In a world that seems to be swirling out of control these days due to political unrest, civil strife, and a health pandemic that has swept across our globe, it is easy to lash out and demand to have our voices heard. But little do we realize that in doing so a spirit of divisiveness is quickly taking root.
Author Joe Battaglia believes there is no us vs. them. It’s just us. In his latest book, Make America Good Again: 12.5 Biblical Principles to Unite Our Nation, Restore True Greatness, and Reshape Our Political Rhetoric, Battaglia effectively shapes an argument that America’s freedom and goodness is grounded in God’s righteousness. And because of this, people can find common ground despite their differences.
I recently spoke with Battaglia about why there currently seems to be such a loss of national character, the key component to America’s increasingly vexing tensions, and how we can encourage a culture to celebrate our differences while respecting those who don’t agree with us.
What was the inspiration or genesis for writing Make America Good Again?
I like to write about faith and culture and I’ve just been so concerned about all the stuff going on, the lack of civility, the anger and the whole spirit of confusion that has come upon our country this year. One of my favorite quotes is the one that’s often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian. It’s really a great quote and too long to say right now, but the part that I always think about, is when he says, ‘Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits of flame with righteousness, that 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.’ So, the way I look at it is that greatness is about achievement, but goodness is about character.
And what we have seen in the past year is the loss of our national character with everybody so against everything and the anger and hatred. I wanted to look at how can we get past all that to once again look at what made us a good people, rather than trying to echo our president’s sentiments about America being great. That is all well and good, but I think it’s more important that we become a good nation again so that civility returns, respect for people, true diversity and the opportunity to be with others unlike you and enjoy it rather than fight everybody. That’s what prompted me to put the book together.
Point blank, why do you think the United States is seeing such a tremendous loss of national character?
This slippery slope has been happening over the past two years. I’ve written about it in several of my previous books, The Politically Incorrect Jesus, Unfriended, etc. I certainly think several of the chief components to this is when you remove the Biblical frame of reference from the marketplace. People begin to lose the awareness of what constitutes civility. It’s all there in Scripture about how we should treat each other as a people. We have to wade through garbage heaps of verbal refuse and all this stuff online to find any modicum of truth anymore. That’s been a real issue and a problem because of the politically correct agenda. We have to understand that spirit is about divisiveness and division.
It is never about unity, trust, and civility because there always has to be a good guy and a bad guy. We have to realize that the spirit that we bring into anything is the same one consumed at the other end by the people who receive it. So, the whole spirit of politically correct agendas, the whole spirit of the protests we see, for the most part are not about trying to create unity. It is all about trying to create division and destruction of all the signposts that most people in America see as valuable to achieve a certain direction in life. That is to really become one as a nation because that’s the genius of our country and the genius of our faith.
You write about many topics in this book that are ailing America. Obviously, you are passionate about what is going on in the world. Is there any one topic that you feel like is the key to everything or do they all just work independently of each other in different ways?
Well, they work independently, but I think there is one primary thing that I hope people understand from what they read here. Basically what we see is an Us vs. Them mentality. Politically in the marketplace, culturally, educationally, take your pick. It’s no longer the essence of we are one united country with differing opinions, right? Now, it’s totally opposite of that. It is two separate divided countries with extremism fighting against the more traditional sense of what America is. I want people to realize that this nation was founded on the premise that there is a universal respect for all individuals, since they are created in the image of God. And He puts a moral code to the very foundation of the universe and into the very foundation of our hearts. And if we trifle with that, respect for life diminishes. And so when you disperse that very Biblical foundation and you’re deleted from the public square, what will happen is what happened to Moses and his people when he left the camp.
We are seeing God’s presence leave the public square. So Moses had to come down from the mountain and literally throw God’s Word into the camp. I think what we need to do is begin to do that as well, to use and proclaim God’s Word in the camp. We need to resist this mentality that is creating all these artificial risks and paranoia between groups. Jesus did that in His world when He encountered the same thing. He steps back and looks at life above the fray. This is why I always use Jesus as my model, because He doesn’t look at it from a conservative, liberal, or radical point of view. All these terms that we use, He rises above it and says, ‘The state is not your enemy.’
You write in your book that our differences can make us stronger. How can we encourage a culture that celebrates our differences but also respects those who don’t agree with us?
