The founding of the "Two Americas" (early 1600s). Four centuries ago two very different English colonies were laid out in the “new world” of America, one self-identified as Virginia and one as New England. They were quite different in social character.
Virginia developed along very traditional feudal lines—with a handful of aristocratic “first families” (owners of major plantations) lording it over a large group of servant-workers. This was the normal social structure found throughout “Christian Europe,” and at the time did not raise any particular questions about its structure and behavior.
New England, however, was dramatically different in conception and development. It was an amazing experiment in something we might call “Christian democracy,” in which all members of society were led to work together as social equals—for that is how they saw themselves in God’s eyes: equals, with equal responsibilities for the life of the community, even if they personally took up quite different callings in society (farmers, tradesmen, teachers, sailors, pastors, etc.). Indeed, they had specifically covenanted with God to be for him a "City on a Hill" serving as a "Light to the Nations" — showing the people of the world how they too could live under God as equals, working together in a spirit of Christ-like charity, a social spirit that would not only bless the nations but also glorify the God who ultimately brought all things to success (or failure if mocked).
The on-going division. With such different social personalities, those two social types would confront each other over the next four centuries of American development, not just geographically (North versus South) but also class-wise across the country (self-developed upper-class Americans versus American commoners). Typically, these divisions would eventually grow quite adversarial under the tendency of people to find ways to bring "reason" to their particular self-serving social interests. Such social division could even become quite bitter — so bitter in fact that at one point (1861-1865) it led the country to a devastating civil war.
Unity through God's "Awakenings." But ultimately American unity would come upon the country through the need to put aside these self-serving rationalizations — and get back to the task of being the society that God himself had called America to be. Not infrequently, looming crises would be preceded by an amazing outbreak of Christian spirituality—identified as "Great Awakenings." A pattern very similar to the one that ancient Israel went through (carefully described in the Jewish or Old Testament) would describe America — in which, in the face of mounting social confusion and hardship, the people would finally remember the covenant that the nation had with God and would call upon him for his help ... and find miraculous deliverance!
The First Great Awakening thus fortified America in anticipation of its call to fight heroically to maintain its independence from an English king determined to bring the American colonies under his direct rule as an enlightened despot.
The Second Great Awakening strengthened America for the task of finally ridding itself of the disgrace of slavery — and so as not to fall into the condition of being nothing more than a collection of small semi-independent states, easily victims of the imperialist instincts of the European superpowers of the mid-1800s.
Then there was also the Great Depression, requiring Americans to step back from the existential or Humanistic silliness cultivated during the Roaring Twenties — and get themselves toughened up spiritually so as to be able to take on two enemy superpowers, Japan and Germany. And that same deep Christian spirit enabled Cold War America to take up the broader and more abstract responsibilities of being largely the sole superpower in a position to save Western or "Christian" civilization from the tyranny of authoritarian Communism.
The constant challenge of "Human Reason." But eventual success in the Cold War contest merely once again deadened America's Christian spirituality — leading the nation down the road of anti-Christian Secularism. Such Secularism or Humanism once again (as in the Roaring Twenties) supposed that it had all the scientific answers to life, answers that had no further need to call on God, but instead required such "superstitious foolishness" to be driven from America’s public life. In short, once again the covenant with God was put aside in favor of the rule of "human reason."
Anyone who has studied history closely knows that this is the sure and certain formula for massive social disaster.
Today's huge challenges. In short, this series on America – The Covenant Nation is intended to be something of a wake-up call to America, to pull itself out of its social silliness and get itself ready to face 1) a reviving militancy coming from the world of Islam and 2) the geopolitical and economic ambitions of China, a rising superpower with the clear intention of pushing America aside—as a rising China becomes the world’s supreme superpower. China fully expects America to follow the once-great powers of the "Christian West" into the same general insignificance that now afflicts Europe — because supposedly America has had its day as a great power and clearly (looking at the decay of the very strong moral disciplines that once made America great) is deep into a moral decline that marks a society's political and economic decline as well.
The call to restore the Covenant with God. Thus it is time for America to get some perspective on what is going on in and around it, and get the nation back into a close working order with the God who rules the universe. America needs to return to the covenant that has served the nation so well since the early 1600s. But to do that, it is going to have to know a thing or two about that covenant, and make it almost instinctively aware of how that worked for America in the past. That’s the real "science" that America needs at this point. And that is why the writing of this three-volume series was undertaken.
This first volume of the series begins with a large Preface, explaining the story behind the writing itself, and including a key parable about the rise and fall of a dynasty, a parable representing the four stages of birth, growth, maturity and decline of a typical society ... phases which America itself has gone through, on repeated occasions.
The volume then introduces the "Two-Americas" typology, focusing on the differences in the founding of the New England Covenant society founded by the Puritans and the Virginia society founded on the feudal (elite-dominated) structure more typical of the times. It then briefly goes into a study of the various ancient influences shaping Western Civilization, from the Greek and Roman times, through early and then medieval Christianity, and the the ultimate rise of the various European dynasties and their wars of both religion and just simple territorial acquisition both in Europe and abroad. It looks at the European settlements in America and then goes into greater political, social, cultural and spiritual detail about the founding and development of Virginia, New England and the other colonies.
It looks at the development of the Puritan legacy, how that declined four generations later (the late 1600s) with the rise of the Human Enlightenment on the one hand but also the dabbling in crude superstition (the witch trials) on the other ... before being revitalized by the "Great Awakening" (principally the 1740s, but starting before then and continuing thereafter). It explores how this Christian Great Awakening stirred such spiritual courage among the American colonials that they were able to rise successfully in rebellion against a very autocratic English king (the 1770s and 1780s).
It then looks at how a new Republic was put together constitutionally (1787), basically as an alliance among thirteen newly independent states, with just enough central government (and no more than absolutely necessary) to allow those states large and small to work together as a political Union. It delves into how the spirit of nationalism got ignited by the War of 1812, how the country spread Westward (uprooting the Indian and Mexican societies located there), how the slavery issue grew as a deeply divisive issue between the North and the South, and how a spirit of millenialism (high expectancy of Christ's "Second Coming") not only birthed the Second Great Awakening and a number of new religious movements but also heightened the sense of pending divine judgment on the nation ... and deepened the sense of shame arising from the widespread slavery still practiced in God's covenant nation.
This volume looks at how Lincoln's tough resolve to finally put the divisive issue of slavery to an end — even through the necessary violence of the American Civil War — brought the nation through its greatest challenge ever, and then how, with his death, a morally-confused post-war America attempted to move on from there.
This volume also looks more closely at the lives of key Americans whose leadership had a tremendous impact on the development of the nation: from John Winthrop, the Puritan Founding Father, all the way to Lincoln — with the Virginia governor Berkeley and Virginia aristocrat Byrd, evangelists Whitfield and Edwards, the ever-wise Franklin, the commanding general and first American president Washington, the ever-faithful Hamilton, the "enlightened" Jefferson, the frontier evangelist Asbury, and many other individuals, described in detail along the way.
Washington—the warrior (excerpt from page 108). George Washington’s appointment by the Continental Congress as commander of the newly authorized Continental Army proved to be a very Providential (as in Godly) choice. Whereas a number of experienced Patriot officers (having also previously served as officers in the British Army) coveted that position, Washington had not. He accepted the responsibility only because he understood that he was simply answering the call to duty—a call that came not just from men but also from God. He was living out his destiny.
Washington, as sensitive as any of us to the opinion of others, had taught himself at an early age to discipline his feelings and move forward toward his calling regardless of the obstacles (usually human) thrown before him. But he also knew there was a special hand on his life, a special place in the affairs of Providence (the term for God frequently used at that time) that not only protected him, but opened the way for him to move ahead in life. He thus combined faith and personal discipline in a way that inspired others. He sought honor by seeking first of all to be honorable. He was highly demanding of integrity in himself—to be a man of honor.
