There is an ancient teaching in rabbinical Judaism that if one knows a crime has been committed and does not speak out, one shares in the guilt of the perpetrator. This principle is one that runs like a thread through the law of Moses. In the New Testament the apostle Paul admonishes us, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness; but rather expose them” (Eph 4:11). The context here is that to cover up such deeds would be to share in their wickedness.
Are ordinary Americans responsible for the crimes committed in their name by their government? Yes, we are– and especially, egregiously so if we know about them and say nothing, or if we can do something and choose to do nothing.
What are these crimes? Crimes against humanity: the appalling abuses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the unlawful detention and torture of individuals without evidence or trial, the murder of civilians (through drone and other “targeted attacks”), the butchery of two mismanaged wars, our support for brutal dictators and corrupt regimes worldwide (such as in the Middle East and especially our own hemisphere), our unqualified support for an oppressive Israeli regime and its treatment of Palestinians (just ask the widows and orphans of Gaza). And to this day as a nation we continue to profit from the sins of our fathers and mothers in their treatment of African and Native Americans.
Then there are the crimes of greed and corruption which are just now rather rife: the conspiracy of deregulation of the financial markets (thanks to Congress, the Treasury, the Fed, and the White House) that led to the current economic disaster, through which millions of Americans lost homes and jobs. The deliberate targeting of African-American communities in the sub-prime mortgage cabal. Grossly out-of-balance executive salaries and bonuses, the extravagant lifestyles of the super-rich.
If we support these crimes with our silence or our continued support of those who commit them (either through our votes or our apathy), then we share in their sin, and sharing in their sin means we will also share in their judgment. Jesus said “Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward” (Mt 10:41). Since God is just, the opposite must also be true.
For decades conservative Evangelicals in this country have campaigned to make America a righteous nation. Well, here is their chance. It’s time to get to work. Will the Lord God bless a people that has successfully banned abortions yet allows greed to run rampant? Will he bless a nation that has outlawed same-sex marriage yet permits the poor to be trampled by the rich? Will he bless a nation whose security and prosperity rests on the brutal oppression of its neighbors? The church in America has largely been silent on these issues; our prophets and leaders are like Isaiah’s “dogs that cannot bark” (Isa 56:10).
Even Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave-owner, saw the tragic irony in a nation that celebrated liberty, but only for whites. “Indeed,” he wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” His words were prophetic, for within a generation of his death, the cup of God’s wrath began to be poured out– and on the North as well as the South, since Northerners shared in the profits and benefits of the slave trade. “Silence implies consent” is a maxim of the law.
“And with many other words [Peter] warned them, and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation'” (Acts 2:40). The apostle Peter was urgent in his message not only because he thought turning to Christ was a good idea; he knew that judgment was coming. And indeed it did come before that generation had died out, fulfilling everything Jesus had prophesied for the nation.
I do not claim to be a prophet. But it does not take a rocket scientist to know that “God is just and his justice cannot sleep forever.” And what of the church? Will we be spared? “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told his disciples. That means the people of God are meant to have a salutary and preservative effect on the society around them. But “…when salt loses its saltiness… it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5:13). Perhaps we may be spared if we separate ourselves from these sins and become part of the solution, instead of the problem.
So what should one do? 1. Repent before the Lord for the sins of this nation (Daniel and Nehemiah did just that). 2. Intercede, asking the Lord to bring repentance and cleansing to America. 3. Begin speaking out by writing your elected officials, helping create awareness among those around you, teaching your children, getting involved in trying to right some of these wrongs.
Yes, people may think you’ve gone “political” on them, but these are not just political issues; they are moral ones. Remember, we are Christians first, Americans second. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Indeed, some use this passage to claim that we should not get involved in earthly matters, but that is not Paul’s intention. The context there is that believers should not live as the world lives, but we should live with an eternal mindset, working out our salvation as “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Phil 2:15).