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Land tackles liberal-conservative divide


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Is America really a divided nation?

It is easy to come to that conclusion if you’re watching cable news shows with their “24/7 shouting matches,” Richard Land observes.

While the news programs have value, “Americans are being led to believe the nation is more divided over the issue of religion than it actually is,” Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in an interview.

Land, whose new book, “The Divided States of America? What liberals and conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!” was released this month, believes there is room for “balanced discussion of serious disagreements” and there is “common ground” that can be reached without necessitating compromise.

In fact, when it comes to God’s proper role in American life, many on both the right and the left have it wrong, Land said.

It is not a lukewarm middle-of-the-road position he is staking out, Land said, but a reasonable position supported by history and Scripture. He finds fault with those who warn that “theocrat bogeymen” prowl the countryside and who grouse that faith in public life invariably leads to a theocracy. And he criticizes those he calls “Christian reconstructionists,” whose aim is to rewire the U.S. government to favor the Christian faith above all others.

Some Christians, Land said, make the mistake of allowing patriotism to become an idol. “If you make nationalism your ultimate value, then you have made it your religion, you have made it your god,” he said. “Yet Christians are taught to have no other gods before our God, who is the one true God. We must always give our ultimate allegiance to God, not to any country, even America.

“We have to cultivate the posture and the habit of someone like Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to make sure he was on God’s side, which is very different than assuming that God is on your side,” Land said, suggesting the problem with many liberals “is that too often they do not think that God has a side.”

“He does,” Land added.

Land’s posture on the God’s rightful role in America was the spark that led him to author The Divided States of America?

The book, released by Thomas Nelson Publishers, asserts that “it is possible to affirm and practice belief in God while simultaneously practicing a rigorous separation of church and state.”

“My goal in this book,” Land said, “is to get people to think about the role that religion should and should not play in America’s future and to help people understand that there is more agreement on that matter than many think.

“I want to help liberals understand I do not want state-sponsored religion any more than they do because state-sponsored religion destroys religion and it interferes with what some have called the ‘sacred sanctuary of the soul,'” Land continued. “No government has a right to interfere with a person’s relationship with God. That is between them and God, and it must be wholly voluntary.”

The majority of Americans do not want the government promoting religion, but neither do they want the government censoring and suppressing religious expression, Land said. “They want the government to acknowledge and protect their right to express their values and their beliefs in the public square — whatever those beliefs and values are,” he said.

America’s founders were, for the most part, operating from a Christian or Judeo-Christian worldview. “Some of them were very serious Christians,” Land said, “and some of them were not,” but the writers of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution “sought to wed those Judeo-Christian values with enlightenment ideas of self-government.”

They were not seeking to establish a “Christian nation,” Land said. Americans live under a pluralistic model, he said, where everyone has the right to express their own faith and the government is obligated to “make sure everybody plays fair — that the minority does not get to silence the majority and the majority is not allowed to silence the minority.”

“People should not have to accept my opinion just because it is faith-based, but because it is faith-based does not disqualify it from the debate,” Land said.

“As believers, we have an equal opportunity to make our case in the public square, just as does a nonbeliever,” he continued.

“To be told you cannot bring your religious convictions to bear on public policy issues because that would be a violation of separation of church and state is just nonsense,” Land said, adding, “It boils down to discrimination against people who have religious convictions.

“In our country’s history, religion has always played a major role. And I believe it always should, particularly in a country that is as religious as America is,” Land said.

Land’s new book, The Divided States of America? has garnered endorsements from a diverse audience, with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Harvard University professor Peter Gomes and Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, among others, expressing appreciation for the book’s call to readers to search for common ground despite the din of the ongoing “God-and-country shouting match.”

Land probes the question of “what God really does have to do with America,” suggesting both sides in the debate are wasting “precious time and resources” in endeavors that threaten to “take the place of the kind of moral and spiritual reformation that we so desperately need.”

“It is a fallacy to assume that the government and the courts can produce a moral system in people or do much more than help preserve a decent moral environment,” Land writes.

“Even if our government permitted it, which it doesn’t, you can’t simply declare this country to be one that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority. It can only become such a country through transformation of hearts and minds. It is not the government’s job to do that any more than it is the government’s role to prescribe or to prohibit religion.”
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“The Divided States of America? What liberals and conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!” is available at LifeWay Christian Stores and other major booksellers.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings