A Biblical View of Political Responsibility

georgewashingtonprayingIn my last post, Revisting the Formula for Healing the Nation, I provided the road map outlined in scripture that gives Christians directions to bringing the nation to God.  In the following video, featuring Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendant of the Assemblies, Dr. Wood gives five points of biblical direction for Christians relative to their engagement in politics and public life.  I think it is right on and critical to moving the Church away from relying on the carnal weapons of the world system and toward an authentic Christian lifestyle that gives light to the world’s darkeness.

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Is it Last Call for the Christian Politicos?

Today I read some great news from a Christian Post article that noted that, “For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans believe churches and houses of worship should keep out of political matters.” The full article can be found below.

The reason I’m happy about the article is that it confirms what I have been predicting for a couple of decades now, that many Christians will become frustrated with the political system as a means to sustaining a moral culture and a positive respect towards Christians in general.  Furthermore, I have continued to say that the surest way to see the influence of the Church erode in culture is to engage the evil in our culture through carnal and corrupt human systems.  

Many Christians are of the opinion that if the political culture is run by Christians, it can only mean positive things will come of it.  Bull!  If that were true then there would be no such thing as church-splits and other ecclesiastic conflicts.  Through my life I have witnessed discord, dissension, hostility, confrontation, and many other unsanctified behaviors by those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.  This includes not only those defined as lay-people, but clergy as well.  They hardly give a credible witness to what they demand of their political leaders.

The Bible says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds.”  Someone needs to tell the leaders of the Christian political movement in America they are trying to fight a culture war wearing Saul’s armor and are leading willing followers to the place where blind leaders always lead the blind.  A ditch.   

I pray that more Christians in America will get frustrated with the political game and realize that Jesus gave his followers real power to change the world, not the impotent and flimsy influence some politically-engaged Christian leaders are selling.  There’s been a lot of hype and vision-casting by too many who have left the apostles doctrine and have chosen to  believe in might and power while rejecting the Spirit.  If America’s moral ship has any chance of being righted, it will not come by crowds of believers amassed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., or through perpetual seminars and conferences, but in the private closets of fervent and effectual prayer.  

Now, for the article:

Most Americans Unhappy with Church, Politics Combo

 

For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans believe churches and houses of worship should keep out of political matters. The change in heart is the result of a shift in view of some social conservatives who are said to be disillusioned with the major political parties.

Fri, Aug. 22, 2008 Posted: 11:10 AM EDT


For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans believe churches and houses of worship should keep out of political matters.

The change in heart is the result of a shift in view of some social conservatives who are said to be disillusioned with the major political parties, according to a survey released Thursday by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Currently, half of conservatives believe churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics, up from just 30 percent four years ago.

In particular, the survey found the shift is strongest among Americans who are less educated, who consider gay “marriage” a very important issue, and who think the two major parties are unfriendly towards religion.

“To my mind, that spells frustration,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, according to The Associated Press. “But by the same token, we know these very same people are not interested in less religiosity in the political discourse. They almost universally want a religious person as president.

“It’s not that they want to take religion out of politics, it’s that their frustrations with the way things seem to be going are leading them to say, ‘Well, maybe churches should back off on this.'”

With this new shift, conservatives now hold similar views with moderates and liberals on the issue of church and politics.

Overall, a slight majority (52 percent) of the public now says churches should “keep out” of politics and not express their views on social and political matters, compared to 44 percent who held this view in 2004.

Also, the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats on the issue has disappeared.

Now, 51 percent of Republicans say churches should keep out of politics, and 52 percent of Democrats hold this same view. Back in 2004, there was a big gap in view between the two parties on the issue, with only 37 percent of Republicans wanting churches to not participate in politics, compared to 51 percent of Democrats.

Meanwhile, the American public’s opinion has remained relatively unchanged on the belief that churches and other houses of worship should not endorse candidates and that it is important for presidents to have strong religious beliefs.

The survey was conducted through phone interviews on July 31-August 10 from a national sample of 2,905 adults. This is the first time a majority of Americans want churches to stay away from politics since the Pew Forum started asking the question 12 years ago.

