That’s how WORLD Magazine founder Joel Belz characterized the expectations of many readers who wrote to him about the cultural challenges that lie ahead. I wish the major events of 2013 provided evidence to pierce the darkness, but all I can find is one ray of hope.
The political year was certainly gloomy. In January, hope sprung eternal concerning President Barack Obama: Fresh off an electoral victory, might he move from first-term agitator to second-term statesman? By the fall, it was clear that ideology once again had trumped prudence.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the Obamacare debate. The president had pushed through a centralization of medical power by the thinnest of margins in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. It turned out that to win he had made false claims, stating repeatedly that forced equality would not violate the liberty of individuals to choose their own doctors. In 2013, millions of Americans learned differently, and Obamacare failures became fodder for bitter comedians.
The economic year was exuberant for stockholders and a relief for homeowners as housing prices finally rose, but beneath temporary joy lay fear that Washington was creating a new bubble by printing a surplus $85 billion per month and doing other fast shuffling to create the illusion that happy days are here again.
Nowhere was this more evident than in stock trends, where Federal Reserve shenanigans plus expanding corporate profits pushed markets to new highs. Analysts debated which was the larger factor, but late in the year good economic news tended to bring market declines because investors feared that a true recovery would force the Fed to halt its dangerous artifices.
The foreign policy year brought one disaster after another. Syria’s fratricide went on and on, with President Obama abandoning a pledge to push back against chemical warfare. Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons, with signatures on a piece of paper looking like those in Munich 75 years ago. China, Russia, and even North Korea flexed as the United States fluttered.
Nowhere was Obama diplomacy more in need of a reset than in the administration’s cultural imperialism. In one small but poignant example, Croatia (a 90 percent Catholic country grown out of the former Yugoslavia) in 2013 decided to vote on a constitutional amendment to affirm traditional marriage. The U.S. State Department dispatched diplomats to push gay rights there and elsewhere. Outcome: Croatians in December voted 2-1 against same-sex nuptials.
In all these areas our mainstream press failed America by presenting stories almost always based in secular liberal assumptions. (See sidebar.)
IN THE FACE OF political, economic, and foreign policy gloom-inducers, along with press failure to tell the truth, it would be great to hold up Christian institutions as beacons of light rather than beakers containing more toxic chemicals. But 2013 was a troubling year for leadership in many long-respected Christian groups. Examples: Vision Forum and Exodus died as their leaders faltered, while the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities and the American Bible Society (ABS) chewed up and spat out presidents.
That leads me to the ray of hope. For many years I was mistaken regarding the origins of a beloved hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” Seeing its initial publication in 1866, and singing verses like “’Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore,” I thought it emerged from the American Civil War, which split not only a nation into North and South but Protestant denominations as well.
Uh-uh. Samuel Stone wrote the hymn regarding church conflicts in South Africa. It could be and has been sung in just about every country in just about any era over the past century and a half—which means that a normal part of the Christian life is what we’d like to think is abnormal. The Church Triumphant? No, “with a scornful wonder, this world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” We can pray that the sad state of America and the church in America does not mean that God has abandoned us, but that He’s maturing and disciplining us—and He disciplines those He loves.
“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. … From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride. With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”
Amen. Come, 2014. Come, Lord Jesus.
Publication Date: December 22, 2013.