Four generations ago, the white church in the Deep South launched the Confederacy with prayer and fasting. Faithful Christians cried out to God, certain their cause was righteous; their war, holy. As the Civil War progressed, Southerners were bombarded with distressing political news, distressing economic news, and tragic news from the battlefields. They prayed and fasted with increasing frequency and fervency. Prostrate before God, they confessed the sins of the Yankees - and such things in their own lives as drinking, swearing, and card-playing.
In the end, with the South in ruins and the death toll on both sides numbering well into the hundreds of thousands, the church collectively still did not see or uproot the tangle of strongholds that held them. Utterly desolate, they cried,
"Why have we fasted â€¦ and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?" (Isa. 58:3)
Today, US Christians in record numbers are crying out to God on behalf of our nation. Bombarded with distressing political news, distressing economic news, and distressing world news, weâ€™re praying with increasing frequency and fervency. We've even fasted! Indeed, every time we turn around, someone is calling us to fast and pray for our nation. Already, we too have begun to ask the Lord:
"Why have we fasted â€¦ and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?"
In Isaiah 58, God answered those questions. He said he had not responded because his people were fasting for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. They had not entered into the fast he had chosen.
Today, our Lord who loves us deeply is giving the same answer. Collectively, we've often fasted over their sins - confessing the wrongs of people with whom we do not identify or associate, people we consider unrighteous and may even count "the enemy." Repeatedly, we've tried to address the corporate sins of the nation without first addressing the corporate sins of the church.
Further, we've prayed to "take back our culture." We're quite sure that if Christians who think like us can get into places of influence in all realms of our society, everything will change for good.
For a century after the Civil War, Christians in the South held places of influence in pretty much every area of culture. As already mentioned, they even called the region, "Our Southern Zion."
Certainly, a significant percentage of the population went to church. Many openly acknowledged Jesus as their Savior. More than a few sought to live truly godly lives. But corporately, did the church culture in the South in 1890 and 1920 and 1960 look like Jesus? Did the region my ancestors populated look like Godâ€™s kingdom on earth? Did their influence produce â€¦ widespread awakening? States characterized by justice, mercy, and genuine godliness? Churches filled with God's life and power? Communities known for selfless love?
When we try to "take the land" without first dealing with our corporate sins, we simply transpose our sins into new settings. We may swap "their" sins (the strongholds of the unchurched culture) for "ours" (the strongholds of the church culture). More often, we cross-pollinate and produce new, harder to eradicate sin issues.
If we would cooperate with God in changing cultures and nations, we must first cooperate with him in removing the oppressive yokes from around our own necks.