AT A TIME when the Christian world is focusing on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the meaning of those events, the Rev. Jerry Falwell is again focusing on politics.
A decade ago, after disbanding the Moral Majority (for which I toiled for five years), Mr. Falwell announced he was going back to preaching. People who heard him said his preaching became more powerful when he returned to his first love. But he has again succumbed to the temptation of politics and its illusion of power. At a news conference last week in Washington and on his "People of Faith 2000" Web page, Mr. Falwell announced a drive to register 10 million new voters in order to impose a moral code through government which most citizens, comfortable in their materialism, are not willing to impose on themselves.
Mr. Falwell will not register 10 million new voters who will vote as he wishes because there aren't that many unregistered. People who still believe the solution to moral decline lies in Washington registered to vote in the '80s and found that, even in the idealized Reagan era, not much changed. In fact, with the exception of a slight decline in abortions (a result not of legislation but to the establishment of thousands of centers to help women with unplanned pregnancies), things have gotten worse.
Many church members are following the ways of the world, divorcing and consuming pornography in increasing numbers, according to several surveys.
On his Web page, Mr. Falwell claims that "people of faith are persona non grata in the American political process." No, they're not. They just shouldn't expect to constantly run the Republican Party to which his wing of the church has attached itself. The lower kingdom (politics) is about compromise. The higher kingdom (the gospel) is about no compromise. Mr. Falwell is trying to apply the principles of the higher kingdom to the lower one. Such attempts are futile.
Second, Mr. Falwell claims the "left-wing elite has been engaged in a campaign to purge traditional Judeo-Christian values from public life in America." It doesn't speak well for God if a "left-wing elite" can erode his power and reach. But the real blame is laid at the church doorstep. Mr. Falwell accuses "the deafening silence of America's pulpits and religious leaders" for causing this values purge. Viewers who see ministers and non-ministers all over television don't believe these people have been silenced. Most preachers I know have chosen to concentrate on preaching the gospel and changing lives, not government. They have been unfairly slandered. They believe their call is from God; it is to him they answer and no one else.
Culture can neither be spoiled nor cured by Washington. Its health is determined by millions of individual choices. Scripture forecasts its decline when people turn away from God.
Mr. Falwell says he resents Christians being treated as "second-class citizens." But that is precisely what Jesus told his true followers they could expect. He said, "If they hated me, they'll hate you," and "if they persecuted me, they will persecute you," and "a servant is not greater than His master." If such people are truly living godly lives, they should expect to be persecuted. They are not commanded to form a political movement to stop it. They should instead increase their godly behavior.
On his Web page, Mr. Falwell says: "... if millions of people of faith vote -- with prayer-filled hearts -- I believe we can return America to moral sanity and reestablish this great country as 'one nation under God.' " Not through government they can't. Those who are putting at least partial faith in George W. Bush to turn the nation around will be disappointed.
Consider some of the appointments Republican presidents have made to the Supreme Court: Dwight Eisenhower named liberal Earl Warren; Richard Nixon gave us Harry Blackmun, author of Roe vs. Wade; Ronald Reagan selected Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, who uphold Roe; George Bush delivered the ultra-liberal David Souter to the court.
"People of Faith 2000" will raise some money and make noise, but it will change little. The message of Easter can change everything.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.