The Spiritual Landscape of America

I have been sitting on a collection of thoughts for quite a few years now. And while it may be preferable to some (and perhaps even to myself) for me to keep my thoughts in my head, I feel it important as a pastor to say these things—and I perhaps feel convicted to say them as well. If you’d like to join me on this journey, then let’s start first with the Biblical perspective of how the spiritual world works.

The Spiritual World of the Bible

The modern American Christian worldview is very simplistic: There is one God and He in charge of everything. But the Biblical worldview is more complicated than that. It tells us that, yes, there is only one true God and He has created all things—but He is not the only spiritual being in existence, nor the only spiritual being effecting our world. For just as He created humanity and collaborates with us, so He created spiritual beings and collaborates with them as well. In fact, He’s gone so far as to appoint some of the spiritual beings He created to reign over countries and people groups (Deuteronomy 32:18). Daniel will refer to such spiritual entities with titles like the “Prince of Persia” or the “Prince of Greece” (Daniel 10:13-20). Much of the rest of the Bible will refer to them as the sons of God, principalities and powers, angels, demons, and the false little-g-gods (false as in “not to be worshipped,” not false as in “non-existent”).

The Bible tells us that at some point these false little-g-gods became evil—especially in passages like Psalm 82 where God sits upon His throne and judges the little-g-gods, sentencing them to death for the many injustices they’ve committed. Their judgment is final, though their sentence will not come to pass until the end of this age. Until that time, they afflict humanity and war against God, while staying within the bounds of their demonic hierarchy. As the main offender that ruined humanity, Satan takes his place as the little-g “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and claims that he has power over all the kingdoms of the world—a statement that even Jesus doesn’t deny (Matthew 4:8-9). Revelation and other parts of the Bible sometimes even paint Satan as controlling the political leaders and systems of our world, as though political leaders are (or at least can become) his puppets—for unredeemed human power will always give into Satan’s temptation and rebuild Babylon, eventually causing it to implode upon itself.

Alongside Satan, fallen gods and fallen angels and other corrupt spirits will take their place in the united kingdom of darkness; for they are united in the fact that they share the same goals. Jesus Himself admitted this when saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26).

This is a small and abbreviated glimpse into the spiritual worldview of the Bible, but it’s enough to set the stage for where we’ll go from here.

False Justice

Pastoring amongst the poor, social justice has become a conviction of mine, and so a few years ago I eagerly attended a secular conference focused on justice themes. But this event was nothing like the Christian justice conference I had attended prior. The focus of the Christian conference was, of course, Jesus. It was about how we could change the world through the loving and peaceful tactics of Christ. It was about how forgiveness could reach our enemies and how the Holy Spirit could change our communities. It was about building new creative systems and organizations that served others. It was a form of justice that matched the Scripture’s perspective of the one true God.

But this secular event had a severely different taste to it. The first night a piece of art was hung with the f-word written across it for hundreds to gaze upon, and it was intended to be the visual centerpiece of the whole conference. The teachings often felt hateful and violent. It declared that true order was a kind that didn’t match God’s. It called certain people out not as enemies to be loved, but as villains to be stereotyped based on their appearance or positions. I grew nervous as the crowd applauded many odd statements in unison.

Now, of course, this was a secular conference and I had no reason to expect it to match my Christian beliefs. I sat against the back wall, unsettled for three days of meetings as I began to blend the Bible’s spiritual worldview into what I was experiencing. Soon, I almost felt as though I was sitting in a worship service for a false god that was masquerading as an angel of light—not like a measly little demon, but an entity gaining traction and power that could not be stopped. It spoke on the Godly theme of justice, but it did not preach justice in a Godly way. Rather, it often promoted a skewed version of justice—one that appeased the flesh and could be easily bought into.

But then again, what other version of justice is being offered for people to follow? The church has not been a great source of justice in recent fights against racism, but sometimes even an avid opponent to the fight for justice. On top of that, not only has the church been the source of many injustices throughout the centuries, but we are widely known in the polls to promote an immoral man who often makes the headlines for the injustices he commits.

