Now Is the Time for All Good Men...
by Gary McCaleb
So often, the big speeches we hear from our nation’s leaders—the inaugurals, the convention keynotes, the State of the Unions—seem less about getting to the bottom of the problems facing the country than about whatever is top-of-mind with the congressman, the candidate, the man-in-charge at the moment. We tune in longing to hear a word of vision, candor, wisdom … and get bromides, platitudes, the party line.
For Christians, in particular, the dominant events of recent months—the deadly attacks on believers overseas, the extraordinarily aggressive censure of people of faith in the U.S.—leave us longing for a “state of the union” that would honestly address the real source of growing disunion in America ... the rapid erosion of religious freedom. What we would give, so many of us, to hear something clear and resonant and true. Something like …
All about us rage undeclared wars —military and economic. All about us grow more deadly armaments—military and economic. All about us are threats of new aggression—military and economic.
Storms from abroad directly challenge three institutions indispensable to Americans, now as always. The first is religion. It is the source of the other two—democracy and international good faith.
Religion, by teaching man his relationship to God, gives the individual a sense of his own dignity and teaches him to respect himself by respecting his neighbors. Democracy, the practice of self-government, is a covenant among free men to respect the rights and liberties of their fellows.
International good faith, a sister of democracy, springs from the will of civilized nations of men to respect the rights and liberties of other nations of men.
In a modern civilization, all three—religion, democracy and international good faith—complement and support each other.
Where freedom of religion has been attacked, the attack has come from sources opposed to democracy. Where democracy has been overthrown, the spirit of free worship has disappeared. And where religion and democracy have vanished, good faith and reason in international affairs have given way to strident ambition and brute force.
An ordering of society which relegates religion, democracy and good faith among nations to the background can find no place within it for the ideals of the Prince of Peace. The United States rejects such an ordering, and retains its ancient faith.
There comes a time in the affairs of men when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy, and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.
Actually, I didn’t have to make that up. A great leader did see the situation that clearly, and understood the eternal threat all too well. Franklin Roosevelt shared those words in his State of the Union speech of January 1939, on the verge of World War II. And a great people responded with the supreme effort and extraordinary sacrifices that earned their reputation as “the greatest generation.”
Faced with challenges no less daunting, it falls to us to summon the same courage and determination in facing down the enemies of religious freedom—foreign and domestic—who, in threatening the liberty of people of faith, threaten all people … and, indeed, the very idea of America. Without the freedom to believe, and to live out our beliefs, we have nothing to offer the world, or each other. With those freedoms, we can face anything else arrayed against us.
Seventy-six years later, I still see the dangers FDR saw. And pray that, as Americans, we will once more rise to the challenge.