My family has a tradition every Christmas holiday season, watching the Lord of Rings trilogy in succession. Extended version of course, so it takes a long time!
Even though Tolkien began writing in 1937, one part feels very 2020 to me. The words are from the hero Bilbo Baggins, who has been living in the proximity of a great evil for a long time, carrying a tremendous burden.
“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
I also “need a change, or something.” You probably need a change, and feel stretched out, too. I won’t detail all that feels wrong with America, because I only have so much time. But if bad news were rain, 2020 would be a cloudburst.
My story may be like yours—one of decades of trying and too often failing—to move our great nation ahead, to allow us to achieve our destiny.
Take one example. When I was at Harvard, my friend David French and I started the Society for Law, Life, and Religion, which ran for a couple decades, but Harvard hardly transformed into a hotbed of pro-life appreciation and faith. In 2006, I decided to throw my energy into backing a former governor from the commonwealth of Massachusetts: with David and Nancy French I created Evangelicals for Mitt, and made a movie, Mitt. But Mitt Romney lost that nomination fight—and then lost again six years later. Along the way, I created various organizations to promote solutions to our problems. In 2016, it was Better For America, standing against the rise of Trumpism. In 2017 and 2018, I founded Uniting America and ran for Senate in Massachusetts, thinking that perhaps I could help derail extremism in America by defeating Elizabeth Warren and standing against Trumpism.
So, like many of you, I’ve been battling and losing for years.
Recently, I was pretty down about how it seemed like the bad guys were winning. Then, a friend said, “You’re kind of like Saint Jude.”
Believe me, it’s not everyday someone compares me to a saint. I basked in a moment’s glory.
Then, it hit me. This is the “patron saint of lost causes” we are talking about! Perhaps a kind way of saying I’m a failure?
St. Jude, originally known as Judas Thaddaeus, was one of the twelve apostles along with the “other” Judas, Iscariot. Many say he became known as Jude when New Testament translators sought to distinguish him from Iscariot.
That’s understandable. You wouldn’t want to be confused with “that guy.”
According to tradition, he is the “patron saint of lost causes,” because most Christians were afraid to invoke him for fear of praying to “that guy” who betrayed Christ. Consequently, poor ole ignored Jude supposedly would help anyone and interceded in the direst of circumstances.
Like Jude, many of us are struggling with our identity.
Some of us have described ourselves as conservatives or Republicans, evangelicals or Christians. Some of us are tempted to step away from these names, as a man sits in the Oval Office claiming to advance our causes, and under the cover of a deep Trumpist darkness others of “faith” or “conservatism” do the same. We want to distance ourselves from the divisive racism and extremism currently sweeping the land in our name, which is understandable.
You don’t want to be confused with “that guy.”
In all my past efforts, I’ve tried to tweak the margins of American Christianity, culture, and politics. I’m past that now. After the decline of church and state over the past decades—accelerating these past few years—we need to rebuild our principles of faith, morality, and the republic. As John Adams famously said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people—it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Starting with people of my Christian faith: We have lost our standing and witness in our society. We have lost it with good reason, because we are as racist, materialist, politicized, and polarized as the culture around us—and unfortunately sometimes “leading” the way in those dark categories.
Because of all that and more, I am calling for an American Awakening, and have launched an organization—and written a book—that lays out the road to get there. It’s time to become a moral and religious people—starting with my people of faith—and then advance that in our republic.
American Awakening will launch the First Principles Project this month to reground the church’s engagement in the public square by offering a suite of practical resources: the best sermons and speeches from spiritual and thought leaders over the last decade, current sermon outlines, full sermon texts, and a video sermon series for this 2020 season. In order to rebuild, we need a new biblical framework through which civic engagement can be shaped.
Often, it isn’t enough to stand for good things, you have to stand against the darkness. Which brings us to the launch of Christians Against Trumpism and Political Extremism, an organization dedicated to doing just that.
Bottom line, it is time for fundamental reform, to finally recall who we are as people of faith and people of the republic, and re-ground and lean into the darkness of the days.
It’s easy to despair, but I have some good news: There are no lost causes. T.S. Eliot put it best in 1929. “If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause,” he wrote. “We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.”
In other words, certain values and virtues transcend this moment, this year, this White House. As we assume the mantle to fight for them, we’ve already won. We’re carrying the torch from one location to the other. The fact that we’re carrying the torch through this present darkness doesn’t make the journey less important. It makes it more important: for our country and our souls.
It’s an honor to live in important times, one in which loving your neighbor and considering all as equals feels like a revolutionary act, both in my church and in our country. We were born for this moment. As much as we lament what is happening in our nation, we are a part of this nation—and we’re not going anywhere.
Yes, things are bad. But we have been here before, in even darker times. Frederick Douglass overcame the slavery of his youth to become the greatest of all American ideals proponents. Abraham Lincoln led a nation through a bloody Civil War because he believed that “America was the last best hope for the world.” Martin Luther King sat alone in a Birmingham prison while his fellow congregants told him to abandon his mission for America to finally make good on its promissory note that “all are created equal.”
Two out of those three died for that cause, which is in part what makes them our heroes.
But millions of other Americans also sacrificed their lives for this—so many whose names we do not know—and tens and hundreds of millions more fought for and built this foundation we stand on. So, for those trying to live, and fight, and strive toward virtue, look to the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us: Douglass and Lincoln and King, and so many others who led us beyond the darkest of days.
In the world of faith, look to the story of Judas Thaddaeus, he of so-called lost causes.
Or, even better, look to the story of Judas Iscariot, who appeared to be winning and profiting for a time but ultimately was no match for he who was Love, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Because of all of them, this cause is worth fighting for, and the weight of our current circumstance makes our anchoring commitments to faith, hope, love—and belief in the foundational principles of the republic—shine that much brighter.
For my part, I have decided I must remain in this fight for as long as I have life and breath, and invite all Christians to stand with us against the dark shadow of Trumpism, and reclaim our name and the great legacy and inheritance, in the name of our Lord, the one who sacrificed all to set us free.