be nationally enjoying tea at the same time across the country, and flying the Union Jack and the British Lion as flags over our structures.

What became of that courageous spirit? Where did the leadership go? We know that that spirit existed in the citizenry. It is what gave the men of WWI the courage to fight the war to end all wars. It fueled the passion and spirit of sacrifice exhibited by the sons of those men in WWII, when America supplied the men and materials to save the free world a second time. The spirit was there, and still is today. However, that spirit lacked leadership from the pulpit. My father served in the military during WWII and Korea. I grew up in American Legion Halls and VFW Posts. I listened to tales of courage that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will never transcribe onto the silver screen. I also heard something else. A question of faith. These were men who were half way around the earth, having in many times, never been further than sixty miles away from their homes and communities. These men saw atrocities and in many cases, in order to survive, participated in atrocities, beyond human comprehension. They saw in Europe, lifestyles of licentiousness and debauchery hardly whispered of here in the states, but practiced with ease on the streets of France. Ever wonder why the divorce rate soared upon the return home of our soldiers post WWII?  When they returned home, they were also full of sights and sounds and memories that would shape them for the rest of their lives. My uncle, who was a USMC Sniper, for years, had to fight the urge to react, when a flash photograph was taken of him. These men were full of questions. Their faith was tested. Unfortunately, the church which had a tremendous opportunity to spread and increase faith, tragically, remained silent and failed to adjust their methods to the post WWII era. These men were left with too many questions, and due to the absence of the ministerial leadership found in the pulpit in America’s beginning, were left to the secular humanistic answers that were readily available.

The Greatest Generation was a highly productive lot. They stayed busy for two reasons. These men wanted to catch up on the young adulthood that WWII had robbed them of. They were making up for lost time. The second reason, they wanted to keep busy, so as not to think about and recall the atrocities they were forced to experience. The silence behind the pulpits left them to figure it out on their own. Scripture and history show us, that man doing that, seldom gets it right. The removal of God from the public arena in 1963 transpired relatively quietly. When you examine the micro tapes of newspapers of that period, very little is said about that decision. Yet, just ten years later in 1973, we found the abomination of the killing of the innocent unborn, established as a regular part of American life. All the while, there was no thunder form the pulpits. Thus, the seeds of a culture of diseased minds were being planted and fertilized. As the Biblical concept states repeatedly, you will reap what you sow, and more than you sowed. Well, here are. We now have a culture that embraces those characteristics and principles that  stand as being diametrically opposed to every concept and ideal that America was conceived in and founded upon.

Were mistakes made and opportunities lost in this last presidential election? Certainly, every human endeavor, whether deemed a success or failure, can lay claim to the same statement. Having said that however, I believe those political analysts and those engaged in the science of cultural and social observation can no longer overlook the importance of the one demographic I am not hearing about. The new American mind or rather lack thereof. If the GOP attempts to take upon itself a new initiative, trying to redefine itself to create an appeal to those who, due to intellectual inabilities, are unable to grasp the one intangible yet most important aspect of what America is—that Spirit of America if you will—then it will fail. Why? Because those of us who still retain a remnant of that Spirit, simply could not follow. The GOP and conservatives had better pay attention to the county by county map of the last presidential election, and soberly consider exactly how it plans to adapt. Just as in cells, not all mutations can assure continued life. Having said that, I believe it is far past time for American ministers to wake up from their stupor, and get into the fight, while there still exists a little time to do so. Insanity is defined as repeating the same activity, with the expectation of a different result. The church, in order to make itself relevant to society once more, must therefore stand apart, and cease its attempts to compromise and end its actions of emulating the culture. People don’t desire dramatic presentations to rival local live theater. They are not looking for a rock concert. They are looking for that which is different, immutable, and unshakeable. The storms are now raging, and the waves are tossing the American ship of state. We still have a rudder, but our compass is broken. Scanning the shores, we need to see a lighthouse. Standing out and standing up. We need thundering pulpits and the voices of men sounding forth the truth again, so that it echoes across the land. If all we continue to hear is a rampant silence, and apparent denial of how close to the rocks we are, then the neither GOP nor any other party, stands a chance of stemming the tide. It is not just sex, ethnicity, nor economy that matters. All of these are important segments, but all are joined equally joined upon the condition of the heart and mind of the populace.

History records and demonstrates that this nation’s elective governments, educational system, and positive aspects of American life and culture are the end result and proven by-product of Biblical-thinking Christian clergy and political leaders. Presently however, as the influence of the church and its ministers has dissipated these institutions have suffered repeated and unprecedented attack. Should we then be surprised to find that most of our traditional freedoms have been significantly eroded? American ministers have failed to recognize this concept. The need for religious leadership must be restored, and American ministers must reclaim the important position of influence they have been given. Rev. Charles Finney, during what is now known as the Second Great Awakening, was cognizant of this, and he warned the ministers of his day:

“Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it. Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.”

Simply put, my advice for 2016, should Christ tarry and allow us a few more spins around the sun, is that ministers need to speak the truth, and speak it out loudly. GOP, Conservative, TEA Party leaders and the rest, encourage and enlist those that do so. Your chances against the opposition’s machine are paltry without the spirit, passion and leadership contained therein. America could not have accomplished its independency without out it in 1776, and America needs the same more desperately now. For now our enemies are both foreign and domestic.

About the Author:

HANK MARTIN is a Charlottesville native, a graduate of Albemarle High School and Piedmont Virginia Community College. Growing up, he spent more than a decade in the Cub and Boy Scout Programs and was a member of the Monticello Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. As an adult, he has served as a leader in Scouting and church youth character building programs. An avid history lover, he participated in the adoption of the school anti-bullying legislation sponsored by delegate Rob Bell. Hank most recently founded and chaired Forever Albemarle, a personal property rights group. He lives with his wife and children in Charlottesville.
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