"Our goal is a different world than the one we know today where 37 percent of children are born without fathers,
half of marriages end in divorce-and where half of our income is taxed."-Kevin Swanson (p. 210)
"I believe that far too many people are guilty of hand-wringing, worry, and despair over the future of America ...
This country was brilliantly designed by its founders to be a kind of giant self-cleaning oven."1-Mike Huckabee
With a presidential election looming, the national economy a shambles, and "flash mobs" looting stores and attacking passersby, America's future is very much in question.
Christian radio host Kevin Swanson has been pondering that question. His Generations Radio daily show has listeners in all fifty states.
The Second Mayflower-first published in 1994, and twice updated since-is Swanson's metaphor for the future. As the Pilgrims set sail on the first Mayflower to found a Christian civilization in a New World, Swanson writes, so must Americans today embark on a "second Mayflower" to re-found a Christian polity-either here in America, or somewhere else: "Either change this place, or go somewhere else where it can be done" (p. 283).
Why a Second Mayflower?
"[T]he premise of this book is simply this: if God can bless us once, perhaps He will do it again" (p. xii).
"Western civilization is dying a wretched death," Swanson writes (p. 1); and America itself has been in decline for 200 years.
In what ways have we declined? Reasons for our country's fall from Christian greatness are, according to Swanson, 1) a rejection of God's law as binding on the civil government (p. 39); 2) "a rising antinomianism" (p. 41); 3) "poor application of God's law ... to make it more restrictive than it was" (p. 43); 4) "bad theological formulations" leading to an inward-looking pietism and the corruption of the seminaries (p. 43); and, finally, 5) the whole culture's embrace of a totally man-centered "truth" and man-centered "freedom" (p. 43).
This is a very meaty book, and we cannot help oversimplifying to some degree. Swanson builds his argument with care, point by point, and his book must be read attentively. It's much more persuasive than may appear from a short review of it.
A Rising Tyranny
For Swanson the most telling symptom of American decline is the replacement of liberty by tyranny.
Usually I have little patience with those who toss around terms like "police state" and "dictatorship" as applying to America. Obviously we are vastly better off than people living in Syria or North Korea. But Swanson is a thoughtful man, and his use of the words "a rising tyranny" is neither casual nor unjust. Tyranny, he writes, echoing John Adams, is "inevitable with an immoral people" (p. 46). Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it, "Either you'll be governed by God, or by God you'll be governed!" (p. 48)
What are the characteristics of American tyranny?
First, we have an ever more burdensome tax load. Since 1929 our tax load has increased 9,000 percent (p. 49), while the cost of government as a percentage of our national income rose to 46 percent by 2006, compared to 10 percent during the nineteenth century (p. 50). Ours is "the most expensive tyranny the world has ever known" (p. 52), while "we are taxed for services that we neither want nor endorse" (p. 56)-public funding for abortions immediately springs to mind.
As taxes rise and government grows, the birth rate shrinks and we see "strains in the solidarity of the family" (p. 54). The fact that we see the same pattern in every other country in the Western world is no comfort.
The second aspect of this rising tyranny is the gradual replacement of the family by the state, Swanson continues. The inspiration for this development goes back to the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "who abandoned his five children on the steps of an orphanage and proceeded to write a book on how to educate children" (p. 57). Compulsory education came to America in 1852, and by 2005 a Colorado judge was bold enough to say, "All of Colorado's children belong to us!" (p. 59) He meant, of course, that the children "belong" to the state, not to their families. That would certainly seem to be an adequate definition of tyranny.
Third, we have seen a progressive erosion of personal freedoms, with "thousands of [federal] programs that regulate every possible area of life" (p. 62). By 2005 there were 78,851 pages in the Federal Register, compared to 9,910 in 1954 (p. 63)-and they have labored on it since! Swanson devotes several pages (63-67) merely to list some egregious examples of government's slow erasure of private property rights, expressive of "the very soul of Marx's vision for complete state ownership of private property" (p. 69). We also have to contend with various new "laws" limiting free speech (p. 72), and assorted "social services" agencies turning citizens' lives upside-down for the most trivial reasons (p. 78): sometimes all it takes is an anonymous tip from a neighbor with a grudge.
Fourth, the government deliberately promotes personal immorality, further undermining the family so as to make individuals increasingly dependent on the state.
Thus we see "bedraggled government-subsidized whores who strew the cities with millions of illegitimate children" (p. 76) as the predictable, unavoidable result of the "promotion of immorality ... by force of public policy" (p. 81).