That’s the question a lot of people ask. And again, I always look to Scripture and Jesus, because there’s always a way to look at life through that lens so we don’t get caught up in the other stuff that the world would throw at us. We have to certainly number one, understand who Jesus is and maybe relive some of the things He taught about, the interception of people different than us. Since a lot of us live online and the fake social communities that we create, we have to begin to understand that we need to be in the marketplace and intersecting with people unlike us, because that is where we find true community. We enable ourselves to understand how people think who are different than us when we work and sweat alongside them, and understand that they have eternity in their heart as well.
We need to see more of that in each other, for who is different. And I use the parable of the woman at the well, because Jesus, as a Jewish man went out of His way to go into Samaria, a land that real Jews, as they consider themselves would never go because of the half breeds that were there. And certainly, He would not be talking to a Samaritan woman that was socially unacceptable. So, He does something that His disciples and others said, ‘Don’t do that.’ He breaks that norm, does that, and encounters the woman. The principle is this: as we saw what she did after that encounter with Him, when we go out of our way to be with people unlike us, they will go out of their way to tell people about us. We have to be careful that we just don’t keep to ourselves and never intersect with people unlike us. I have tons of stories of how that affected me through the years, but suffice to say the woman at the well scenario is really important.
We need to be out there looking when we encounter individuals that need a helping hand, whether it be helping with something physical, or helping with something spiritual. It may be whatever they may need. It could be a touch of God in their life that they won’t get from anybody else who just disregards them. We’ve got to be on the road in the first place to understand what that means, because the reality is, if we don’t intersect with anybody, we’ll never have a neighbor with whom to actually intersect.
Why is taking personal responsibility so important in ‘making America good again’?
I think simply because Jesus Christ asks us to. The Gospel is not impersonal and corporate. The Gospel is always personal. It is individual. And the reason is simple because God is the God of the personal and the individual. He relates to everyone, not just a bunch of people at once. He doesn’t give a message for a group. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. When we take personal responsibility, we then exhibit more of what God is like. And so, anytime I do anything that is more in line with the principles that God has created for the universe and the principles that establish how God relates to us, then I am more likely to do it.
I don’t get salvation because my parents were saved, or my kids are saved. So, there was nothing to carry us about the Gospel. We always have to make a choice, a personal choice, and therefore that carries weight and responsibility. We cannot blame anybody else. We’re looking at judgment now. When I can blame somebody else for my problems, I then remove the Biblical foundation of enabling me to become a better person. I begin to belittle myself when I blame everybody else for my problems. That’s judgment. It’s not born of laws. As I said before, condemnation has no room for love. And if I do not have any love in the Spirit that I bring to the table there, and the people on the other side of that discussion with me do not sense any love.
And that’s why you have major confrontations, because their spirit, even though it may not be the Holy Spirit, does not sense anything but dislike, judgment, and condemnation. Not that we say it, we may even smile and put on a very nice Christian front, but you cannot fool the Holy Spirit. That’s why it has to be personal and corporate because that’s the way God establishes the universe in working, creating relationships, and creating community. In John 17, when Jesus does His high priestly prayer, He could have asked his Father for anything, yet he asks for one thing: unity. What is it about unity that is so powerful that Jesus would ask that for his people? Now, about anything else he could have asked for them to the Father. We have to understand that my job as a minister of reconciliation is to create oneness, not divisiveness. When we see a spirit of divisiveness like we see in our country, we know it’s not from God. This is because that’s the way the universe operates in the godly Biblical principle way.
After people have read Make America Good Again, what would you like to see readers take away with them? What is your greatest hope for the book?
My greatest hope as I do for most things, as a journalist, is to help illuminate what others cannot see. My job is not to lead somebody to the water and drink it for them as well, like we see currently happening to our media, which is so distasteful and disappointing. I want people to at least begin to see that there’s an alternative way to think and respond to what is happening around them.
We need to see that God is ultimately in charge because the reality is not whether these things are going to prevent God’s kingdom from happening. But can God lose control of His universe? I want to make sure that we don’t have that residing in our hearts. (I would like people to) intelligently understand for themselves what their responses could be. We need to become more like Christ. If they do that, then I’ve achieved my responsibility to be an ambassador and a minister of reconciliation.