As events were soon to demonstrate, he could be rather forgiving of the lack of honor in his associates (such as his colleagues Lee and Gates) who had given him little reason to expect much from them anyway. But he could be quite demanding of integrity of character and action when it came to those on whom he had come to confer his trust (like Arnold). Washington was unbending in his expectation of excellent behavior on the part of the men under his command. But these expectations were always accompanied by his equally strong sense of trust in these same men. This conferral of his trust was a powerful instrument that succeeded in getting the very best from others. The soldiers under his command seemed always to try eagerly and sacrificially to live up to that trust.
Lincoln the Christian (excerpt from pages 274-275). There seems to have been nothing particularly remarkable about Lincoln’s religious or spiritual nature going into the White House in 1861. As president he would attend frequently the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. But he was definitely not what you would call a churchy individual. However, the four years of the presidency would have a tremendous impact on how he made his way forward through life’s many challenges. He was a sensitive man, which made him all the more vulnerable to the criticism and personal attacks that others would aim at him. He was called on to lead a war, which meant the deaths of countless young men, both Southern as well as Northern Americans, all of which burdened his heart deeply. There would always be political voices claiming that he was going too slow—or too fast—in his conduct of the war. There would be subordinates who would disappoint him deeply with their failures to live up to their responsibilities, others who because of their own political ambitions would undercut him in order to bring him down. Even within his cabinet—even within his own home (his wife could be brutal in her sarcasm and withering criticism)—he often had to face dispiriting opposition.
What held Lincoln together was not man, not man’s opinions, not man’s advice. What kept Lincoln going doing these extremely stressful years was his growing sense of the hand of God in placing him in the presidency, and the grace of God in providing the only counsel he could depend on.
He had an ever-deepening sense that all of this tragedy was a way that God was cleansing the nation of its sins, in order to restore it to its longstanding status as a model society, a true Christian nation and thus a democratic light to the world. As he put the matter at Gettysburg in November of 1863 in honoring those who had died for this just cause: Americans must "resolve ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
This attitude was brought into even higher relief in his second inaugural address in March of 1865 (just weeks before his assassination) when the entire second half of the speech focused on how the nation must answer to the righteous judgments of God, and how it is imperative at this point "with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right to finish the work, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." Here was truly a man of God.
Volume 2 continues the American narrative, first focusing on the dramatic rise of American industrial-financial capacity during the last quarter of the 19th century, led by such individuals as Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Morgan. It then describes the efforts of such Progressivists as Addams, Bryan, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Taft to address the social damages caused by this rapid change in America's economic or material foundations.
It then takes a close look at the rise (since the early 1600s) of post-Christian social philosophy across the Atlantic in Europe, including details of the thinking of such European philosophers as Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, LaPlace, Goethe, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Lenin and many other Europeans who contributed to the growing Secularization of Western culture ... something that would come to impact America greatly in the course of the 20th century (and still even today). That section includes also an examination of the American response to this rising Secular spirit, for example in the form of Dewey's Liberalism ... but also in the form of the different ways Christianity found itself answering the same challenge.
The narrative then moves to the matter of the West's imperialistic spread to the rest of the world ... as the fires of "nationalism" began to burn deeply in the hearts of both Europeans and Americans. It then analyzes the tragedy of the "Great War" (World War One, 1914-1918), when those burning hearts ran out of playing fields abroad and thus turned their energies on each other at home in Europe. It also narrates Wilson's unbounded (and very foolish) Idealism which needlessly drew America into this same tragedy.
The narrative then moves to the "Roaring Twenties," which tried to put a happy face on a very heart-broken, even deeply cynical America, a society that could find joy only in the massive acquiring of life's new materialistic offerings (radios, cars, washing machines, etc. — and illegal booze!), a joy which came crashing down (the Great Depression) when everyone had all these toys — and thus the industrial impetus slowed up and then simply ground to a halt. The narrative looks at Franklin Roosevelt's efforts in the 1930s to copying the apparent success of European Socialism (Italian, German or Russian) in countering the fallen god "capitalism" (blamed deeply for the Depression) ... until here too, Roosevelt's Washington government had produced all the social goodies it was able to offer the nation (national parks, highways, dams, municipal building projects, etc.) and thus Roosevelt's "New Deal" too slowed up and ground to a halt. The narrative also looks at how Secular Humanism offered itself to America as a religious alternative — but a "scientific" rather than "superstitious" religious alternative (the Humanist Manifesto of 1933) ... and how Christianity itself struggled with the question as to its proper place in those very dark times.
Then the narrative explores in detail not only the course of the second round in the world of national war (World War Two, 1939-1945) but how deeply sacrificial involvement in that war pulled America out of the Depression, restored national pride, and even put capitalism, God, and popular democracy back front and center in America's sense of purpose — and its sense of what it had to offer the world by way of key social values, values extremely critical at a time when America was the only power still standing in the West able to hold off an expansive post-war Communist Russia.
This volume closes with a look at the seeming success of Christian-Democratic-Capitalist America of the 1950s — and the generation of war veterans (the "Vets") which formed the foundations of this post-war (but ultimately Cold War) national character. But it also explores the issues lying barely below the surface (Blacks, intellectuals and Boomer offspring) that were waiting for the opportunity to challenge all this "success" of Middle-Class America.
The Scopes Monkey Trial, Dayton, Tennessee—1925 (excerpt from pages 141-143). But undoubtedly the most dramatic confrontation of the decade between the two cultures occurred over the issue of the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the public schools.
In 1925 the two sides, liberal urban America and conservative rural America met for something of a showdown in Dayton, Tennessee, over the question of teaching Darwinism in Tennessee’s public schools. The battle was over the fundamental question: was man descended, as Darwin stated, through the evolutionary process of natural selection ("survival of the fittest") from some early version of a primate (something of an early “monkey” specie)—or was he, as the Bible states, created fully as a man by God in a single event? The confrontation came to pass when in May of 1925, a group of Dayton civic leaders met at F.E. Robinson’s Drugstore and decided to challenge Tennessee’s new statute forbidding the teaching of Darwinist evolution. One motivation for holding the trial in Dayton was to revive the town’s flagging economy. They knew that this would somehow put Dayton on everyone’s map (and indeed it did!).
The mastermind behind this event was George Washington Rappleyea, an engineer and geologist who managed the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company. Rappleyea was widely credited with suggesting that Dayton challenge the new anti-evolution statute. Cooperating in this venture was the twenty-four-year-old John Thomas Scopes. He was teaching at the local high school, his first job after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1924. He taught algebra and physics, served as athletic coach, and occasionally substituted in biology classes at the Rhea County High School. The idea was that he would teach Darwinist biology—at least once—in violation of the state’s law prohibiting the teaching of Darwinism. This act would then set up the opportunity for the legal world in Tennessee to decide whether such a law was indeed constitutional.
During the extremely hot summer of 1925 the “Scopes Monkey Trial” riveted the attention of the nation as newspapermen from all around the country crowded into the steaming courthouse to follow the trial.
The old political warhorse, William Jennings Bryan, represented WASPish America, with its fervent dislike of Darwinism. Representing the Darwinists was Clarence Darrow, the celebrity New York lawyer who had dazzled the nation with his clever defense of two society boys who had killed a young fourteen-year-old neighbor in order to see what it would be like to commit the ultimate crime and to prove their Darwinian superiority (Darrow blamed their actions on the extravagantly wealthy socio-economic circumstances that had distorted their moral sensitivities). Darrow also represented the fast-rising urban, secular culture which ridiculed the superstition of the traditional Christian culture. Backing up Darrow was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was to become the leading voice behind a movement to replace WASPish Christianity with Secular-Humanism as America’s cultural-religious underpinning.
Which side actually won the 1925 contest depended on the natural sympathies of the person giving answer to the question. From pulpits, anti-Darwinism seemed vindicated by the fact that the judge decided to support the law prohibiting the teaching of Darwinism in the Tennessee public schools. But the up-East urban newspapers celebrated the quite obvious (obvious to them anyway) intellectual victory of the scientific Darwinists over the superstitious, backwoods fantasies of the anti- Darwinists.
