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 Everything has changed, and for many it feels that the Babylonians have withdrawn from the walls of Jerusalem, giving us a sense of almost unreal serenity and calm.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.