The Era of Bad Feelings
A Christian’s Duty During Election Turmoil
The election looms on the horizon. The President of the United States is unpopular with a large segment of the population — especially the most outspoken Christians. The economy is in tatters. The previous administration has pursued a counterproductive trade policy that has badly damaged the nation’s economy, but the current President is no better, and the most productive sectors of industry are especially hard-hit and groan under what they describe as tyranny. The incumbent continues the previous economic debasement, only slightly changed. To top it off, there is continuing conflict against Muslim terrorists supported by states that insure their financing and provide havens when they are hunted by Americans. The United States is disrespected by a number of potentates and hirelings of various kinds. There is domestic unrest.
Some political pundits claim the country is on the brink of disaster and may break apart if the incumbent is reelected. The opposition candidate positions himself as the real change agent that is needed, but there is little substantive difference in the philosophies and policies of the candidates. The incumbent President has tweaked the nose of Great Britain and has sought to appease Muslim states. Secession talk is in the air, and some are predicting the judgment of God upon the nation. The election will be extremely close. The year is 1812.
The real differences between the election of 1812 and that of 2012 are much more substantive than the playful comparisons above. There was only one political party then, ironically called the “Democratic-Republican Party,” which fielded two candidates, the incumbent James Madison and his dissident challenger, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. The latter was backed by the old Federalists of New England who had lost out when Thomas Jefferson had been elected in 1800. Because there was no effective second party, the entire period is known as “The Era of Good Feelings”; but feelings were anything but good when the campaigning began.
Congress and its young “war hawk” leaders elected in the mid-term election of 1810 were clamoring for war with England. The economic embargoes had not worked, American ships were still being waylaid by British warships and sailors kidnapped, and the frontier was ablaze with warfare with some of the native tribes, backed by the British. Some Americans wanted to take Canada in retribution. North African pirates still occasionally preyed upon American merchant ships in the Mediterranean, though both Jefferson and Madison had met some of their demands. American honor and authority was challenged on every hand.
To the people of New England, France was the real enemy the nation should oppose, and England the trading partner to be appeased and wooed. After the reelection of Madison and the prosecution of the War of 1812, New England representatives met to discuss secession from the Union!
Christians of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and elsewhere despaired for the country because of the infidelity and warmongering they perceived among the power brokers of the Democratic-Republican Party and the policies that were consuming their wealth in debilitating fiscal policies and war. While there is much more to the story than that, doesn’t it all have a familiar ring to it?
On the other hand, there may have been good and sufficient reasons for resisting British policy, and certainly Christians in other parts of the country were opposed to the New England reaction.
The point I wish to make is this: There have been many times in our history that Christians have lost sight of God’s control over the affairs of men and nations and, in fearful desperation, have sought to take matters into their own hands, not trusting in God’s sovereignty to raise up and put down rulers as He sees fit. This has led, in many cases, to well-intentioned men making rash judgments and pragmatic decisions in the political arena, as if the outcome of an election or some other point of political turmoil rested in their hands to decide on terms of their own devising. This view misses the mark.
God, not man, is sovereign, and those who rise to power are those He ordains to fulfill His purpose, be it for blessing or judgment, as the Prophet Daniel attests: “[T]he most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:17; 25).
Our duty is simply to obey God in the political process and leave the results to Him, trusting in His provident care. To panic and wring hands over outcomes that we do not approve of, if we have done our duty as God has given us light, is an insult to God and demonstrates a lack of faith in his goodness, providence, and grace. We need to be content with His will. That does not mean we give up the fight for righteousness; quite the contrary, we redouble our efforts to effect change in favor of Christ’s rule over men, upholding His standards without compromise. The rest is in God’s hands; the Almighty will grant success or defeat as He pleases.
If we think that the Republican Party coming to power in the White House — as represented by a man who is a member of a non-Christian cult, with a solid pro-abortion, government healthcare, high taxes resume — means that Christ’s standards will be advanced through his election, and a rational fiscal policy will arrive when he takes the oath of office, we have sadly misplaced our biblical values and responsibility to God for our actions, and misunderstand the direction our nation ought to go. If we think it would be incrementally better than what we have, we are mistaken; it is only the difference between Caligula and Nero — both Caesars who advance the cause of centralized government power.
The United States did not go up in smoke as a result of the election and War of 1812. It could have, however, if the American negotiators in Ghent had let down their guard, and if men like Oliver Hazard Perry, Thomas MacDonough, and Andrew Jackson had failed on the battlefield. By the providence of God, the country emerged stronger and more unified than before.
But that was a different era, and the blood of millions of aborted American babies was not crying out from the ground for justice. God may show mercy to us in the coming years (as He has in the past), but let us not presume on what form His goodness or His justice may take.
This calls for real humility on our part. We must fear God, not man, in how we engage the political process and, with peaceful confidence, leave the outcome to Him.
In considering our duties in this “era of bad feelings,” we would be well-served to heed George Washington’s thoughtful charge: “Let us raise a Standard to which the Wise and Honest can repair. The event is in the hands of God.”