Closing arguments were not allowed (defense attorney Darrow refused and thus prosecuting attorney Bryan was not permitted to do so either) and the sentence of guilty was quickly decided in matters of only minutes on July 21. But Bryan published his proposed closing argument subsequently. It is well worth the read because it is actually prophetic:
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane, the earth’s surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so [brutal] that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world
Five days after the verdict, Bryan—back on the speaking tour—died quietly in his sleep. Ultimately the case itself decided nothing. But it considerably clarified the WASPish and anti-WASPish split in American culture.
Truman’s own Christian faith (excerpt from pages 278-279). For Christian Americans, it was truly miraculous that God put in their midst a man who was one of them, a battle-tested soldier, someone who had tried and failed and then tried again to move himself forward in life the “American way,” who was a man of great moral integrity in the way he handled power—and yet who frequently used profanity and enjoyed playing poker and drinking whiskey (major no-noes to certain Christians), just like one of the boys!
Truman was not looking for social approval—or at least not expecting it. He found that in his wife and family—and he found it in God. He was a man of deep personal faith.
A loyal Baptist, Truman as president however was not regular in his Sunday worship, explaining the matter as a result of finding himself in a job that kept him at work seven days a week, morning, noon, and night. Also, Truman was not at all like his presidential successor Eisenhower, who understood the importance of frequently just getting away from those same pressures, golfing or just relaxing at a retreat (Eisenhower suffered a heart attack anyway). Truman was something of a workaholic!
But he had a hugely uncharted course to lead the nation on. And the European crises that exploded in the early post-war years moved so fast that it seemed at times that only Truman had the ability to respond to them quickly and effectively. His wisdom in shaping an America ready to take on a new form of Cold War was enormous. And he rested that wisdom on a very prayerful, deeply scripturally-based Christian faith.
But he also understood the importance of connecting the Christian faith with the American self-understanding of the nation’s place in history. Several times he called for a National Day of Prayer, specifically urging the nation to call on God to help the people know what to do in the face of various challenges, even crises, facing the nation. He also spoke openly before the American public about how the Christian faith had formed the democratic foundations of America and how America enjoyed its obvious blessings because of a special trust God had put in place with the nation. And Truman looked to the church (not Washington) to take the lead in the battle against greed, racism, and injustice, both at home and abroad.
And perhaps most importantly for a national leader whose most important task was to put a clear social vision in front of the people he was destined to lead, Truman had a very strong personal belief that America was called to show the world how to live God’s way, according to the very teachings of Scripture, and the example of Christ: in charity and concern for others, even for one’s former enemy (in this case Germany and Japan). He truly believed that if the world would simply live by Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 7, 8 and 9) peace would prevail across the world.
This did not mean that the strongly opinionated Truman did not find himself in opposition to aspects of the way the Christian life was lived in America. More sophisticated Christians, for instance, attacked him for his biblical simplicity, seeing only foolish ignorance in Truman's hope that living according to Biblical principles would bring the world a better peace. He also had a terrible split with his long-time Baptist pastor Edward Pruden, when Truman appointed General Mark Clark as his personal representative to the Vatican. While this pleased America’s twenty-five million Catholics immensely, it upset greatly many Protestant conservatives who were deeply suspicious of any Catholic pro-Vatican popery.
The Peace Corps (excerpt from page 11). Kennedy had been in office only a little over a month when on March 1st, in pursuit of the ideals declared in his inaugural address, he issued an Executive Order calling for the creation of a new program (actually thought up by Senator Hubert Humphrey) challenging America, in particular its youth, to help spread the understanding of “The American Way” around the world, by volunteering as members of a new Peace Corps. University-educated Peace Corps volunteers were to take their places in the ranks as patriotic Cold Warriors, not as soldiers, but as cultural missionaries sent out to show villagers the world around what America was like up close, to go and live among the people of the Third World, showing them personally how American ideals worked to make for a better life.
This would not become a massive, expensive government program. No huge Washington bureaucracy would provide the muscle for this program. Instead it would rest on the support of the thousands of young volunteers who answered the call (they did receive the equivalent of army basic pay, which indeed was truly “basic.”)
It was typical of the way that Americans felt at that time that the nation should go about its business, challenging the average American to do the right thing, to volunteer to take up the national cause, just as the nation should inspire (not dictate to) the world to do the right thing. The Washington government’s job was simply to organize the opportunities for Americans to do the right thing, nothing more. Washington itself wasn’t expected (not yet, anyway) to do the right thing for the people.
The basic principles of Political Realism or Realpolitik (excerpt from pages 78-81). Political Realism would have had no difficulty in finding acceptance from either the Founding Puritan Fathers or the Founding Fathers of the American Republic, for it is a political philosophy that arises from the basic premise that man instinctively engages the world around him most powerfully on the basis of what he understands "logically" as his own self-interest ... the source of what Christians identify as "original sin."
Political Realism is aware that man is a moral animal, in the sense that he feels compelled to justify his actions on the basis of some moral logic or moralizing of his own. But even this moralizing is simply another aspect of his pursuit of self-interest. Morality is simply the way a person logically justifies his pursuit of self-interest, to others—even to himself.
For instance, a Realist realizes that moralizing is simply a verbal cover the individual offers up in the hope of presenting a compelling reason for others to yield to that individual's set of interests (such as a lawyer before a jury, or a six-year old before a scolding parent). It may actually include a lot of lying or slick deception in the hope that such deceptive moralizing will shape more advantageously the behavior of others.
A Realist, in attempting to deal with others, however, must first be clear in his own mind about what, in any given situation, his self-interests truly are. He must be very careful not to confuse his own moralizing with his true self-interest, which is fairly easy to do, and which in fact is often done in history, usually with disastrous results (say for instance when Hitler himself truly began to believe the lie he put over on the rest of the German nation that he was a diplomatic and military genius).
It is also very important that the Realist try to understand the actual self-interest behind the moralizing of the others around him. He should study life’s challenges from their perspective, to try to understand how it is that others see things, and thus how they are likely to act in any particular situation on the basis of what they think they see. A Realist should also pay close attention to the moral arguments he hears from others, not to sit in judgment as to whether they are objectively right or wrong but because they give him a better insight into how others perceive their own self-interest. This is an important contributor to the Realist’s ability to understand and anticipate the behavior of others, and to his ability to respond to the logic that others will use to give moral cover to their behavior.
The Realist also understands that self-interest is shaped tremendously by power. Power is the amount of ability a person has to actually pursue his sense of self-interest. The more power a person has, the more a person’s sense of self-interest will expand. Little power enables only the most-humble pursuit of self-interest. Great power enables a wide ranging, domineering pursuit of self-interest.
But of course, power is a rather limited factor. No one, no nation, has total power. Everyone, every nation, has some power, and needs to know exactly how much that actually is.
Power in a social context is not a particular material quality, but is simply how strengths in oneself and in others are perceived. Power is highly symbolic in nature. Certainly there are material attributes that shape that perception: guns, bombs, size of armies, size of the industrial infrastructure, size and training of the population itself. But of equal and usually even of greater importance are such intangibles as a reputation for power, wisdom (or lack thereof), a sense of optimism (or conversely, pessimism), and simply bravery or an inner strength willing to take on risks. This latter element of power, bravery, is where a deep faith in or sense of higher connection with the One who controls all life becomes absolutely essential (although this idea does not play as central a role in classic Realism as it should, though most Realists do recognize the connection).
Modern Political Realism is ultimately about nations, their interests (the "national interest") and their power. A nation must have a very keen sense of its own national interest, as well as the national interest of the other nations playing at the “game board” of world diplomacy. A nation must also be very aware of the size and nature its own power, material and symbolic, as well as the power of others. In short, it (or at least its leaders) must know how to size up both itself and others.