False Power

I still remember the gut-wrenching feeling I had when I found out Trump had been elected the first time around. I had gone to bed assured by everyone that such a thing wouldn’t happen, but I turned on my phone the next morning to find out otherwise. My heart sunk and my skin grew cold as I tried to get a hold of my feelings. I scrolled through Facebook and came across a video of an acquaintance of mine who had always exhibited a strong prophetic gifting. I didn’t watch much of it, but I won’t forget the main gist of the video. As ethereal as it sounds, he said he sensed a strong shift of sorts in the spiritual world that morning (a kind of spiritual sensitivity I’ve seen at play in many Christians throughout the years). His words seemed to give voice to the gut-wrenching feeling I had in my stomach. I wasn’t hurting because my vote had lost, I was grieving the future that could come now that Trump had won. Not only were so many of the things he stood for anti-Christian, but the stories surrounding him were disturbing and gross. I hadn’t seen anything in his character or any kind of convincing repentance that proved I could trust him. His election represented so much more than an election—as my friend said, that day felt like a shift in the spiritual realm—as though something had been put in place that could not be stopped.

Since then, Trump’s presidential reign has been full of the same material his campaign carried. His work over the last 4 years has often been built upon pride, fear-mongering, paranoia, insults, conspiracy theories, lies, and the inability to own up to anything. If there’s any news he doesn’t like or any news that critiques him, he calls it fake news. To him, even facts seem subjective. And many of the statements he makes are about how he’s the best at everything—about how he’s done more of this or more of that than anyone else ever has. Every statement he makes reeks with pride, a quality that always leads to an eventual downfall.

I don’t think he’s even aware of all of this—which, honestly, is part of the reason he’s so dangerous. As we learn in recovery classes, a person aware of their issues and willing to admit them has room for growth. But if they don’t, they’re more or less stuck.

But the most painful part about Trump is that he’s seen by many as the hero of the Christians—given how many evangelicals have voted for him and are still voting for him. For many he’s not the lesser of two evils, but a savior-like figure whom God has ordained for the task of president. And why did God choose him? Primarily, it seems, to get rid of abortion—though little of his character and policies scream pro-life. At this point, Christianity is known to care primarily about this one issue of justice—though it’s an important issue to be sure. This has caused us to create a new paradigm in which a president is now able to bring whatever evil he wants into his politics, so long as he or she adds fighting abortion to their list. It makes you think that Satan himself could win a vote from Christians if he were to campaign in such a way.

Christian politics are a mess. Rather than live our justice issues into reality through our everyday interactions with others, Christians seem to have decided to spend most of their time trying to implement their justice issues into reality through politics, as though they can only change the world every four years. Rather than live the kind of humble life that our Savior did, we vie for power. Rather than take joy in persecution and allow it strengthen our faith, we yell about our American rights and freedoms, and fight for rights that Jesus didn’t care about and even denied. We want politics to force non-Christians to live out our understanding of order and morality on all issues, even though they do not have the Holy Spirit to convict or empower them to do so.

I do not write this because I like to get yelled at by others, but because when it comes to voting, American Christianity has in many ways sold its soul. It is growing harder and harder to trust us and we’re collapsing under the weight of what our witness has become. I have many pastoral friends who don’t feel the need to say things quite as explicitly as I am right now and I trust them in that. In many ways, I also wish I didn’t have the conviction to write all of this. After all, 3 years ago I wrote a large section in one of my books about how it didn’t matter if people voted for Trump or Hillary, as we were all just doing our best to carry out what we believed. I wrote that even despite my great disdain for Trump at the time. But now that part of the book doesn’t feel quite right to me and I think it requires a redaction. And after several more years of testing Trump’s character, I simply can’t keep these thoughts to myself anymore. For I sense the election tomorrow is not the main issue at hand right now, but the things that will come after it and because of it. And in a few more years, I’d hate to look back at this moment and admit that I stayed silent rather than spoke up.

For me, Trump is not just another president. If he was I wouldn’t care to write this. For me, Trump has already been a danger to us and will continue to be so.

2020

The trick Satan is using seems to be pretty obvious to me at this point. If he knows that his own kingdom will collapse if it’s divided against itself, he need do nothing more than divide us—and we’re primed for it. Not only do our votes decide who will lead us, but there’s really only two people on the docket to choose from, ensuring our division. And as people promote their candidate like they’re their home team playing in the Superbowl, you better imagine they’ll feel the weight of what happens at the end of the game.

The tension is high. Not just because of the election, but because of this perfect storm we call 2020—which to me feels just a little too perfect to be coincidence. I guess this is where I sound like the conspiracy theorist, but then again, the Bible often looks for spiritual interpretations behind the pandemics that hit them.

