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A bumper crop

The wheat and the tares in our public life

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This is the latest in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. Joel wrote this column for the Sept. 28, 2002, issue of WORLD.

Thoughtful Americans find themselves whipsawed these days. The nation we criticize so roundly is so much better than any of us deserve. Yet the nation we want to justify and defend is so much worse than we like to admit. How can the same society be both at the same time?

“Don’t worry,” an insightful pastor friend reminded me last week. “Jesus couldn’t have made it clearer that the tares and the wheat would be growing side by side right up until the end of the age.”

Even for an optimist like me, the tares seem so ­visible. My own informal dictionary says “tares” are a member of the kudzu family, tending to dominate the landscape. Here are the ones looming on my horizon:

Major media. They trivialize the important and exalt the trivial. They treasure nothing except their own freedoms, which they regularly transform into licentiousness. When you find conservatives cheering a ­network like Fox, you know you’re in trouble.

Educational elite. They gobble up staggering proportions of the public resource, and still complain that they don’t have enough. Yet, they fail to produce even passable results with respect to the basics that the public expects from the educational establishment.

American justice. Four times I’ve sat through an American court case. Four times I’ve been bitterly disappointed in the results. It’s not that I think the system is either rigged or crooked. But the worldview of those in charge now has a totally secular starting point.

American politics. It’s hard to remember the proverbial warning not to put our trust in princes. Yes, the choices within our political system make a difference; but no, the difference they make isn’t much more than marginal. When even the good guys equivocate on an issue like partial-birth abortion; when even the good guys gorge themselves on pork-barrel spending; when even the good guys are overly beholden to their political donors—then we’re a long way from being a nation adorned by righteousness.

Collapsing family. No civilization in history has demonstrated that it can mount the assaults on the traditional family that we have permitted in America, and survive. There has been no time in history when so high a proportion of a nation’s children were denied the privilege of living with both parents. It is a scary experiment.

But while the tares tower, the amber waves of grain also remind us that in God’s scheme of things, the wheat is not going to be choked out. Here are some of the promises of a healthy harvest:

Freedom. We come and go, pretty much as we please. Checkpoints at airports, courthouses, and other sites have become a nuisance, but not much more. We are embarrassingly free to say and print what we think.

Security. Backed by America’s unparalleled military might, we sleep well at night. Osama bin Laden rattled our cage, but we don’t really worry he’s going to defeat us. Even in our conduct of war, awful as that is, we hold to a framework of honor. For that, we can be thankful.

Gospel’s progress. Think of almost any city in America, and picture its flagship churches. For the most part, they’re bigger, stronger, and more influential than a generation ago. So are most parachurch organizations. Christian schools are powerful forces compared to a half century ago. Homeschooling, virtually unknown 30 years ago, now involves perhaps 1.5 million children—most of them in Christian families.

Gospel’s fruit. Christian truth is making a difference—certainly among God’s people, but also in the culture at large. I know pollster George Barna argues that evangelicals aren’t behaviorally all that different from unbelievers. But he isn’t doing his studies in the churches I know. We have our warts and blemishes, but little by little, God is growing and maturing His people.

The wheat and the tares—side by side. God didn’t tell us to ignore the differences. He did tell us to be patient for what He is going to do.

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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