Before a nation ventures into a new move on the game board it should do a very thorough cost-benefit analysis of the situation. How important is this particular move? What are the gains or benefits that will probably come from this move? How much is it going to cost the nation to make this move? How much of its limited resource of power is it going to take to put national muscle behind this move?
Failure to get this analysis right (or worse, failure to undertake this cost-benefit analysis altogether, which sadly is often what happens, especially to Idealistic America) can bring disaster, even total ruin to a nation. For instance, nations that exhaust themselves in a war that brings no offsetting gain have simply squandered needlessly, even foolishly, even tragically, their power. In doing this they have left themselves vulnerable to the aggressions of a nation of growing power that is willing to test the weakened nation to see how badly that nation got depleted by its political folly. Political nature will simply take out that nation that has self-inflicted wounds wrought through folly.
A wise nation moves cautiously in the international diplomatic/ military game. It attempts to join forces with other nations who are pursuing similar national interests in order to combine forces and not drastically expend its own power. Sometimes it has to ally with others simply because it does not have enough power to take on a challenge by itself. This is how Roosevelt’s America and Churchill’s Britain found themselves in alliance with Stalin’s Communist Russia during World War Two (1939-1945). Germany was so powerful that it necessitated this alliance to bring Germany to defeat. They allied not because they shared similar moral codes and political cultures (although of course Britain and America certainly did). It was simply that as long as Germany was running loose across Europe, they all shared a common national interest of defeating Germany. Period. But once Germany was defeated, that alliance broke down (the Cold War took its place), because principally America (with Britain in support) no longer shared a common interest with Russia. In fact at that point their national interests were in something of a natural conflict over Europe, and then soon over the entire world, as they were bound to be (as both Truman and Churchill were quick to understand after the war’s end in 1945).
As odd as this may sound, self-interest can lead to some of the most charitable acts in the world of diplomacy and international relations. For instance, after World War Two, Truman and his America expected Europe to simply put itself back together after the shooting stopped. But within two years the Europeans had exhausted what was left of their social assets in the effort to rebuild. Politically as well as economically they were bankrupt. Stalin saw great advantage to his Soviet Union in this situation and called on his Communist allies in the West to thoroughly disrupt what was left of the social order in the West — to give him, through his Stalinist agents, full control of Western society. Truman (and his Secretary of State George Marshall) immediately understood the danger this put not only Europe but also America in and moved to offer Europeans full economic assistance in rebuilding their societies. The offer was extended even to the Russians if they had wanted it—which of course would have been totally contrary to Stalin's Soviet self-interest, and therefore was refused in the East. But the "Marshall Plan" did the trick, settling things down both economically and politically in Western Europe. But it also gave America the task of using its factories and farms (and thus jobs for Americans as well) to supply much of Europe's needs for rebuilding. And both societies prospered enormously in the process! That was true charity—formulated out of a strong sense of political self-interest on the part of everyone (except Stalin)! That's also political Realism in action—in the very best of ways!
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) (excerpt from pages 168-169). Indeed, the anti-Christian crusade of Secular America would only intensify in the years ahead, with the American Federal Courts continuing to serve as the key battlefields in which Liberal or "Progressive" attitudes could be more easily advanced against America’s traditional Christian cultural foundations.
In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 in the Edwards v. Aguillard case that a Louisiana law, which required that the theory of creationism be taught in the public schools alongside the theory of Darwinism, was unconstitutional because it was in total violation of the Lemon test requiring a purely Secular purpose to such acts of the State governments. The Court declared that creationism intended to advance a certain religious belief, that God exists as founder and presider over all existence, and thus failed to meet the standards of the Lemon Test which decreed that the government could prescribe an educational program only if it had a legitimate Secular purpose, that is, the belief that life operates solely on the basis of purely mechanical laws that brought forward all existence through a process of slow, competitive evolution. Any other approach in public education was in violation of the Constitution! (Just whose Constitution were they referring to?)
A large group of Secular scientists had been invited to file briefs with the court in which they pointed out that creationism was not a co-equal science, in fact was not science at all but simply a religious doctrine derived from the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Judeo-Christian Bible. On the other hand, during the hearings there had been no serious opportunity given for scholars of an opposing viewpoint to present their views. Thus the outcome was fairly well predetermined by the way the hearings were shaped by the justices themselves.
Thus the Court decision pretty much settled the argument that had been raging since the early part of the century between the traditional Christian worldview and the Darwinist worldview. The clear policy now was that any idea that creation was the work of a Creator, because it originated not from the American scientific community but from the American religious community, could not be taught in America’s public schools. To do so would be to promote religion, not just a particular religion, but religion in general, which according to the Lemon Test was totally unconstitutional.
The Edwards v. Aguillard case made that very clear: the First Amendment was to be read not as the freedom of religion but as the freedom from religion. Anything that served to advance the cause of religion was forbidden in America’s public schools, and by potential inference for the possible future, also anywhere else in America’s public life as well.
The fears arising in the 1960s, ones that prompted the Becker and Dirksen amendments' failed attempts to offer protection from religious censure by the Federal courts, had just proved themselves to have been well justified. The opposition to those amendments put forward at that time by prominent mainline church leaders, who claimed that such religious prohibition was an event not likely ever to happen in America, just proved itself to have been totally unprophetic. By the 1987 decree of the Supreme Court, public America had officially become non-theistic (atheistic). And there was nothing that could be done about it, as there was (and still is) no political recourse the American public could take against a decision of the Supreme Court. Their rulings were the ultimate Law of the Land.
Please excuse me for making this a personal testimony. But as the reader will soon discover, everything I write about (even history) is very, very personal to me! In fact, this is a key theme that runs through all three volumes: that "Truth" is always a matter of personal perspective, well-constructed for each and every one of us by the way our hearts and minds react to the world around us ... and come to make sense of the whole thing — a phenomenon termed by the world as "religion," or what I more readily term "worldview."
Religion and worldview are the same thing. And they are the key to any understanding we have of life. Religions or worldviews are very precious perspectives we bring to life ... supposedly protected in America by the Constitution so that some public authority (such as a handful of Supreme Court justices) does not dictate to us what those worldviews must be and where (and where not) we are allowed not only to be guided by them, but also be allowed to pass them on to a beloved rising generation. Unfortunately, we have not been protecting that great freedom very well from those in authority who want to "change" or "progress" our traditional American worldview to a more "scientific" one (meaning, their own particular worldview): Secular-Humanism.
In any case, I have come to learn that whether religions — such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindusim, Daoism or more recently, Secular-Humanism, or any such worldview — are found to be actually true or not is never a matter of "objective" insight. No such objectivity actually exists in the real world (ask Einstein, Planck, Schroedinger, Bohr and the boys who well-appreciated the Truth in life as being perceived "relationally," summed up in Eistein's Theory of Relativity (Relativitätstheorie)... or better termed in English, "Theory of Relativeness." People who claim to be purely objective or "scientific" in their approach to life (such as modern Secular-Humanists) are foolishly confusing even themselves in their religious belief. Truth is ultimately found not in fancy ideas or beautiful theories ... but in the actual experience of living life itself.
Christianity, founded on the ministry of Jesus Christ, is built heavily on that notion. To know and succeed in life, it must be "experienced" not theorized about (such as the Pharisees did). God, the author of all life, in fact even gave us the wisdom (his Living Word or Logos) to guide us and his Spirit to carry forward us as we take on life itself. In other words, Christian Truth (as certainly was understood and practiced by America's Founding Fathers) has to be lived out, not be theorized about. Experience, not brightly rational ideas, has to be our guide, our teacher, our sustainer.
