A recent poll from the Trafalgar Group and the Convention of States Action asked: “How important are the moral lessons of Easter and Passover to ensuring a strong America for future generations?” Of all respondents, 72.6% answered that the moral lessons of the Holy holidays are either “very important” (52.6%) or “somewhat important” (20%) to national strength.
Had I been asked, I would have been tempted to answer with the 72.6%. Suggesting that the moral lessons of Easter and Passover are unimportant to American life feels strange. Still, I would like to think that I would have resisted that temptation and cast my lot with the 27.4% of respondents who did not correlate the moral lessons of Passover and Easter with ensuring a strong America. Here’s why.
First, “ensuring” overstates the relationship between morality and national strength. Widespread immorality in our nation’s past, for instance, did not preclude national prosperity. Whatever base-level morality we may rightly ascribe to our nation, correlating morality with national strength claims that we are “moral enough” to prosper or, perhaps, that we are moral in the right ways to prosper. Surely there is some sense in which morality and prosperity are correlated; however, what we mean by “moral lessons” would almost certainly need to be clarified.
For instance, we might generalize from Christ’s crucifixion that being selfless is a good moral value. Would we also say that surrendering ourselves to suffer at the hands of enemies for some greater good is a moral less that would lead to property. Can a secular society made up of individuals who don’t proclaim “Jesus is Lord,” really give itself over to suffer and die on moral grounds and expect to prosper. Of course, Jesus was raised on the third day and glorified by the Father; however, such metaphysical claims would seem to exit the realm of comfortable moral conversation. Yet, taken apart from these claims and the God they point to, the morality exhibited in the cross has no clear path to prosperity.
While we should affirm a role for morality in society, we should also be careful in suggesting that the moral lessons of Easter and Passover (or even the Bible as a whole) are important for “ensuring” national strength. Moral actions may help create stability and order and to the extent that stability and order improve our chances of having a strong nation, then morality is certainly helpful. Still, if we assume that (1) there was a time in the United States in which there was broad (though not unanimous) acceptance of a moral framework approximating the moral lessons of Easter and Passover and (2) we are drifting away from broad acceptance of that framework in ways many fear will diminish our nation’s strength. Should not the latter at least press us to question why the former didn’t stave off the latter? Does the latter not at least leave open the possibility that the former isn’t capable of ensuring long-term strength?
Arguably, morals can’t ensure a strong nation because even if morals could be fully coded into social, political, or economic systems, they could not solve for brokenness. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I suspect many would opt not to go back for a second helping of morality since they have not experienced the strength some promised morality would provide.
That said, Christians should not stop pressing our political leaders to maintain order. However, we should be wary about correlating morality and national strength. God is not required to prosper nations for being “moral enough” or to judge nations until their iniquity is “complete” (Gen 15:16; cf. Dan 8:23; 1 Thess 2:16). The point is not to suggest that we give up efforts to hold political leaders accountable to their God-given task of preserving order. Rather, it is that in doing so, we are not ensuring national strength, but pointing to the God under whom political leaders exercise their God-given authority.
Second, decoupling “moral lessons” from theological conviction reinforces stories that deny God. For example, it is fashionable to point to the Ten Commandments as moral principles that can provide guardrails to allow nations to be more just. My suspicion is that those who refer to “the Ten Commandments” are using them as shorthand for moral frameworks similar to those in the founding documents of the United States or generally accepted as constituting basic human rights. Such frameworks are not nested in Christian theological convictions.
In other words, the first two commandments require exclusive allegiance to Yahweh, the third cautions against claiming to be God’s people without living according to God’s wisdom, and the fourth calls for a weekly Sabbath rest to remember the deliverance from a human ruler who denied the worship of God to a nation ruled by a Creator who does not require ceaseless labor. I don’t get the impression that every (or any) individual activating the Ten Commandments as a means of building a more just society assumes the adoption of commandments one through four.
As such, it seems likely that the “moral lessons” of the holy holidays would be abstracted from their necessary theological context and pressed into alignment with modern-day moral preferences. The challenge is not so much that we need the moral lessons of Passover or Easter to strengthen our nation, but that the church needs to be emboldened to proclaim the gospel by Christ’s resurrection and the history of God’s redemptive acts on behalf of his people. Christ’s resurrection points to the limitations (or inherent weakness) of secular nations and human wisdom by vindicating Jesus’s claims, teachings, and way of life.
Separating the theological claims of Passover and Easter from the moral lessons drawn from them allows those moral lessons to be incorporated into the lives of those committed to charting a course apart from God. They can pick and choose which aspects of God’s wisdom serve their agenda and reject those that encroach on their chosen way of life. Decoupling theology from morals, allows us to feel “good” as we determine our own destiny, but will not ensure a stronger nation.
Moral lessons won’t ensure a strong America for our children because nations do not rise and fall based on the moral fiber they exhibit. Nations are determined by God (Acts 17:22-28). Surely there are benefits to living in a moral society, but morals are not the solution to brokenness. Christ is. By suggesting that morality can ensure the strength of our nation, my concern is that Christians are settling for wholesomeness when only holiness will do. Christians do not need to offer moral lessons to our nation. We need to offer a prophetic voice unwilling to concede the essential connection between God and moral order. Christians are the only people capable of offering such a witness, so we must do more than encourage people to adopt the moral lessons of Passover and Easter. We must constantly and consistently point those who deny God toward Jesus Christ not so that others can live morally, but that they “might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4) having been United with Christ in his resurrection.