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SOCIETY: Person of Interest
Cal Thomas is the country's most widely syndicated columnist, writing a twice-weekly column that runs in over 400 newspapers nationwide. He appears regularly on the Fox News Channel and writes a twice-monthly column for USA Today with his longtime friend, liberal Democratic strategist Bob Beckel. Well-known as an Evangelical Christian and a conservative, Thomas is also the author of eleven books. He graciously found time to speak with Salvo about many things, including the limitations of politics, the lessons of revivals, and the most important thing Christians can do.
You have written in the past about the dangers of "acting outside the norms God designed for us," specifically premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual sex. In some parts of the world such comments would be labeled hate speech. Do you worry about that happening here? About whether freedom of speech for Christians is in jeopardy?
I don't worry about it. I think the Scriptures are very clear that it's coming. We in America know nothing about persecution. I think the idea that we're going to somehow stave it off through the political system or demanding certain rights is really a denial of what Scripture says. That doesn't mean we retreat. It simply means that we enlist in a different army with more powerful weapons, the weapons that Jesus himself gave us.
You have written candidly about the difficulties faced by opponents of same-sex marriage. Do you think Christians should stop fighting to protect marriage from being redefined?
I think they ought to fight harder to protect their own marriages. We've got huge numbers of self-proclaimed born-again believers who are divorcing. I don't think we've got that much of a moral claim for the attention of the public if we're doing such a lousy job of protecting heterosexual marriage. Abortion, same-sex marriage, all these examples of social decline are not the cause of our decadence, they're a reflection of it.
You started writing your column in 1984, so you've been an observer of American politics and culture for a long time. Was there a turning point in your thinking about the power of politics?
History has always been cyclical. There have been good times, by the way we measure good. And there have been bad times, by the way we measure bad. I was the Moral Majority's vice president of communications for five years. Ed Dobson and I wrote a book about this experience called Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can't Save America. As I got deeper and deeper into Scripture, I realized that even if we could organize and harness the entire Christian population of America and even if they all agreed about everything—which they never would, be it something biblical or social policy—that still wouldn't achieve the goals we seek, because such goals are not reached through the political system.
You're not going to have trickle-down morality from politicians who can't impose it on themselves, as we have seen so often in Washington. You don't cure societal breakdown through the government. You cure it through the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. You address it on the level of the heart—not the economy, not the budget, and certainly not politicians.
You wrote a book with Bob Beckel [Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America] about political partisanship. What about cultural partisanship?
Let's take the issue of "choice" when it comes to abortion. Choice presupposes access to information, so the choice will be informed. We have federal laws about labels on packages that contain all kinds of information. It's called truth in labeling. If a woman goes to a bank for a loan, she's given paperwork that gives her information about the interest rate, the payback, and other details. It's called truth in lending. If she goes to a car dealer, the sticker is filled with information because the federal government has decreed that it be there so that people can make informed choices. But with abortion, the so-called pro-choicers want to keep information from women, so their choices may not be fully informed. They've campaigned against sonograms that allow women to see what it is they're about to discard. I find that a form of censorship.
Do you think Christians and Christian leaders have been complacent about social issues?
We've tried to change culture through government for thirty years, since the forming of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition and all these other religious/political groups. We've had James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, and many more. They formed groups, they raised money, they organized believers, and what happened? Nothing.
The problems aren't economic and political; they're moral and spiritual. If a person is transformed on the inside, the outside is also transformed. Look at what's happened in revivals. You read the histories of these, and the social impact is astounding. Drunkenness virtually disappeared; crime was almost eliminated. J. Edwin Orr [in his book The Event of the Century: The 1857–1858 Awakening] tells a story about the U.S. revival of 1857 reaching the United Kingdom. There was a work slowdown in the Welsh mines. Someone asked how a revival could bring a work slowdown. Orr writes that so many miners were converted that they stopped using bad language and the horses couldn't understand what was being said to them! The social impact was instantaneous and dramatic, a witness to the power of God.
So everything that conservative Christians would like to see happen—and put too much faith in the political system to make happen—happens in a revival. That's because thousands upon thousands of people are converted at once and start living and thinking differently. So that's the greater tool. You cannot convince the unredeemed to behave in a way that is pleasing to God absent conversion.
How did the revival of 1857 begin?
It began when two men got together to pray during their lunch hour on Wall Street once a week. Then they decided the condition of the country was so difficult, so challenging, that they needed to pray every day on their lunch hour. Other men soon joined them. Soon the group became so large the room couldn't hold them, so they decided to meet at night in the churches and invite their wives. At the height of the revival, 10,000 people a week were being converted.
This was a movement of the Spirit of God. There was no direct mail, no TV, no radio. There was nothing but prayer. And when God moved, he moved in a way that would not bring credit or glory to those who were praying, because no human being could have done what God did. It was like a wildfire coming out of nowhere. Nobody knew how it started or where it was headed. It just swept across the country. And that came out of what Orr called a "concert of prayer."
What do believers do the least? We pray the least. Jesus prayed a lot. We don't pray effectually, fervently. People talk about William Wilberforce and use him as an example. But what they don't really focus on is that Wilberforce prayed for hours every day. Now who has the discipline to do that? I don't. And I don't know anybody else who does, who can put aside the world and pray for hours every day. That's why he was effective. That's why he turned the conscience of a nation.
So what's the most important thing Christians can be doing?
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