And that's what this three-volume series on the American "experience" is all about: Truth or Reality as it has actually been lived out ... not as it simply has been cultivated and packaged at the desk of some kind of great theorizing mind who believes that he has discovered the Truth of life now found in some kind of a "perfect" intellectual plan he has conceived for the world. I have studied closely (even actually lived through some of the events they themselves brought into being) such "social scientists" as the French philosophes (political philosophers) of the Girondin and Jacobin Parties, who designed a perfect "Revolution" for France at the end of the 1700s; or Marx, Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot, who conceived for mankind beautifully-designed versions of "Communism"; but also the 20th century American Presidents Wilson and Johnson, with their beautifully-designed versions of "Democracy," intended to be implemented at home — but also very importantly sent abroad — through great political crusades. All such efforts failed disastrously, with thousands — even millions — dying as a result of their efforts to put these beautiful plans into action.
So yes, this is a study of American life based on what I have been able to observe about the way America has come through the past, and all its challenges, to the present — and all of its challenges. But this has been observed by one who himself has experienced a number of different worldviews, experienced at various points in his life, in various parts of the world (each with their own approach to life).
In the end, I have come to appreciate very deeply the American worldview that promoted the birth and growth of a great nation that I am privileged to be a part of. And I dearly want that legacy not be squandered by a rising generation that has no knowledge, thus no social-cultural connection, with that great legacy. So I teach. So I write.
Thus I am inviting the reader, as I have also invited my students, parishioners, and just personal friends (of all national and cultural varieties) to join with me in exploring the dear world that we Americans ourselves have shaped and now live in — for better or worse (very hopefully, for the "better"!)
My own confusing start. I grew up in a small town in illinois and went off to Hanover College (Indiana) in September of 1959 to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry — something pretty generally expected of me, having been a very active leader during my high school years in the Presbyterian youth organization locally, regionally and state-wide (Illinois). But at Hanover I was deeply challenged by a professor who felt that the Bible would be strengthened by eliminating all the superstitious miracle stories — and then rattled in my religious faith even further when the same professor committed suicide the next semester.
Discovering a much larger world. Attempting to recover from the shock, I enrolled at the University of Illinois in the College of Architectural Engineering. But a summer in Europe (June to September 1960) with my family prior to that transfer changed completely the direction I would then take in life. There in Europe I had a whole new world that I previously knew absolutely nothing about now open up to me. It was startling. The American world I had grown up in had been so secure, so complete, so accomplished, that I had no idea that there were other valid — even very appealing — ways of going at life!
I now returned to the States hungry to know more about this larger world I had just discovered. Thus upon arrival at Champaign-Urbana that fall I immediately transferred out of the school of engineering and into the humanities, instead taking up the study of history and continuing my study of French (and starting up German as well) ... to get myself ready to spend my junior year abroad in Europe (1961-1962).
At first I was greatly disappointed when the Presbyterian program placed me at the University of Geneva, because I wanted to study in France, not Switzerland. But once in Geneva it took me no time to realized that I had been posted to the most international of all European cities ... where numerous young and vibrant people from all around the world were easily befriended. Here I also had the opportunity not only to study international politics and economics in French (as well as courses on diplomacy in both English and French at the Graduate Institute of International Studies) but also to vastly improve my German by not only meeting my first best-friend ever, Adam, an English-speaking German, but also his German buddies whom I spent most of my free time with and who spoke virtually no English at all. It taught me not only how to move back and forth from one language to another, but also how to quickly move from one cultural context to another, American, French and German perspectives on life varying rather widely. Also having suite-mates from Hungary and Bulgaria added to this perspective (in March and April I took a Vespa scooter trip through Communist Eastern and Southeastern Europe all the way to Greece and Turkey and back) and got to encounter yet other worlds vastly different from my American world. Also, that year brought me face to face with the philosophy of Political Realism, something that would become a natural part of how I looked at life from that point on.
At the end of that school year in Geneva, I returned to the States, a confirmed internationalist.
Graduate study and work in D.C. After completing my senior year at Illinois the following year (1963), I took up graduate study (political science) at Georgetown University. But I also engaged myself deeply (half-time work in various parts of the Washington bureaucracy) in an up-close study of the way that power actually worked in Washington. I also hung out with the "jr. dip set" (sons and daughters of the foreign diplomats posted to Washington) but ended up with a law student at George Washington University, Courtney (that was a guy's name back then!), as my best friend and a Texas girl, Martha, working for her Congressman as my girlfriend. Meanwhile, I wrote my master's thesis on the political dynamics of South Africa, at a time (the mid-1960s) when Africa was securing "national" independence everywhere. But I ended up predicting instead (to the shock of some) that political control of South Africa would remain in White hands for the foreseeable future, probably at least for another full generation (which indeed turned out to be the case).
Entering fully into that larger world. Martha and I would marry a couple of years later and soon thereafter I would finish my course work and comprehensive and oral exams for the Ph.D. — just in time to be able to "escape" from America (August of 1968). It had been terrifying to watch America (up close) go through the political and social horrors earlier that year — two assassinations of national leaders and rioting, sacking and torching of American cities (including D.C. where the destruction came within two blocks of our home on Dupont Circle). We gladly headed off to Europe, bought a VW and took off eastward from Brussels (where we expected eventually to settle), across Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal (we actually flew to Nepal from India) ... and then six months later headed back. It was quite an adventure, not only seeing awesome sights, but meeting awesome people along the way (including major civic leaders of Afghanistan, who treated us to an American Thanksgiving dinner and who escorted us to a fashion show put on by the Afghan Queen!)
Upon our return to Brussels I went to work for IBM-Belgium as a computer systems analyst (I had taken up the study of main-frame computing while in D.C.) and Martha got a job teaching at the NATO American school. Here I would also gain another set of best-friends, Victor (a Fleming from Halle) and Pierre and his wife Anne (Walloons from Liège). But I finally came to realize that my work at IBM left me no time to work on my dissertation (how Belgian leadership sought to manage national unity in the face of a deep social cleavage between the Dutch and French-speaking halves of the country). Thankfully, Martha's teaching job put us in a position to be able to live comfortably off of her salary so that we eventually decided that I could and should devote myself full-time to my Belgian research (at the same time forming a friendship with Newt Gingrich, who was there also doing doctoral research). Then finally in July of 1970, Martha and I returned to the States for me to write up my research.
The young professor. The year after that (1971) we moved to Mobile, Alabama, for me to take up a position as an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of South Alabama (teaching world politics, international relations, American diplomacy, and regional area studies of Europe, the Middle East and East Asia) — and then soon thereafter as the founder and director of the university's international studies program. And I took up the role as sponsor of a Model United Nations organization that brought in university students from all across the South, to play the role of diplomats from the widest array of nations — to give these students the understanding of not only the complexities of international diplomacy but also how "political reason" could take many forms, always sound very compelling, yet at the same time make it very hard to find the path to a workable truth. I also wanted my students to be able to avoid falling into an easy social-intellectual bubble that awaits them as they step from their comfortable lives as teenagers into the adult world. I was hoping to make that transition easier for them than it had been for me — yet also as thrilling as it had been for me — to discover that larger world! Also, as head of the international studies program, I worked hard to place my majors in internships in the actual occupational fields (finance, law, diplomacy, etc.) they were studying for, so that their learning experience would not just come from a book!
Life outside the academic bubble. But beyond my classroom teaching, my natural instinct was to engage myself in the actual world of political dynamics itself. And although I remained active in acadlemic life at the university and around the state of Alabama, Matha and I quickly left the academic neighborhood surrounding the university and moved downtown, where our closest friends were the young businessmen, bankers, lawyers, etc. that directed the life of the city of Mobile itself. Also I did contract work for an international organization seeking a diplomatic solution between the U.S. and France over the politics of of town-twinning — and soon expanded operations as a consultant with banks and businesses in the American South on the matter of "political risk" (actually, mostly economics!) that is, the risk involved in overseas lending and investment. I even had the opportunity to offer a contract course on this subject at the London School of Economics.
At the same time, a business partner and I became deeply involved in the renewing of historic homes in downtown Mobile, classic beauties that had fallen on hard times (my love of architecture still a big matter to me) — and also spending weekends (seven years) crewing for a Dutchman during the region's rather constant run of sailing regattas, until Martha and I finally purchased our own sailboat and began cruising the Gulf Coast. During this time I also took up the study of Arabic (to deepen my study of the world of Islam)... and town planning (especially the political side of the issue).
