When Babylon Withdraws To Lick Its Wounds

What do we do when Babylon withdraws to lick its wounds? For that is indeed what we are experiencing – a temporary halt of the post-Christian/anti-Christian framework within the Western setting, as populist politics in 2016 sweeps the progressive agenda aside.

This recent backlash has been met with a certain glee among Christians who believed, often rightly, that there was a strong anti-Christian bias in much of liberal progressivism’s agenda.

I wholeheartedly endorse that observation.  There was a hostility towards the Christian framework by many progressive elites, precisely because Christianity has been central to the rise of the West philosophically, sociologically, ethically, religiously and so on.  This Christian/Western rise has shaped global culture enormously.

The hostility was real and increasingly bitter – it still is.  Let’s not forget that.  Trump’s victory was due in part to an almost gleeful rejection and persecution, over an extended period of time, of Christian thinking and frameworks, a deep zealotry that sought to drive the Christian voice from the public square.

So the Obama administration was er, hell-bent on ensuring the Little Sisters of the Poor religious liberty would not be allowed to mess with the progressive agenda on abortion and contraception (you can read about this here). And Hillary promised more of the same when she came to power.  History is going one direction, and it’s a progressive one.

Except patently it’s not. Hillary lost, Trump won by cocking a snoot at all and sundry. Everything has changed, and for many it feels that the Babylonians have withdrawn from the walls of Jerusalem, giving us a sense of almost unreal serenity and calm.

For many it feels like we dodged a bullet.  The siege that seemed so real has disappeared chimera-like.  We peer over the wall and the Babylonians are gone – for the time being.

Yet here is the caution.  When it seemed over the past few years that the progressive anti-Christian agenda would ramp up, many evangelicals were calling, thick and fast, for a period of introspection and repentance.  The difficult times ahead would require a leaner, chastened church that refused to grasp at power, and that identified at the margins.

 I hope those calls are still coming, just as thick and just as fast.  But I doubt it. If the short-lived mea culpa of the progressive media is any indication, humans – Left and Right, liberal and conservative, are so quick to forget. All too quick.  And the consequences could be disastrous.

Just like the consequences were for the recently besieged Jerusalemites in Jeremiah 34.  In that story, with Babylon at the walls, the city’s people repented of their disgraceful permanent enslavement of their fellow Hebrews, a practice specifically contrary to God’s covenant, and one that ignored the seven year rule for Hebrew slaves.  So all is well and good.  Repentance and chastened godliness seems the order of the day.

Until, joy of joys, Babylon withdraws from the city.  Sure she had wreaked havoc, but things were intact.  King Zedekiah would live.  The city stood.

So what did the leaders of Jerusalem do?

God, through Jeremiah the prophet, puts it baldly:

15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbour, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, 16 but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

Sadly, their recent repentance was nothing but show, an attempt to get God to wangle things their way.  Their hearts were not in it, and once the threat disappeared, their enslavement of their fellow Hebrews picked up unabated.

And Jeremiah’s message to this adulterous nation?  Babylon will be back.

This is a pertinent message to us in the West as we watch the forced withdrawal of progressive Babylon.  It’s not the Babylon “out there” that we must most fear, it’s the Babylon “in here”; in our hearts, in our Christian culture.  If we merely fall on our faces in repentance at the thought of how hard things will be under a hard secular administration or political leadership, then we are not truly repentant.  If we are all too willing to take up the slaves again when the threat has withdrawn, then God may have some more chastening and disciplining to do.

For know this: Babylon will be back.  Trump will fail and fall.  One day. As will all of the populist, conservative movements.  That’s how politics and history works.  Besides progressivism hasn’t given up its agenda, hasn’t humbled itself, and is indeed building up a head of spurned fury at its impotency in the face of a conservative backlash. Babylon will be back, take my word for it.

So what do we do in the meantime?  Hold on to that chastened humility, that desire to clean up our act, that commitment to go the margins with the powerless rather than cling to the power at the centre.  For proclaiming liberty to the slaves in the bad times is no repentance at all, if we simply re-enslave them when Babylon withdraws from the city to lick its wounds.

17 Comments

  1. Sigh, no. Babylon hasn’t “retreated”. Babylon has succeeded in assimilating Christians into a conservative secularist nostalgia, as this post hints at. It’s wickedly dangerous to see Babylon in liberalism, and not in conservatism. Babylon didn’t retreat by any means. It made progress by changing tactics – or capitalizing on tactics it’s employed for quite some time.