Michelle A. Vu
Christian Post Reporter

Buyer’s Remorse in Selling Jesus

One of my favorite laugh-out-loud movies of all times is the Coen Brothers film. “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, a story based loosely on Homer’s The Odyssey, set in the Deep South during the Depression. Suave and fancy-talking Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and easily-excitable Pete (John Turturro) are serving time together on a prison chain gang. Everett knows where $1.2 million is hidden that’s theirs for the taking, and the three manage to escape; however, a stranger soon warns them that they’ll find treasure, but not the sort they’re looking for. As Everett and his partners hit the road, they happen upon a gluttonous, one-eyed bible salesman, Big Dan Teague (John Goodman); meet up with Baby Face Nelson (Michael Badalucco) as he robs a bank; encounter three Sirens doing their washing; run into Everett’s estranged wife Penny (Holly Hunter), who has told everyone her husband was killed in a train wreck; find themselves in the middle of a heated campaign between political boss Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning), and reformist candidate Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall); and even find time to make a hit record as The Soggy Bottom Boys.

In the meeting with Big Dan Teague, there’s this bit of dialogue:

What kind of work you do, Big Dan?

Sales, Mr McGill, sales! What do I sell? The truth, every blessed word of it. From Genesis down to Revelations. Yes, the word of God, which, let me say,there’s damn good money in during these times of woe and want. People want answers, and Big Dan sells the only book that’s got ‘em. And what do you do, you and your, uh, tongue-tied friend?

We, uh…We’re adventurers, sir,pursuing an opportunity, but we’re open to others as well.

I like you. I’m gonna propose you a proposition. You cover my bill for now, get your dinner wrapped picnic-style and we’ll retire to more private environs, where I’ll reveal how to make vast amounts of money in the service of God Almighty.

Jesus Cleanses the TempleThis conversation could have taken place in any of the many presidential campaign staff planning meetings in the recent contest. Selling Jesus has been good business and politically expedient. But many Christians have seen through the facade and don’t appreciate the blatant money-changing in the temple. I think it’s time to clear the air and let both campaigns know, enough is enough.

In a Christian Science Monitor article by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, he warn the candidates to “Stop Misusing Religion.” Here’s the rest of the article:

Americans will choose a new president in less than five months, but the losers of this election are already clear – the sanctity of religion and the integrity of democracy.

The latest evidence came late last month, when Sen. Barack Obama announced his resignation from his home church. Such an important decision should have been made purely for personal or religious reasons. Instead, it was apparently driven by political considerations.

As a practicing minister, I understand how painful it is for him to leave a church that has been an important part of his life for many years. It is the church in which Senator Obama was married, and it is the church in which his children were baptized. It is a place where he apparently found a community with his neighbors and with his God.

But as president of the Interfaith Alliance, I also understand why Obama found himself in this situation. During the primary campaign, the major presidential candidates engaged in a frenzied rush to prove their religious bona fides.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign went on a self-described “faith tour” of South Carolina, based explicitly upon a verse from the Book of Esther. Senator John McCain got off the Straight Talk Express to pander to the religious right when he gave the commencement address at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

And Obama is equally at fault. Early in the race, his campaign set up a website to feature endorsements from clergy, despite the fact that tax law prohibits religious leaders from making candidate endorsements in their official capacities as men and women of God.

Last fall, he asked a South Carolina congregation to help him “become an instrument of God,” despite the fact that the Constitution says no such thing.

The candidates have sought the endorsements of clergy, and both Senator McCain and Obama are now having some buyer’s remorse. But candidates cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue to use clergy for political gain and then discard them when it no longer fits their agenda.

The problem is not that these presidential candidates incorporated religion into their campaigns. The problem is that the candidates have used religion as a divisive tool, instead of a unifying power.

Rather than printing campaign brochures featuring a picture of Obama in front of a giant cross with the words “committed Christian,” as Obama did, candidates should tell the American people why, how, or if faith informs their policy positions.

Rather than declaring the United States to be a Christian nation, as McCain did, candidates should outline what steps they would take to respect the vast diversity of religious beliefs (and nonbeliefs) in this country.

Rather than asking the candidates to talk about when they have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit – as CNN did during a “faith forum” for Democrats earlier this year – the media should instead ask the candidates to outline their views on the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom.

If the Liberty Bell had not cracked in 1846, it most surely would have done so in 2008 thanks to the US presidential candidates.