Personal crisis. Then as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, my well-constructed world came crashing down. Martha and I (and in several instances a friend Tony and his wife) were heavily invested in house-restoration (we were holding eight properties ready for resale at the time) financed by constantly-renewable 90-day construction loans, now abruptly running at a 22 percent interest rate. Worse, purchasers proved to be most unwilling to take on our finished work at a time that mortgages were also running at astronomically high rates — thanks to the monetarist policies (a radical tightening of the nation's money supply) of the Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volcker. Thus it was that we found ourselves being slowly driven toward the brink of bankruptcy.
Even a sailing trip Martha and I planned to take us from Mobile to the Bahamas and back (the summer of 1981) ended up aground in South Florida — and we had to make our way back to Mobile with yet another feature of our lives not going as planned, spinning me into deep depression. Even our beautiful home got broken into by thieves — repeatedly — until there was nothing of value left in our home to attract local thieves looking for easy drug money (we lived next to a public park where gangs were beginning to hang out).
Neither of us at that point looked to God or anything else other than our own well-cultivated abilities to direct our lives — abilities which however were now failing us terribly. This spun me into an existential darkeness, one lasting month after month until it became year after year, a time period in which we could find no exit out of this darkness.
Finally it all proved too much for me — and I woke up in early January of 1983, fully resolved to abandon my marriage and my teaching job. I simply wanted to escape to some place where there would be no high expectations, no great responsibilities that I was forced to live up to. At this point, accepting failure seemed far easier than attempting to make things work out — only to see things repeatedly fail, no matter how much effort was put into the struggle. I was emotionally and spiritualy exhausted.
This decision was a complete shock to everyone. As cruel as it was to Martha, she nonetheless agreed to the divorce (we had no children, making the matter actually quite simple) — and by the end of the same month the divorce was finalized, and she immediately moved back to Texas. But the university dean, when confronted with the decision, requested that I simply take a year's leave of absence rather than just quitting, which I agreed to — however quite convinced at the time that I was unlikely ever to return to my teaching duties.
A slow recovery. But that next year brought deep changes to my very emptied-out soul (but also to Martha, already returning to her earlier Christian faith, and who upon her return to Texas immediately met the man she would marry a year later). It would take me a bit longer to go down the Christian trail than was the case for Martha. But others, out of a deep concern for the darkness that hung over me, began to invite me down bits and pieces of that Christian path. And indeed, by those same bits and pieces, I began to take deeper note of the very different journey that these dear souls so easily embraced — one not particularly directed towards social status and material success. In the meantime I spent that off-year working quietly for a friend simply as an import-export clerk, fairly unnoticed in his back office. However, before the year was out I found myself enjoying enormously the opportunity to computerize his entire business operation!
Central America. I did indeed return the next year to the University (the fall of 1984), although now life was conducted much more simply — except for the project I began to put together to bring various authorities (Kissinger and Carter, among others, quickly accepting my invitation) to try to work out some kind of negotiated settlement or truce among the warring parties that were tearing Central America apart. I added Spanish to my repertoire of languages and the next summer (1985) headed to Central America to meet with the local authorities that I wanted to involve in these discussions.
But most importantly, the Archbishop of El Salvador assigned a young priest to help me with the interviews in his country — and soon we two found ourselves relating to each other about our lives and the journeys we had made thus far. The young priest, Father Jose Maria, was the last man standing in his family — his father, uncles, cousins and a brother-in-law killed in this on-going civil war, some by the guerrilla fighters of the political "Left" and some by the regular army soldiers of the political "Right" ... and some they were not sure who was responsible. But Jose was a person of amazing peace and awesome love, which struck me deeply when I accompanied him to a mountain village accessible only by foot, to deliver communion and a sermon. In Jose, I saw a living Jesus when the villagers came out to greet the young priest, the power of the love that flowed back and forth between Jose and the villagers standing in such sharp contrast to the darkness (the same kind of darkness that I was well familiar with) that otherwise hung over El Salvador. Ultimately I had other Central American countries to visit, but cut my last week in Honduras short to return to El Salvador, to meet again with Jose before heading back to the U.S. A deep friendship was thus formed (I would visit El Salvador two more times in the years ahead).
Finding Jesus in others. At the same time I had experienced something of a similar nature in finding myself drawn to my assigned spiritual director while undergoing a Cursillo Christian renewal conference — an ex-alcoholic Episcopal priest (no more sipping even the communion wine) of rather humble looks, who regularly served as a minister to the throw-away kids who lived under the boardwalks of Pensacola Beach. He too gave off a Jesus spirit simply in the way he so easily and profoundly connected with the world around him ... including me as well. And likewise I saw Jesus in a former plumber (dislexic and attaining only a 6th grade education) who ran the rather charismatic operations of an inner-city / prison and jail ministry — also a person of that same bright and caring spirit as he made his way through the darker world of the homeless and the imprisoned. And thus it was that I became drawn into that world, looking to find that same Jesus in others, regardless of their social rank or situation, wherever I could.
Facing failure more easily. Two things developed for me on my return from Central America. One was that the university president confronted me with the news that I was going to have to call off the conference — because just the expense alone of providing the necessary security for this peace conference was way beyond the university's financial capacity. It was agreed that the event could be cut down simply to a visit by Kissinger, but no more than that. But what was surprising to me was my own reaction to the news. Ordinarily, after working so hard on the project, I would have been furious at such a setback and would have worked hard to find ways to get around this resistance. But instead, I simply took the matter as it stood, and decided to move on to other things. Anyway, at that point, the quest for Christ seemed to be more important than the quest for success in carrying off a major international conference. But my own calm reaction spoke volumes to me about a new world that was opening up not only around me but in me!
Street and prison/jail ministry. The other thing was that that with the start of school again that fall I could no longer attend the daily gatherings at the street ministry. And the director refused to work in the evenings when I was available, because that was family time (and rightly so). So I decided to head out and do some jail ministry on my own. That happened only once — when I immediately decided that I much preferred working as part of a team, and invited members of the Presbyterian Church I was now attending (and even leading a Sunday School class in gospel evangelism!) to join me in my jail and street ministry. Within short order I had a huge team drawn from numerous churches (from Episcopal to independent evangelical or charismatic churches) to accompany me in this ministry. But the best part of the whole project was my discovery that Jesus could be found at any point, any time, any where, and by anybody, whenever this spirit of spreading the light of Christ was to be found. It was all in the secret of human relationship, not in some accomplished project or program (such as had always directed my life previously). It was found just simply in showing up for others and letting some kind of natural bond, arising from some kind of true interest in the life of others, take prayerful command of the situation. It was awesome ... just letting the Spirit of God take command of these events.
Seminary study. But all this brought forth a major problem: I was being drawn between two worlds, both of which I now loved very much: teaching and ministering. One night I was awakened by a very compelling vision, one which clearly brought me to the decision that it would be the ministerial route I would take. But what that exactly meant was not clear. I supposed that it would simply be a continuation of my Mobile ministry. But at the urging and support of others, I applied to and was accepted at several seminaries ... and finally took the Princeton route when I discovered that the pastor of the Presbyterian Church had actively opposed my application to Princeton, because he did not like me hanging out with charismatics who, as he saw things, were "church destroyers" (there had been an ugly church split at a nearby Presbyterian church over this issue). But I took his failure in his considerable effort to block me as God's intervention — and thus a sign as to what God's choice in this matter happened to be. As things ultimately worked out, this proved to be a correct reading on my part.
