(December 25, 2001)
TruthUSA, Free Republic, Friends of Liberty,
The Patriotist, The Republican and Razormouth
America, we are told, was founded on Christian principles. We hear this so often that we have stopped examining what it really means. All too frequently this phrase is further trivialized by politicians aiming to deprive us of our freedoms in the name of Christianity. After all, who would oppose a law that was enacted in Jesus' name?
I write this on December 25, when Christians the world over refrain from their earthly toil to commemorate the birth of the One to whom "all power is given...in heaven and earth" (Matthew 28:18-20). God became man and entered the world as a helpless baby born in a stable in an obscure village in a backwater province of the Roman Empire.
From the very beginning, we see Christianity as a bottom-up proposition. The Jews had been longing for a political savior, who would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. But God gave them a helpless baby! Even this made the authorities uneasy. King Herod felt so threatened that he issues an executive order, if you will, to have all boys under the age of two killed, in the hope that Jesus would be one of them. Mary and Joseph heed the words of an angel of the Lord, a higher authority than Herod, and defy Herod by escaping with Jesus into Egypt.
Jesus was crucified on political charges. Although he claimed to be King of the Jews, he also claimed that his Kingdom was not of this earth. Even so, the Roman authorities saw Jesus as a counterforce to Caesar. When the chief priests proclaimed, "We have no King but Caesar", Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the greatest threats to God's people came from earthly rulers. And yet God's people persevered in spite of threats from these rulers. Acts 4 and 5 clearly instruct us that, when man says one thing and God says another, we are to obey God rather than men. Several of Paul's letters were written in Roman jails. John wrote the book of Revelation when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.
So why do modern day Christians so unquestioningly follow their earthly governments? There are many reasons, but we can start with the modern day translations of the Bible. I am no Bible scholar, but some one pointed out to me recently the differences in translations of the Romans 13:1, which is a favorite chapter of big government groupies everywhere. Let us look first at the New International Version:
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established."
Now let us look at Romans 13:1 in the King James Version:
"Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."
This is quite a difference, isn't it? The governing authorities are not exempt from God's judgment. Indeed, not all governing authorities meet with God's approval. The prophet Hosea rebukes the Israelites for saying they acknowledge God, but all the while setting up kings without God's approval. (Hosea 8:2-4)
So what does this have to do with America's Founding? Quite a bit, in fact. Some of the Founders were Christians and some weren't. Yet even those that weren't acknowledged that the state was not an end unto itself, and that the governing authorities are, like the rest of us, subject to higher authority. Consider the language of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, who was very skeptical of Christianity, wrote of "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" and that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". He closes by "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World" and relying on the "protection of Divine Providence."
The promises of the Declaration were codified into law in the Constitution, a document that keeps the governing authorities on a very short leash. Why are there three branches of government, and a system of checks and balances to keep any of these branches from becoming too powerful? Why is there such a thing as federalism, so the federal government can only exercise those "few and defined" powers delegated to it? Why can the president not rule by executive order? Why does it speak of a "supreme Court" with a small "s"? Why, in a world ruled by kings, did they insist on having a country without a king? And why would such a country be a republic, in which government existed to guarantee rights, rather than a democracy, wherein rights could be stripped away by a vote of 50 percent plus one?
This is because the Founders knew that authority did not originate with man, but from a genuine higher power. The governing authorities in this new nation were to have limited power as they too were subject to higher powers. When Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal", he meant that no man was to enjoy a status higher than another. This is why the Constitution forbids titles of nobility. Jesus, likewise, was no respecter of persons. The emperor in Rome was no better than the leper living in a garbage dump. All were equal in the sight of God.
The British writer Malcolm Muggeridge summed it up best when he wrote, "Only as children of God are we equal; all other claims to equality -- social, economic, racial, intellectual, sexual -- only serve in practice to intensify inequality." All other forms of equality require that the one percent (equalizers) stand over the other 99 percent (equalizees). Witness Lenin's nation where some were "more equal than others." Lenin also took a very dim view of things like praying and going to church.
Jesus never promises us that we can solve the problem of economic inequality, much less that we can do so through a progressive tax system. He never promises us that racial quotas will solve the racism problem; or that disarming us will solve the crime problem; or that prohibition will stop people from partying too hard. He never promises us that putting the right people in charge will solve anything. In fact, he never promises us that the state can solve any of our problems. He never promises that any of our social ills will go away. Interestingly, neither does the Constitution. Do you think this is just a coincidence, or are Jesus' fingerprints all over our nation's birth?
Jesus tells us to place our hope in the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of man. When he tells his followers that they are the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world", he is not addressing the national prayer breakfast. James tells us that if our faith is alive, good works will follow. We are to follow God and put our hope and faith in him regardless of our political circumstances.
The good news is that in a free society, and only in a free society, can individuals ask God for guidance, wait for a response, and then walk forward freely to act on that response without having to kiss the feet of the secular authorities. The same is true for families and churches. It is such a society that our Constitution ordains and establishes.
It is in this bottom-up way, and not in some top-down utopian way, that America was founded as a Christian nation. The multitudinous maladies that afflict our body politic will not be done away with by electing the right people, or by passing more laws. Rather, this healing may be found in II Chronicles 7:14, which states: "If my people, which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
You will note that this Scripture says nothing about politics. The answers are not found in politics, but are found in you and in me. Our Constitution likewise does not offer political solutions to our problems. It offers something better: the ability of each and every one of us to take our problems before God, and work them out without anyone or anything else as a mediator.
The Bible gives Jesus many names. While he may not have been physically present in Philadelphia in 1776, he was there in spirit. In a document "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World", this nation declared its independence. For this reason, we in America can call him by an additional name: Founding Father.
Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman
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