"Social acceptance of homosexuality," Swanson adds, "is now almost complete," with more than a few churches actively complicit in the crime (p. 83).
"Does God really care anymore about things like this?" he asks (p. 84): and finds that the answer from Scripture (Romans 1:27-32) is a resounding "yes!"
Meanwhile, there have been 48 million abortions in America since 1973 (p. 85), with some $272 million in federal funds granted to Planned Parenthood in fiscal year 2004-05 (p. 86). "God holds all of us responsible for the conditions of our communities," Swanson warns. "This is called ‘covenantal culpability'" (p. 87).
There's more detail given in the book, much more. Swanson's facts and arguments are damning. Not only has America declined: the decline is much worse than we thought. And yet, he observes, on the whole, America's churches have ignored all this (p. 89)! Tens of thousands of churches dot the American landscape. In light of our continuing slide into cultural bestiality, we have to wonder about the quality of those churches as salt and light and instructors in God's Word.
Why Haven't We Fixed It Yet?
Surely Kevin Swanson wouldn't share Governor Huckabee's confidence in America as a self-cleaning oven. But why hasn't the oven cleaned itself? What with the Reagan Revolution, the Morality Majority, Focus on the Family, eight years of George W. Bush in the White House, and conservative talk radio all over the airwaves ... why do we now have "gay marriage" in New York?
When the Pilgrims departed from Europe in the Mayflower, they did so with a clear vision in their minds. In the New World, populated only by a sprinkling of aborigines, the Pilgrims intended to found a Christian civilization conforming to the teachings of the Bible. "They built a godly culture with great commitment to God, at great risk to their own lives and fortunes. This was their commitment" (p. 237).
America's conservative movement has no such vision. One wonders, sometimes, what they think they are conserving. They want to cut taxes and shrink the government, and then campaign and vote for leaders who wind up doing just the opposite. They extol "family values" while their libertarian wing makes alliances with homosexual activists. Let a conservative leader or pundit find out that he or she has a family member who is "gay," and he will suddenly discover that the "social issues" don't matter, after all. The various conservative groups are so busy pushing for a place at the table of political power, they pay no attention to what's on the menu.
"Christian conservatives" have been just as ineffective as pure secular conservatives. They send their children to anti-Christian, humanist public schools and colleges, blighting the prospects of their own posterity: statistically, most of those children will drift away from Christianity. They watch the same television shows and movies, and imbibe the same content, as the unbelievers (p. 103). In their churches, the preachers neglect to preach God's Word (p. 115), succumbing to "ethical confusion" born of trying to substitute man's word for God's (pp. 108-109).
They don't insist that their legislators, or their communities, be bound by God's law (p. 120). Hampered by a culture-fed "mistrust of God's word" (p. 124), they seek better answers to their questions from worldly "experts" (p. 125).
"I would hold," writes Swanson, "that a careful look at our hermeneutics, our theology, our worldview, and our lives would find the marks of humanist autonomy throughout the Christian faith today" (p. 126). Which is to say that in America these days, it's getting harder and harder to tell the Christians from the non-Christians.
What kind of vision ought to inspire our "Second Mayflower"?
At the heart of Swanson's vision is the critical need to regenerate the Christian family in America, and especially to restore fatherhood to its honored place. This will not be easy! Christians must "attack the world at every point, to impose God's agenda on it" (p. 161), avoiding the usual "half-baked, piecemeal approach" (p. 168). There must be a vision to connect-we should probably say reconnect-family, church, education, and politics (p. 169).
The work of the Second Mayflower, says Swanson, will require a multi-generational commitment (p. 103), informed by a Biblically faithful "generational vision" (pp. 101-102)-that is, a vision that must be maintained, and work that must be carried on, literally from one generation to the next. "If we prepare now, we will be ready in seventy-five years when God opens a door of opportunity for us" (p. 248).
We don't have space to do justice to all the particulars of this. Kevin Swanson is a thinker, and he has thought deeply about these matters. But we do need to discuss one practical application that is crucial to the fulfillment of his vision-Christian homeschooling.
Light in a New Dark Age
While the public schools are getting ready to "move from homosexual clubs to homosexual classes and laboratories" (p. 91), and absolutely "refuse to teach an education rooted in the fear of God" (p. 92), homeschools are "the monasteries of the new Dark Age" (p. 2).