I arrived in Princeton in June (1986) to begin intensive summer Hebrew, just to get an early jump on things (Greek and Hebrew were academic requirements). But after two weeks of very little sleep, I decided that I needed to keep myself from getting drowned in this huge academic tsunami. I took myself to the placement office and found a perfect summer internship (20 hours a week) in nearby Trenton. When I told my classmates my decision, they thought I had lost my mind (actually, by God's grace alone, I ended up with A's for both summer sessions!). But with this Trenton involvement, I not only kept my hands on active ministry, I met a number of practicing Christians, including the pastor-scholar Scoti, who would become a very close friend. But the pastor of the Trenton Church, John, (only a year older than me) and I also drew close, and I even dragged him off to El Salvador at the end of the summer, to witness first-hand Christianity in a war zone.
A crisis in ministry. When we returned to the States John and I were greeted with the news that the police had shut down an aid-to-the-homeless program run out of a storefront behind his church and owned by the church, but directed by an assistant pastor from the very prestigious Nassau Presbyterian church in Princeton (the university itself was built around it) and also supported by an equally prestigious Episcopal church also in Princeton. It was a huge embarrassment to all three churches, but especially to the Nassau church, because their "street cool" assistant pastor had been supplementing his income by running drugs out of the ministry.
At a crisis meeting held over the matter, I made the mistake of speaking up about what I knew to be true from my own experience with street ministry. Having well-meaning Princeton volunteers conducting a back-office program of finding rentals and jobs for the homeless was a program destined to failure in the first place. I was quite aware that street guys were not likely to remember to show up on a regular basis for their new jobs or remember to pay their rent or utilities ... because they were in fact street guys, not budding candidates for middle-class American life. They had grown up without fathers, and had no idea of how to "do adult." That's why they were on the streets in the first place. I did not bother to add the fact that I had avoided that particular part of the Trenton church's multi-ministry (food, clothing, recovery group programs, etc., run from different buildings along that back street) because of a dark spirit that seemed to hover over the front-office of that ministry, where the guys just hung out. There was no particular "Christian" character to what what was going on there — a spiritually dangerous shortcoming in such a dark setting (thus I was in no ways surprised as to what had developed with their street ministry).
Needless to say, I soon found out from John that the Nassau pastor (who was a close friend of John's) disliked intensely my "uppity" observations. But I was also not surprised at that because by this time I had become well aware of the fact that not only professors but very often pastors were quite capable of secluding themselves inside polite "bubbles" — where it might more easily appear that the world was under better human control. The only problem with this (which even the Pharisees never seemed to figure out) was that life outside the bubble, where Jesus himself had chosen to operate, didn't function according to well-designed human plans!
Here in the streets of Trenton I encountered again another example of "realty versus the bubble."
Adding street ministry to my Princeton days. That first fall semester of 1986, I supplemented my Princeton study and Trenton internship by also serving as a volunteer chaplain at the Trenton State Prison — assigned "One-Left," the jail within the prison where they placed misbehaving prisoners for a week or two just to get them to cool down. I simply spent my time in prayer with these guys ... Black Muslims mostly. And I was entirely surprised to get Christmas cards from some of my guys when Christmas season rolled around! Just how Muslim were they really?
But I would not be able to keep up this ministry — because I had become fully involved in a new street ministry as the focus of my work at the Trenton church.
It had all started that October when I noticed the street guys just hanging around the church, put back on the streets in the early morning after spending the night at the Rescue Mission ... streets that were getting colder and colder with the development of the fall weather. Thus I put the idea forward at a gathering of local Presbyterian pastors (mostly my age and just friends at this point) of opening the basement of the church for breakfast and Bible-study, just to help give the guys something of a better start for the day. One of the pastors, who supposed himself very street-wise, told me that the moment I opened the Bible, these street guys would be a streak out the door. But I insisted that I would do it no other way. Anyway, John gave me the approval to go ahead with this idea. And Scoti even said he would join me to get things up and running. And so it was that I put the word out on the street of what I was going to be doing. At first only a handful of guys showed up. And no, they did not head for the door when the matter of the Bible came up ... but were in fact quite willing to talk about how such matters touched on their own lives. For them to find someone willing to listen to their stories was quite unprecedented (otherwise they were just "cases" in the files of one or another government welfare program — as even it had been with the ministry that the police had shut down). Soon others joined them, until we had about two dozen guys who would show up each morning for coffee (with lots of sugar!), peanut butter sandwiches (lots of them, which they helped prepare) and Bible "study" — and wide-ranging discussion.
I returned "home" to Mobile for Christmas vacation (a very close friend, Bill, who was part of my Mobile ministry team from its very first days, let me store my furniture at his place and return there during vacation time). But upon returning to Princeton, I learned that a problem had developed at the Trenton church during my absence(the janitor didn't like the program either) and that I would have to move my ministry out of the church — possibly to the same building that had housed the previous street ministry. This was exactly what I did. And thus the "Hanover Street Ministry" was born. The police watched us closely for a while — but soon surmised that this was a very different operation than the previous one.
And indeed it was. Soon the ministry began to expand in operation, not just with breakfast items but also Bible reading (those that could read) and prayer, lots of prayer. Within a fairly short order, we had the place packed. In essence I now had my own congregation of a hundred or more street guys. I soon got a couple of guys from the seminary to help out, most notably Tom, who would work with me until he graduated the year ahead of me and moved on to a pastoral call elsewhere. And a local Black church linked up with the ministry, bringing in quite lavish breakfasts and some top preaching one Sunday a month. And thus it was that the Hanover Street ministry took up a well-founded place in the life of the local community.
Kathleen. And thus it was also that eventually (August of 1987) I met Kathleen. I had been invited by a friend, Michael, to bring my guys out to a Full Gospel Businessmen's Breatfast held monthly at a restaurant just outside of Trenton — because one of the officers had felt that God was about to do a mighty work of revival, starting with the homeless. Actually, what God seemingly had intended instead in all this was for me to meet Kathleen, who with her mother and friends also attended the Breakfasts. Michael actually had been assigned a prayer request from Kathleen for God to bring a Christian man into her life — and (he later confessed) I kept coming to mind as he prayed over her prayer card. He wanted me to meet her, and pointed her out as she passed by that day of the gathering. I was immediately sold on that idea! Then as the speaker finally got into his message, I found myself writing my name on a card that I intended to pass on to her at the end of the meeting — when I saw her get up from her table, look around, and head my way. She sat down right next to me! And the rest was absolutely easy. I invited her to come to the ministry to see what went on there — not really thinking straight, for where I worked was a very dangerous place for any young woman to come on her own.
Anyway, the summer was about over and I rather immediately had to get back to Mobile for a bit before the fall semester started up, and so I didn't see her for a while. But when I returned, Michael told me he had talked to Kathleen, and she informed him that she sat next to me to escape the air conditioning she was sitting under, and the only available seating at the time (my street guys tended to wander about rather than remain seated for the talk!) was next to me. My only reaction to the teasing was to thank God for air conditioning! But soon another Breakfast was coming up and again I was to bring my guys out to the restaurant with me. And there she was, waiting for me — to explain that there was no seating at her table, but that we could talk afterwards. And sure enough, she agreed for me to pick her up the next day to bring her to the ministry and church afterwards, plus have lunch together before she had to head off to work at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. And thus it was, with absolutely no effort, the woman who would become my wife the next year (1988) came into my life.
God's directing this key matter in my life was awesome!
Marriage — and South Africa. For reasons never clear to me, the man who headed up an international program at the seminary took it upon himself to offer me a tremendous scholarship that would allow me to conduct my senior thesis research the upcoming summer, no matter where or how much (within reason) it cost. At this point an old interest in South Africa had been strongly on my mind ... as I suspected that something very peculiar was going on in that country, "peculiar" in that it in no ways conformed to what Americans typical understood as standard political dynamics. I sensed that things were about to shift politically in that country, but not along lines such as revolution or even a racial holocaust as many indeed were expecting. As it turned out not only was my airfare to and from South Africa to be paid for but all living arrangements provided for me during a two-month stay in the country, allowing me to do my typical political interviewing (a procedure I had used extensively since my days in Belgium and in my political risk studies) in order to come to my own observations about what was unfolding in South Africa.