Now I’m not really of the mind that God brought Covid-19 upon us as I feel there’s a lot of interpretive space in the Bible to see great atrocities more as the absence of God rather than the presence of God. God can sometimes be pictured throughout the Scripture as letting go of some control and then the world naturally falls apart as the evil and brokenness in it runs rampant. It does not seem to me that Covid is the result of the abundant life that Jesus brings, but the stealing, killing, and destroying that Satan longs for (John 10:10).

However, God has ways of redeeming the work of the enemy to turn it around for His own purposes. For example, God often uses the pain that Satan inflicts on us as a megaphone to call us to Him and to repentance. The Bible tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), so we can take confidence in God’s ability to bring about redemptive purpose, even in a pandemic. For example, myself and numerous other pastors have seen this pandemic as a sifting of the church—a chance to test our faith and see who will push through despite the difficulties. From this mindset, God is using pain to strengthen us. Many of us have also seen this pandemic as a chance to really be the church—that we might join peaceful protests on behalf of minorities, or run food banks, or make sure the poor are taken care of, or double our benevolence funds, or risk getting sick for the sake of serving another, or make new ministries that are essential in this time (and ditch old ministries that have needed to die for a long time). Yes, in the midst of pandemic God is challenging us to do good things.

But 2020 has also divided both the church and the world in every last way possible. I mean, come on—we fight with rage over the fact that we’ve been asked to put a piece of fabric over our mouths in attempts to protect others—a pro-life idea if ever there was one. And not only that, but we’ve politicized this piece of fabric and turned it into a conversation about rights. Countless people have even left churches over the mask debate, showing that our bond is not as strong as Christ but as weak as cloth. Church shopping is at an all time high and we’re feeling the ever-shifting weight every day.

Division grows with every topic that comes to light. Rather than call racism and injustice out when we see it, we fight over what racism is and make countless excuses for obvious offenders. Many can’t even say the words “black lives matter” without feeling the need to clarify, further devaluing black lives.

So many buttons have been pressed and so many are waiting for the election to be over so this mess can be over. But as I’ve been saying to my close friends all year, I don’t think this election is an “end” from a spiritual warfare perspective. This perfect storm feels like a setup to aggravate the problem even more. The election is just another peak along the way up a high mountain. The division is already in place and this level of societal pain doesn’t just vanish like it was never there because someone was elected. Without Jesus, it only worsens.

And that’s the difficulty for me. I can’t find Jesus in the Trump movement. I can’t find Jesus in the extreme side of the justice movement. And to be quite frank, I’m struggling to find Jesus in the corporate American church right now. Don’t get me wrong, He’s there—but I fear that there’s a lot of spiritual blindness and deafness in our body right now, not because we don’t know Jesus, but because we have not humbled ourselves to accept conviction.

Again, I fear something is in place that cannot be reversed. The enemy has created such a grand setup that things could go horribly wrong no matter who wins the election. How many Trump supporters have made off-handed comments about being ready if he loses? I know several who have heard just that. What does that even mean? And what will Trump do if he loses? He’s promoted so many conspiracy theories already—will he not just use another one in attempts to stay in power? How much more violent rioting will there be if Trump wins? And what false gods of justice will install their ideals of riots, destruction and anarchy while the church remains on the backline of the justice fight?

This year is painful. It’s truly awful when a worldwide pandemic isn’t your biggest concern at the moment. So what do we do?

Keep Our Eyes Upon Jesus

As life progresses forward, there are going to be more ideologies and movements to grab onto and new allegiances trying to gain our hearts. But as Christians, there is only one ideology, movement and allegiance for us: His name is Jesus Christ and his Kingdom is Heaven—not some spiritual place up in the sky, but a Kingdom already making its way to the earth through our actions and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we pursue Jesus, He will speak to us. And if we do what He says, we will bring Heaven to earth little by little. But if the church keeps doing what it has been doing and keeps jumping on earthly bandwagons, our faith will crumble. If we keep trying to blend American rights and expectations into Jesus rights and expectations, we will puff up until we explode. If we base our Christianity on any foundation that is not Christ we’ll fall like a house built on sand.

We are at a crossroads and the whole world can feel it. They wait in suspense as to what will happen and wonder how our decision will effect their own nations. My pastoral concern is with how the church will act in this time. I fear we’ve worshipped a lot of false gods and flags as time has progressed. It’s time to break free of that before our idolatry kills us—for that’s what the false gods want to see happen.

Regardless of what happens after the election, the church needs to earn back its witness. Let’s make sure our eyes are focused on the only one that matters.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nancy Draper says:

    Love it and so true! Wish you were my pastor

    Liked by 1 person

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