America has broken covenant with God by forsaking her Christian roots in thought, word, and deed. Because Americais the new Israel, God’s new covenant nation, it is up to Christians to restore this covenant by behaving in a biblical manner. This is author Carol M. Swain, PhD’s thesis in Be The People, which could more accurately be titled Be The Christian People.
In 1620 William Bradford and the other Christians who’d sailed on the Mayflower to America wrote the Mayflower Compact. In this they entered into a covenant with each other to behave in a manner in their new nation that would honor God. Dr. Swain makes the argument that the covenant was made between the people and God, and while the distinction that the covenant was between themselves in order to honor God sounds like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the distinction is significant. It is significant because Dr. Swain uses the Mayflower Compact to bolster her contention that God has made America His new covenant nation. Since a covenant always is between at least two parties, Dr. Swain sees the Mayflower Compact as America’s recognition that she is indeed God’s new covenant nation. Dr. Swain quotes three verses on covenant-keeping from the twenty-third chapter of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, a book of laws given toIsrael by God, and claims these verses apply to America. Neither of these contentions is true.
There is no arguing thatAmerica was founded by men who believed in a Creator God, many of whom believed in Jesus Christ. But the Mayflower Compact was written primarily to prevent the non-Christians on board the Mayflower from establishing their own form of government with their own laws. Deuteronomy was written specifically to the nation of Israeland does not apply to America. Many people (rightly) believe that God has blessed America because of her biblical foundations, but to claim that the Mayflower Compact and the Old Testament refer to a covenant between God and Americais false. However, ideas about restoring a healthy morality to America need not have a biblical or even historical basis to be worthy of discussion.
Dr. Swain claims the ideas she presents in the chapters on abortion, immigration, and various racial issues are a call to action for Christians, an intellectual treatise for discussion among intellectuals, and a guidebook to the behavior of the Christian Right for atheists and secular humanists. She includes Action Points at the end of each chapter, and a list of questions for discussion in a separate freely downloadable document. If Swain’s contention that America is God’s covenant nation can be set aside, the book and associated guides might serve as a basis for discussion.
Swain attacks the issues of abortion, family, immigration, race, and racial issues by presenting statistics that seek to persuade the reader that there is indeed a problem, but when she moves from statistics to persuasion the arguments for her solutions tend to rest on anecdotal experience or a “some say that….” offense that is neither persuasive nor particularly helpful in the context of a book. “The most ardent secular humanist” says Dr. Swain “might easily recoil when confronted with data about the multibillion-dollar biotechnology trade in human fetal tissue obtained from aborted babies.” Probably not, given that secular humanists don’t view the fetus as a human being, nor are they opposed to multibillion-dollar biotechnology corporations engaging in the sacramental activity of their religion, namely abortion.
When statistics might be helpful, Swain is intentionally vague. “Despite the brutal violence, an unknown number of whites who have read The Turner Diaries seem to be attracted to its vision of an all-white America purged of racial minorities and Jews.” An “unknown number?” “Seem to be?” The implication is that most if not all Caucasians are racist, and it only takes a book like The Turner Diaries to bring it to the surface. Though Dr. Swain’s previous books deal almost exclusively with racial issues I do not believe her intent is to suggest Caucasians are racists, but the vague suggestions of widespread racism give a false impression; facts or statistics could have made a strong and specific statement.
Dr. Swain does use one statistic consistently throughout the book. She claims that approximately seventy-eight percent of Americans claim they are Christian. If this is true, then perhaps as John MacArthur says, “America’s moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.” Be The People mentions Christians’ responsibility to study their faith but the majority of the book insists Christians need to exert a strong influence over the government and the media so that Christian principles can reign again in America.
Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner in their book The City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era make a case for reasonable and biblical Christian political action. Pastor Tim Keller writes (in an installment of the Redeemer Report) in “Work and Cultural Renewal” that “If God and his grace are not at the center of a culture, then other things will be substituted as ultimate values. So every vocational field is distorted by idolatry.” So it isn’t that Christians aren’t called to engage in politics, it’s that political action, for the Christian, is in third place behind preaching Jesus Christ and strengthening themselves and the Church with solid doctrine. Only then can Christians come honorably to the marketplace, ready to engage the culture.
In a blog titled “Dominion Theology or Reconstructionism” Pastor John Piper states “…we do well to exert our influence in ways that do not put the sword into the hands of the priests.” While Dr. Swain’s discussion of the issues plaguing our nation is interesting, and there is much Christians can agree with, her contention that America is God’s covenant people weakens the arguments she makes in the rest of the book and makes it hard for intellectuals or atheists to give the book any credibility.
I received a copy of this book at no cost to me from Thomas Nelson publishers, in exchange for a review of the work.