The only problem was that Kathleen and I had already become engaged, and had planned to get married in late June. But I was now scheduled to leave for South Africa at the beginnng of July. Should we wait until September? But finally we stayed with the June date. We could get participation from John as pastor, Tom as assistant, and Scoti as best man only in June ... as September would bring scheduling problems.
We both had households of furniture and thus asked for no wedding gifts, but instead contributions to help fund the Hanover Street ministry. And indeed, people were generous. But some of our friends proposed the idea of an additional fund to help purchase air tickets ($1400 at the time) for Kathleen to be able to join me in South Africa. Once in South Africa, she could easily then just join me in my arranged accommodations. But she had no passport, and a visa for South Africa was well-known to take months, even as long as a year. Acquiring the passport took no time. But then, by the grace of God, a South African consul that I had become friends with, Sommie, agreed to walk the visa process through himself. So Kathleen could join me in my second month in South Africa. And wouldn't you know, the funding that the friends assembled came exactly to the price of the airline ticket! God was clearly playing this out for us!
Once in South Africa it became clear to me how much ideological inclinations (or just plain ignorance) on the part of Americans had created in the American mind a picture that was in no ways related to the reality of South Africa. First of all, the level of racial segregation seemed no worse in South Africa than it was in most American cities. Blacks and Whites could be found together in shops and restaurants, in the streets ... and most importantly for me at a major Christian mission station (Kwasizabantu) where pastors and elders of all of South Africa's races and ethnic groups gathered from all around the country to worship and pray for the country. I stayed there a week just trying to get a picture of what was actually going on among them ... and then returned to the mission for another long stay with Kathleen with me on this second visit. And we stayed with English South Africans in Pretoria and Capetown as well as Afrikaners (Dutch-speakers) in both places, plus a Christian evangelist in the Indian community of Durban (in Natal Province where Gandhi had practiced law for 21 years before heading off to India to "save" the latter country from the British!). And we met with Black pastors and local leaders along the way. And I met with voices (such as officials of the South African Council of Churches - the SACC) that had made it their business to go abroad selling the worst picture of South Africa possible, knowing that this was exactly what the world outside of South Africa wanted and expected to hear (and was thus quite willing to contribute lavishly to the cause of "liberation"). But hey, politics is politics.
What we found in South Africa was an amazing hunger for racial reconciliation coming from all directions, a mood conveniently overlooked outside of the country by Liberal Westerners who preferred to hold an anti-White racist bias that seemed to gratify their sense of moral superiority — in short, sort of a moral bubble that people loved to place themselves in, but one which ultimately served no one very well, and often quite tragically.
In any case I was impressed by the moral-spiritual energy going into this effort to move South Africa away from the racial tensions that others were expecting (probably even hoping) would tear the country apart. Thus when I returned to the States, I set myself to the task of writing about "Racial Reconciliation in South Africa."
Allan Boesak. One incident stands out strongly in my memory of that last year: Allan Boesak's evening appearance at the Nassau Presbyterian church in Princeton in October. He was out of the country when I was in Cape Town (as was also Archbishop Tutu) so I hadn't had the opportunity to interview him in South Africa. But I was very curious about what he saw in the numerous changes taking place in his country. So I was looking forward to this event.
Actually hundreds of people turned out and the church was packed. I recognized a lot of people from the seminary – most of them from among what I styled as the "peace and social justice" group.
Unfortunately, as the the talk proceeded, I quickly recognized that we were simply going to be treated that evening to a repetition of the SACC "true story" – the unbearable pain of life in South Africa and the evil dimensions of those who governed the country – a litany which I (and I guess most everybody else there) knew by heart. But then I guess that that was what most people had come for. I was disappointed – for the talk provided no real insight into what SACC leadership was thinking concerning what was presently unfolding within the country.
Then we went to a question and answer period – and as I was pondering whether or not to disturb the evening's peace and social justice ritual with a question about his views on some of the positive recent developments — a man stood up in the balcony to pose just that question. He announced himself as a minister who had returned from the country after a long stay there and had noticed a number of hopeful developments going on within the country — and would Rev. Boesak be willing to elaborate for the benefit of us all about those.
Whew! I was glad I was not the poor soul who posed that question, for Boesak lit into him as if he were some kind of demented soul who had somehow gotten himself ensnared by the propaganda of the White racist government — for "obviously" he knew nothing about what was really going on in South Africa. There was "nothing" in the unfolding situation within South Africa — past, present or future — that pointed to hope. The only hope was for outside help in crushing the fascism that gripped the country.
The crowd went wild! They hooted, they hollered, they set up a rhythmic stamping of their feet in wild support, as if they were in a basketball gymnasium rather than a church. This went on and on — with Boesak beaming, and with the people finally rising to their feet in wild approval. After several minutes of this, Kathleen and I quietly made our way up the aisle through the frenzy and out the door into a calmer and more refreshing evening.
I had often wondered how it was that Hitler had so easily mesmerized the masses with his inflammatory (but otherwise rather banal) rhetoric. I felt that I now understood. He gave the masses what they wanted to hear. And that became for him his definition of "Truth" (which even he finally got engulfed in).
Unpleasant drama arising from my senior thesis I had chosen a Christian-ethics professor at the seminary to serve as my thesis supervisor, a young man who confessed that he really did not know much about South Africa. He was more into "Liberation Theology" (I called it, "Jesus with a submachine gun") focused on events going on in Central America. And although he did not like my thesis title, he admitted that he enjoyed the first 100 pages that I had submitted, a detailed section simply outlining the cultural-political backgrounds of the various racial groups making up the country. Then I had no other conversation with him before submitting towards the end of the semester the last part of what turned out to be a 260-page work. But eventualy we found ourselves coming up on graduation day, and I still hadn't heard back from him about his final evaluation of my thesis.
Finally on the Friday before the graduation day on the following Tuesday I got a call from the Registrar. She had finally received his grade: an "F!" The kind soul that she was, on her own initiative she had already shifted things around so that my major was no longer in the area of Christian ethics but instead was now Biblical studies. I had taken multitudes of extra courses (mostly Biblical), and in fact in terms of course load, I could have graduated at the end of two years — except that Princeton had a 3-year residency requirement no matter how many credits a student had earned. And the senior thesis was merely optional and thus my F would not block my graduation. But the professor himself did not know that I had all these extra courses, and clearly his intention was that in failing my senior thesis (worth 8 credit-hours) he would be keeping me from graduating. Was he ever surprised to see me at commencement the next Tuesday!
But he had nothing to say to me, he was so angry at my thesis. In finally getting to see his annotated copy, it was clear that he was accusing me of having been taken in by South African "Fascism," so much so that I was blinded about the reality of the racial oppression going on in that country ... and the fact that only violent revolution could cleanse that country of its racial evil. Wow! For someone who knew absolutely nothing first-hand about South Africa, he was equally absolutely certain that he had the "Truth" of South Africa all figured out.
But I had run into this kind of "Reasoning" before, rather frequently, sadly to say. I had learned all the way back in my days studying and working in D.C. that "Reason" and "Truth" were not the same things. I well understood how Lawyers argued with "Reason." But juries were forced to find the "Truth" in all the "reasoning" that competing lawyers threw at the juries in court cases. How the juries found truth in the face of clever but opposing reasoning was always a mystery. Everyone knew that the cleverer the lawyer, the better the outcome of a court case. Truth" itself actually had very little to do with any of this.
History taught me that intellectuals living in their academic bubbles of perfect plans and grand ideas (usually designed to put other people under their command) could be said to be perfectly "Rational." But Human Reason is merely clever self-justification, the ability to convince others that what you are or what you want is completly correct ... and that others should bow before such correctness. Even six-year-olds are perfectly able to answer a scolding parent with a perfectly "reasonable" response as to why they did the thing that has the parent so upset (and in fact are quick to employ this clever tool ... hopefully not successfully however!)
Anyway, when I ran into the same young professor some time later, when things had worked out in South Africa exactly as I had predicted they would, he was not interested in pursuing the subject!