    1. That’s my point. In the sense that it’s a false dawn. It’s not going to solve anything. There’s certainly a sense that a post-Christian framework is central to the Left, but the hard secular frame knows no bounds. However isn’t what I am saying picking exactly the point that many evangelicals (and Catholics) have felt about the up front hostility towards the Christian ethic being pushed by the state? Let’s wait to see if that is pushed as hard by the Right.

      1. I understood you as identifying Babylon strictly with the left, and making the point that we can’t long hold the fort. I’d gladly be corrected.

        I think it would be difficult to quantify whether the Right pushes “as hard”, since the tactics are opposite. Babylon on the Right is insidious, and coercive on the Left. That looks quite different on paper, doesn’t it?

  2. Well whether or not it is strictly of the Left it would be hard to argue against the narrative of the past two years in the Western democracies on this point. But yes, the Right is insidious, however there is a post-Christian rejection of religious liberty/freedom of conscience in the public square that seems almost an article of faith of the secular Left and that has been a driving force these past years. And much of that is a result of a studied rejection of Western cultural frameworks by the Left, and those frameworks were built upon a Christian foundation. Insofar as the Right still holds that the Western cultural framework is superior to other frameworks in its ability to hold in tension competing viewpoints in the public square (and I would argue that this is a gift from Christianity), then it has been seen as a less noxious option for many evangelicals. Here in Australia a hard Left state government has taken a gleeful approach to forcing churches and Christian schools to sign up to anti-discrimination legislation that would not permit them to have a closed employment policy. No other organisations, unions, political parties etc, would have been forced to sign up for this. Who was this defeated by? Christians? Not as such, but classically conservative politicians on the Right of the spectrum who espouse religious liberties and freedom of conscience on the basis of their view that the Western cultural framework values such freedoms, and this on the basis of its Christian foundation.

    1. Given that I’m writing from the cool comforts of American religious privilege, I take your experience of liberalism playing out very seriously.

      My concern is that the questions on the table are those of power, not of kingdom faithfulness.

      So to borrow from my true religious framework (Star Wars), my fear is that the Emperor has persecuted us, ala Luke/Vader, for the sole purpose of increasing our receptivity to the sword it’s now handing us (think Darth Sidius waving the lightsaber before Luke…his true end game, not the persecution itself). If we “win” the political war, we’ve done so by turning to the dark side. Politics, after all and in the end, adds up to coercion. And here in America, we have a clear allegiance to conservative coercion that leads to clear compromises of our faith and witness.

      In other words, many Christians have gladly taken up the lightsaber, and now we’re gleefully slashing, having little idea that in the process we’ve switched allegiance to an entire narrative of secularist power mongering.

      And that’s about as fully encapsulating as I’ll probably get about this in blog comments. Good engaging with you.

      Nick

  3. Quite true. Great observations. We underwent a similar thing in Canada. After 10 years of Stephen Harper we got Justin Trudeau. And the Conservative movement has had to really regroup. Americans can’t afford to get soft because the enemy within has an incredible amount of infrastructure, some of it literally underground.

  4. Thank you for this article! I was talking with my husband the other day about how I knew what to expect from a Clinton presidency–more persecution, which, if I understand the Bible correctly, can only lead to a more beautiful and sanctified church, right? Under a Trump presidency, I don’t know what to expect. Will the church continue to be sanctified or go back to a heart of unrepentant, cultural Christianity? You say it so much better than I can, so thanks!

    1. Yes that is so true. A number of people have made that comment to me in light of this post. I think we need to seize the opportunity in the West (I’m in Oz, not USA), to repent, no matter if the season is for us or against us.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for another great “Babylon” piece. Always find them stimulating and helpful for shaping our perspective as Christians in these times.

    Would love to see you elaborate further on what “taking back the slaves” might mean in our context? From the article I got the sense it was to do with trying to wield political power or act triumphalistic, as Christians have done in the past. Is that it, or is there more to it than that?

    1. Thanks for that! Yes Yarran that’s what I think the application issue is for us today. We were ready to go about meekly (a la Ahab) when we thought it might be the solution, but with things supposedly turning in a kinder direction, there will be the temptation to junk any actual repentance and reflection and go with status quo. So pretty much that’s it. Your comment is a reminder that perhaps I should elaborate on that at some stage.

