Of Ralph Northam & The Spiritual Darkness All Around Us

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I pastor a small church in the Northern Virginia town of Haymarket. It is an insanely financially prosperous area.  The average household income in our zip code is north of $150K a year. Everything around here is shiny, upscale and new (unless of course it’s historical).  Even the side walk in town is new, they tore up the perfectly good (and seemingly not very old) sidewalk along the main street to install a brand new and more aesthetically pleasing red brick walkway.  I grew up on the Northside of Pittsburgh, and even though we moved to a small apartment “out where the rich people lived” when I was in high school, none of this is familiar. But even though the material surroundings are foreign to me, the spiritual condition here is not. Over all of the prosperity and the freshly paved roads packed with luxury SUVs, deluxe Hybrids and Teslas (really, the Tesla charging stations at the local gas station are almost always occupied) hangs a cloud of profound spiritual darkness.

There is a good chance you heard what the governor of our state said last week on WTOP, the most powerful AM radio station in our area. If you haven’t here is the exact quote, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother. So I think this was really blown out of proportion.” 

He said that defending a late term abortion bill proposed in the Virginia House of Delegates proposed by Kathy Tran (who represents an equally prosperous portion of neighboring Fairfax County, by the way the 3rd wealthiest county in the U.S. behind another neighboring northern Virginia County, Loudoun and a very nearby county in MD) that would wipe away the current Virginia law that require three doctors to agree on the medical necessity of any late term abortion and would allow the killing of the baby/fetus up to and including when the baby is in the birth canal and the mother is in a state of dilation. (By the way Tran unironically introduced legislation the same day that would protect the fall canker worm, a destructive variety of caterpillar.)

Thankfully, in God’s sovereignty, that bill was tabled, essentially defeating it, in the legislature. But the governor not only defended the proposal, he let slip that he didn’t think it went far enough. Notice what he actually said, he (a trained physician, just like Josef Mengele), used the term “infant” three times. In fact he started by saying “The infant would be delivered.” He didn’t misspeak, after all as he is fond of pointing out he is a pediatrician. He wasn’t talking about abortion, he was talking about infanticide. He was talking about killing a baby that was alive outside of the womb. He didn’t misspeak, he didn’t think it was a big deal. Or to put it in his own words “I think this was really blown out of proportion.” 

That is pure evil. But his words aren’t what shook me to the core, as I was freshly reminded of the great evil that permeates our society, it was the dead eyed reaction of the two radio hosts. As the governor casually spoke about what is unambiguously murder under the laws of the state that he swore to uphold, they showed absolutely no response at all. Don’t believe me? Watch the video here.

What’s more a politician with presidential aspirations (now scuttled because a yearbook page from his final year of medical school, when he was a grown man of 25, not a misguided high school kid, and mere months from taking his oaths as an Army Officer, surfaced that made clear that his disdain of image bearers includes at least babies and people of different races) apparently didn’t think advocating for infanticide would harm his political prospects.

Both of these illustrated to me just how evil our society is. It is not divided, it is evil to its core. Advocating the murder of a live infant is neither shocking or politically disqualifying in 21st century America.

Certainly the U.S. is not Israel, But I think it is instructive to us to consider that one of the primary indictments against Israel in the prophetic books is that they love to shed the blood of the innocent. Consider Isaiah 59:7 “their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways.” That passage concludes:

 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. – Isaiah 59:14-15

Take note of the phrase, “uprightness cannot enter.” To me that is the crux. It seems to me that the primary way that the church in the U.S, and those who make up the church, have opposed abortion, and a host of other evils, is to try and force uprightness into society through the political process. And to be blunt it hasn’t worked. The political activism of the church seems a failed experiment.

This strategy has its origins in the late 1970’s and seemed to coalesce with the 1979 founding of the moral majority. Even though candidates backed by the “religious right” have occupied the Whitehouse numerous times and the party of the “religious right” (more than once) occupied the Whitehouse and controlled both houses of Congress at the same time, at any time in the last 40 years has the growing tide of evil in American society been turned back? Can you imagine the governor of any state in 1979 going on the radio and advocating infanticide, and eliciting no reaction from the radio host? Or a political career that wouldn’t be scuttled by saying that reacting to a law that allowed the killing a baby in the birth canal was over reacting? In light of all that, how can this strategy not be judged a failure?

A recent interaction with someone who wanted to defend Governor Northam’s comments helped to clarify my thinking. He again and again sought to turn the conversation to the current occupant of the Whitehouse, to borders and immigration, to health care, and to political parties in general. He saw abortion (and even infanticide) not as a moral issue, but as just another political issue. I believe that is something he (and others like him) learned from watching the politically active church. Maybe It’s time to rethink this strategy and the wisdom of engaging in coalition politics. Maybe it’s time to consider how the church can regain its prophetic voice on moral issues.

We may never impact the laws of the nation or change the trajectory of society that way, but that is no more a failure than the ministries of Isaiah or Jeremiah were failures. They knew from the outset that their words would be ignored, but they spoke them anyway; their success was not societal change but faithfulness in uncompromisingly calling evil evil.

Truthfully I’m not sure how to recover our prophetic voice.  I’m raw; I’m writing on a Monday, exhausted from preaching yesterday, my body hurts from old injuries, in fact I feel like I’ve been beaten with a sack of doorknobs, and I’m utterly heartbroken that the governor of my state, who I prayed for from the pulpit yesterday, said this on a radio station that is one of the pre-sets in my car and no one cared or at least was surprised. I don’t know what to do, but I know it has to be something different. Pray about this. And let the spiritual darkness all around us motivate you to greater gospel urgency.

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John Chester

About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.