Sending Christian children to public school, Swanson says, is like Saul smiting the Amalekites but sparing their king, as told in I Samuel 15:7-9. "[I]f you kill what is vile ... and leave the king alive, you will continue to lose the battle for generations to come. Our age exactly replicates the half-hearted obedience of Saul ..." (p. 93).
We at Chalcedon whole-heartedly agree. Of course homeschooling can be used to tie it all together. As fathers and mothers take up their God-given responsibility to educate their own children-and with a Biblical education, to boot-families naturally will become more closely-knit, more unified. Naturally persons who grow up in such families will be better able to form deeper and longer-lasting relationships with others. Naturally such families will strengthen the churches which they join. Naturally they will be a blessing to the communities in which they live. The more such Christian families, the better for America.
Slowly, says Swanson, " ... the ideas of a modern day reformation are developing" as "families must reform every aspect of household life" (p. 140). Families must "work out what it means for God to be central in their home" and then extend that vision to their church (p. 141).
The self-defeating paradox of secular statism is that, in undermining family and church in order to replace them as the focus of the individual's loyalties, the state turns its citizens into anarchists. Separate the individual from family and church, and you have removed him from the context of human life. A void is created, which the state cannot fill. God and family give love, meaning, and purpose to a human life. The state can only offer handouts. The helots who receive those handouts aren't part of anything greater than themselves. All they know is what they want, from one moment to the next. Kevin Swanson must have been the least surprised observer in the world this summer, when London's permanent, state-subsidized underclass erupted into riots.
But one need not look as far as England. The same sort of thing is happening here in America. See the video of a "flash mob" looting a convenience store in Montgomery County, Maryland.2
A famous African proverb says, "If a man does away with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain that he has something of value to replace them."3 It would seem our modern humanist "experts," in their statist lust to do away with Christianity, fatherhood, marriage, etc., showed less wisdom than so-called "primitive" people.
In replacing family and church with radical, atomized individuation, statists have given people a nihilistic worldview and virtually destroyed their capacity for long-term human relationships (p. 142), says Swanson. Ironically, the more immoral, the more disconnected the statists manipulate people to be, the more those same people are apt to turn against the state and destroy it. But the homeschool movement, Swanson says, is the beginning of the solution to these problems (p. 143).
What percentage of the riots in London, do you suppose, came from Christian homeschooled families? What percentage of them were "educated" in public schools? No one has yet researched these questions, but we would guess the answers would turn out to be 0 percent and 100 percent.
The Long Haul
"The Second Mayflower," Swanson says, "must take a meaningful step toward separating state and family" (p. 154). To save the family, public education must go (p. 153). As families "rise in true faith in the living God ... Hundreds of thousands of fathers are rising to the occasion" (p. 149). "These will be the nuts and bolts of the Second Mayflower," he adds (p. 150). In other words, he proposes to throw away bad customs and replace them with something of value!
By way of contrast, let's turn briefly to Mike Huckabee's book, A Simple Government. We don't wish him ill: but as a mainstream "evangelical" and former presidential candidate, now with his own weekly political commentary show on television, Huckabee seems to be as good a spokesman for mainstream evangelical conservatives as we are likely to get.
Throughout his book, Huckabee seems to be in total agreement with Swanson as to the nature of America's problems-fatherless "families," out-of-control government spending and taxation, over-regulation, and a failed education system. But what is Huckabee's solution?
"Let's not flee our public schools, let's fix them" (p. 93).
Fix them? How? With more standardized testing (p. 92), vouchers and charter schools (p. 94), merit pay for good teachers (pp. 95-96), having the states compete for federal education funds (p. 106), and jazzing up the school experience to make it more palatable to students (pp. 101-103)-a tweak here, a fiddle there, a lick of paint, and everything will be hunky-dory. Huckabee doesn't even mention homeschooling.
This kind of thinking shows why, despite all their electoral successes, despite all their money spent, despite the hundreds of thousands of citizens signed up for and contributing money to "pro-family" organizations, mainstream conservatives are getting nowhere fast. The floor of America is rotting and splintering beneath their feet, and they want to tweak the public schools.
But Kevin Swanson is in it for the long haul. He thinks it will take seventy-five years, at least, to clean up the mess which humanism has made of our country. Many of us reading his book will not be here to see God open the door for a new and truly Christian America. Even if we climb aboard her now, we won't be there to see the Second Mayflower reach her destination.
Four hundred years ago, the Pilgrims faced such a daunting challenge as this: and in God's name, conquered.
Swanson has called on us to do the same.
1. Mike Huckabee, A Simple Government (New York: Penguin Group USA, 2011), 195.