One of the themes in the current Presidential race is the need to “make America great again.” The focus seems to be on military might, economic policies and immigration reform. But one historic element appears to be missing in the midst of the rhetoric. In our rush to separate church and state at every level of life, we have dismissed the importance of faith and moral values for the success of democracy and free enterprise.
Thomas Jefferson’s comment on the subject is inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
In 1831, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States trying to find out the secret of its success. After traveling throughout the young nation, de Tocqueville made the following observation: “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
A few years ago a noted Chinese economist, Zhao Xiao, conducted a similar study of the United States in search of applications for China. Here are his conclusions: “The key to America’s commercial success is not its natural resources, its financial system or its technology but its churches. ... The market economy is efficient because it discourages idleness, but it can also encourage people to lie and injure others. It thus needs a moral underpinning. ... without awe, China will not succeed. ‘Only through awe can we be saved. Only through faith can the market economy have a soul.”
When we look for America’s greatness, we are tempted to look where other nations have looked in the past, and failed. Perhaps we are best served when we look within ourselves. The real factor that will determine our future is moral and spiritual. And the battleground for victory is found in each individual heart. The Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34). “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14).