  6. Yes I would love me to hear thoughts on what the modern day equivalent of these atrocities are which we need to be aware of and avoid committing. The article is interesting but it left me wanting concrete examples we must converse about and define so we have visibility

  7. I appreciate your article here. I find personally that to many people have put there reliance to much on who won the election. As far as Babylon goes I believe we still have Babylon on our door steps and that just because Trump won does not mean that anything will cjange. Christians have to change first before anything else can hapoen. We have to be the ones to stand up and actually defend truth justice and merxt. If you look at isiahs time the people of judah were condemned because they did not defend those that were less fortunate and and did not fight for the ones like the fatherless and widow. The people of Judah failed they were the people of god bad they failed. I do t think things change today, if we don’t chose to stand for what we believe in and really fight for what is right .

  8. Stephen,

    I’m one of those American readers who is grateful she found you. Though the recommendation of a friend….

    I do a bit of writing myself (3 books with Thomas Nelson, 1 with Zondervan, recent article in The Federalist). I’m trying to blog more.

    I wanted to send you a copy of the blog I just posted that links to your “Babylon” article here, which I especially appreciated.

    May God continue to bless your work there. I loved Australia!

    Paula Rinehart (paularinehart.com )

    CHRISTIANS ARE NOW MORE UNPOPULAR THAN EVER. MAYBE THAT’S NOT SO BAD.

    January 2, 2017

    (If you look on my website you’ll see the words, “false security,” in the next to last paragraph…link to your Babylon post).

    Christians are now more unpopular than ever.

    Good.

    No matter how you view Donald Trump or if you voted for him, or whether you see him as a savior-of-sorts or a demagogue, what emerges is this: his presidential failures will be laid at the feet of Christians, who at least in popular imagination, helped him win. We are the new Jews. Thus are we in good company.

    This is a great opportunity we don’t want to miss. I’m serious. Our words matter much less now. If we don’t live the truth, we will be made to go away.

    Some say that the willingness of major Christian personalities to openly endorse a thrice-married, unrepentant man who sexually degraded women, noticeably low on financial integrity, a man who could not find anything he needed forgiveness for…that we appeared to excuse these things has set back the cause of Christ a generation or more.

    Our moral authority has been compromised.

    That makes me want to weep, but I do see there’s great opportunity here. We will have to live the gospel loudly. It’s all we’ve got. Our witness will be less with words—more with concrete actions. As in, faithful acts of service, expressed locally, lived out in community.

    That’s not a bad thing.

    There is a sort of suffering you experience in living amongst a culture that’s in steep decline. WSJ’s Peggy Noonan says the word for this low point is “kakistocracy”  meaning that a society has sunk so far that the least qualified people rise to the top. Sounds like a pretty accurate description of the election season you lived through, right?

    I wonder if it’s God’s way of putting right in front of us the darkness of our own hearts, and our complete inability to save ourselves. When a people choose two candidates mired in corruption and lying, this is an x-ray of our national soul. Do we need any more proof of our need for a Savior than this?

    The good part is that our survival depends on grabbing hold of God even more tightly.

    What is true about sex and marriage, for example, is not one whit less true because a political leader hasn’t lived it. We actually have the chance to stand out as the peculiar people we’re called to be, where not even a whiff of greed or immorality “should be named among us .” Greed and immorality. Are these not the chief idols of the glorified Self worshipped in our day?

    Now more than ever, our witness must not be sullied by the gods around us.

    I feel my back straightening, my resolve deepening as I move into this new year. I want to get my hands on tangible stuff—like helping with this dinner for homeless families through my church. It’s a big drive in crazy traffic to get there. I don’t know much about homelessness.

    But I sense the need to have my body in a place with other Christians serving in Christ’s name.

    Instead of just regretting my thoughtlessness with a friend over Christmas, I am going to pick up the phone and call her. It is time to do. I’m celebrating the small moments that call me to a bit more sacrifice and generosity. I want to grab every chance that comes my way to take a stand for a Christian sexual apologetic. Bring it on.

    Christ offers us life—real life—and it always entails a walk down a narrow path.

    This is our time. Really, can’t you sense it? I don’t mean it’s our time to win a majority on the Supreme Court or build a wall in Mexico or roll back the regulatory state. This is our time to live the love of Christ in some quiet, concrete manner as a testimony to a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

    I am done with political allegiances and parties. Republican or Democrat—they use us , soliciting the votes of Christians. Then they go do what they wanted to all along.

    Lots of people fear the church will coast along in false security because we think some man in a white house will give us a break for four years. God forbid.

    As the New Year rolls around, I’m taking my place and putting my shoulder to the wheel amongst that motley band of tattered saints that stretches back through the ages, whose ears were—and are—listening for a trump call.

    >

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