Friday, February 6, 2015

A Test for the West: Our Moral Response to Evil

Today, I am deeply concerned about the present direction of the world.  Although situations are complex, I'm noticing a troubling pattern.  First, the United States is withdrawing from the position of respected leadership and moral clarity which it had occupied for at least a century.  This American retreat, characterized by an ambiguous and often apologetic stance in foreign policy, seems to reflect ignorance or  misunderstanding of the role of the United States in world history.  Consequently, world axes of evil once restrained by a healthy respect for American moral and military might, are now raising their evil heads on the world scene.  For example, Islamic extremist groups are using the spotlight afforded by international news media to showcase their evil actions that seem like eruptions from the very pit of hell.

Abdullah (right) identified with a vengeful Eastwood character.
But perhaps the most disturbing of all to me are the growing reactions of many of us in the Western World.  Some react to beheadings, burnings, and crucifixions with cheers as if they have been mesmerized by this demonic contagion of evil.  Others are so enraged at the perpetrators of barbarism that they, like King Abdullah of Jordan, respond to the terrorists by promising swift acts of reprisal.  According to a New York Post article, an angry King Abdullah responded to ISIS’s barbarous act of burning a Jordanian citizen alive by quoting Clint Eastwood’s enraged, vengeful character, William Munny, in the movie, Unforgiven.  

It is here, the nexus of evil barbarism and morally restrained civilization, where my greatest concern lies, for it is here that civilized peoples must decide how they will react in the face of evil.  The choice is between reacting to execute justice against evil governed by a sense of moral indignation; or, reacting “in kind” with a zealous anger fueled by hatred and vengeance.  The Western World has plenty of its own unrighteousness to go around; and, the need for repentance ought to be obvious to us.  However, it seems to me that it is precisely the awareness of our own individual and collective depravity as a nation in the face of God’s standards of righteousness that ought to remind us that perfect judgment and vengeance is not ours, but the L
ORD’s (Romans 12:19).

If Western Civilization reacts out of a spirit of hatred and vengeance it will be pulled downward toward the very pit of hatred and despair that gives rise to this march of evil.  Therefore, the only hope for America and the West is rejection of moral relativism in favor of moral clarity based on the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.  The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly remind us that humans are fallen creatures with no hope apart from humble submission to the saving grace of God that brings redemption and reconciliation (Romans 3: 10, 23; 6: 23).  Those who confess their depravity and complete dependence justification by faith in God’s righteousness are equipped to love God, love their neighbor, and steward their time, talents, and treasures for God’s glory.   God’s redeemed stewards value all of human life and support safeguards against violation of the basic rights to free speech, freedom of worship, and access to protection afforded by just rule of law.  These objective standards for life and liberty based on Scripture are what today’s leaders have in mind when they call for America to respond to evil with moral clarity and righteous indignation. 

Having stated the basis for justifiable moral indignation, my question is, “Can America now exercise moral courage and unified leadership in the face of the lawless hoards on the world scene?”  I’m afraid because of the current moral climate in America, the answer may be, “No.”  How can America speak with one voice against evil when we are so deeply divided on moral issues such as the importance of religious faith in American culture?  How can America stand for the dignity of human life when her courts continue to violate the sanctity of human life, trivialize sexuality and the sanctity of marriage, castigate those of a different ethnic background, and disrespect America’s historic role in relieving human suffering and fostering world peace?

Today, I am remembering the birthday of President Ronald Reagan whose leadership rallied our nation so effectively because of his deep faith in God and respect for others regardless of their politics.  Reagan believed that America would not long survive if she didn’t hold to the moral standards and moral clarity that had made her “good” as well as “great.”  Reagan’s words to the nation in his presidential farewell, in 1989, demonstrated the qualities of his leadership that had revived America’s faith, restored America’s spirit, and made the world safer against the threat of Communism:

Reagan and Gorbachev: Leadership with firm moral resolve.
… we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children.  And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise.  And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.  So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important:  Why the Pilgrims came here….

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

As I reflect on President Reagan’s leadership, I ask again, “Can America now exercise moral courage and unified leadership in the face of lawless hoards on the world scene?”  The lack of moral clarity and resolve in our current leadership make me doubtful.   The longer America and its allies continue with a policy of token resistance, the greater will be the spread of this evil infection; and, the less likely America will respond out of moral indignation and not out of anger and vengeance –if America responds at all.  

Allow me to conclude with a current contrast in leadership that I believe justifies my concern. On the one hand are the leaders of two of America’s Middle East allies:  Abdullah II, King of Jordan, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.  Both men have clearly expressed their frustration and concern about the growing threat posed by terror groups and hostile nations such as Iran.  Netanyahu in particular has demonstrated much patience, a voice of reason, and a willingness to negotiate peace with neighbors who despise his nation.  On the other hand, President Obama seems unable or unwilling to stand in the tradition of previous American presidents as a voice for moral clarity.   Instead, he appears apologetic for the nation he leads perhaps because he sees America as an unjust intruder on the world scene; a nation that has attained her leadership dishonestly at the expense of other nations.  This line of reason, typical of many secular progressives, suggests that America must leave the stage as leader of the free world and blend into the landscape with other nations she has oppressed. 

We must admit that America’s history has many blemishes because Americans are, in God’s view, depraved people.  However, because of his unwillingness or inability to exercise decisive leadership, President Obama is creating frustration among Americans, confusion within our armed services, and doubt among our allies. 

King Abdullah’s angry reaction to the violent death of a Jordanian citizen this week illustrates what I have stated as perhaps the greatest challenge or test for Western civilization.  The test has one multiple-choice question:  “How will the West react to the current onslaught of evil that emerges from ISIS, Iran, Russia, and numerous terror groups on different continents?   Will the West react with (a) a resolve to confront evil with just retribution based on moral indignation ; or will the West react (b) “in kind” by committing more atrocities out of anger and vengeance? 

As I stated at the beginning, I am concerned about the direction of the world.  I am concerned for America, and for our children and grandchildren.  There is not much we can do as individuals.  But we can pray for our own leadership responsibilities and for our leaders.   I pray that President Obama will communicate in words and in actions the spirit conveyed by Ronald Reagan as he bid farewell to America as her president, in 1989: 

But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation--from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.

Both Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan are known as “great communicators.”   I pray that President Obama will take up the mantel of moral leadership and offer a clear message of hope and encouragement to the America he serves.  May he also send a clear message to the enemies of law and order that America is back and ready to lead its allies in defense of life, liberty, and justice.

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