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FIRST-PERSON: America the beautiful?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Richards is executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) — The line “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” was first written by Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem “An Essay on Criticism.” I suppose that should be the title for my column.

I have refrained from expressing my opinion on a number of matters due to my role as a unifier. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the expansive but definitive statement under which I serve the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. My responsibility to the Lord is to do everything I can do to help the churches accomplish the Great Commission through cooperation. However, in the chaos of our current situation my conscience will not allow me to hold my tongue any longer. Some may think my commentary is not in my purview. I believe this is a pastoral word for all of us.

The New World in North America was settled by people seeking religious liberty. The founding of the English colonies was primarily by people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Declaration of Independence was written, theological language was included. The God of the Bible’s actions of creation, judgment and providence are mentioned. Thomas Jefferson, who was no orthodox Christian, crafted these words. Many of the Founding Fathers were professed believers in Jesus Christ. Until the mid-20th century much of the culture was heavily influenced by Christianity. With that being said, we must recognize those who professed our Lord were people like us with clay feet.

We are flawed individuals with Adam’s nature. Even believers are capable of committing some heinous acts. Native American peoples were abused, lied to and almost annihilated. People from Africa were transported to America and forced to suffer the ignominy of bondage. Later under Jim Crow, African Americans were maligned and murdered. Treated like second-class citizens, they suffered unimaginable injustices. Loyal Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps. Italians and the Irish people faced mistreatment when they migrated to the golden shore. Hispanic people have often been abused and marginalized. Although America was to be a melting pot, it has often been a boiling pot.

Sin is sickening. It engenders strife, hatred and desire for revenge. What are we to do as believers? The most obvious and most enduring answer is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution and to display that Gospel in a Holy Spirit-empowered life of holiness. This is the ultimate answer for ultimate justice.

But it is not the only answer for justice now. As Christians we have a Romans 13 obligation to obey the governmental authorities. As Americans we have the unique privilege to determine who those authorities are under the sovereign hand of God. Anarchists would seek to deconstruct the American system, replacing it with something that does not resemble our present form of government.

While Christians are no longer the influential cultural force we once were, we can still be salt and light. Let’s improve our system rather than change it radically to something it has never been. The provision for religious liberty remains in our current system. The avenues to right injustice are present in our republic.

Sadly, I must admit that the church has abdicated to the government the role of minister. We ask the government to “take care of us.” With the breakdown of the family, we see the government trying to provide for the poor, educate our children and care for the aged. If the church was the church these challenges would be met with a practical Christianity as described in the Book of James. It’s not social justice that we need. We need biblical justice.

July 4th should be a day to thank God we live in a country where grievances can be addressed. Hundreds of thousands have given their lives so that we can express ourselves. Let’s be civil as Americans and Spirit-controlled as Christians to work toward a more equitable, just and God-honoring United States of America.

    About the Author

  • Jim Richards