If the meaning of the Liberty Bell’s biblical inscription – “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” – is to ring true in America today, no candidate for the presidency should ever have to resign from or join a particular house of worship in order to be a viable candidate for that high office.

To make such a decision for political reasons dishonors religion and disrespects the Constitution. It makes a sad statement about American politics and an even sadder one about American religion.

Obama is at the center of the storm, but all who wed religion to partisan politics share responsibility for this tragic development.

For the sake of both religion and democracy, we must do better. Our country deserves an electoral campaign which treats religion with the same respect held by those who built the Liberty Bell.

Is America a Christian Nation?

One Nation Under God.For many years past and I’m sure, for years to come, the ever reverberating question of whether America is a Christian nation continues to be asked in many circles. I think the question is inconsequential and pretentious. What the heck do we think the value of an affirmative answer could be? Let me get this right. Is the thought behind the question really an attempt to bolster the spurious claim that before 1963, the year they threw out school prayer, America was a reflection of all things godly? Come on now! History and thousands of sermons from before 1963 say otherwise.

In David Barton’s WallBuilders organization, the group’s focus is “to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built-a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” He states further that “WallBuilders’ goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.” In those three stated goals, I see nothing that is geared to holiness, a servant’s heart, or seeking the Kingdom of God. At a minimum, Barton’s emphasis on the historical foundations of this country is a distraction from doing real, kingdom work.I have heard from many well-meaning Christians that if we get back to our Christian roots, then the country will be on it’s way to better days. Perhaps, that would work to some degree if you were white and Protestant. Seems to me, when you look back at the history of revivals in this country, those firebrands like Finney were looking “forward” to a better society than what they had back then. One that would acknowledge the dignity of all men, saints and sinners alike. Any Christian that wants to go back to the “good ol’ days” had better think twice. They weren’t that great from what I’ve heard and read . Instead, we need to live our lives in the here and now, demonstrating the grace and power that comes from the Holy Spirit.I’m attaching a report by Christian apologist, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason that gives his views on the question of whether America is a Christian nation. But before I do, I have to ask a couple of questions of those who actually believe that removing school prayer initiated the “demise of America.” First, if God is a rewarder of righteousness to the righteous, then why and how in the world would God allow school prayer to be removed. The second question is, what’s more important in the eyes of God? School prayer or family prayer? Just wondering.

Now, here’s Greg…

America’s Unchristian Beginnings?

Gregory Koukl

Greg responds to an L.A. Times Op-Ed article by this title (sans question mark), subtitled “Founding Fathers: Despite preachings of our pious Right, most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.”divider

There has been a lot of confusion on the issue of whether or not we’ re a Christian nation, and I’m not exactly sure why. But it is hotly debated in our culture right now. The reason I say I’m not sure why is because the historical record is quite clear. I think that Christians, though, often make inappropriate, unfounded, or inaccurate applications of some of the information, and I want to speak to that in just a moment.As to the faith content of those who were our Founding Fathers, there can be absolutely no confusion about the fact that virtually every single one of them shared a Christian, biblical world view. There is some question as to whether every single one of them held to all the orthodox teachings of classical Christianity; but it seems to me that there is very little question as to what their religious persuasions and world views were.There was a piece in the L.A. Times on the third of this August on the Op-Ed page entitled “America’s Unchristian Beginnings.” It is subtitled “Founding Fathers: Despite preachings of our pious Right, most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.” There are a couple things that trouble me about this article, the biggest thing is the word “most” in the subtitle. “Most of our Founding Fathers” apparently were deists, according to this person’s assessment. This is a canard that’s been tossed around even by some Christians who ought to know better. This piece was written by Steven Morris who is a professor of physics at L.A. Harbor College and he is also a member of the L.A.-based Atheists United.Some might say, what does a physicist know about history? Just because he is a physicist doesn’t mean that he can’t have an accurate opinion about this particular issue. I take issue with his research. It’ s simply bad.He goes on to reply to the Christian Right, who he says is trying to rewrite the history of the United States in its campaign to force its view of religion on others. His approach is to quote seven different people: Thomas Paine, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, James Madison, and Ben Franklin. His point is to quote these individuals who he thinks apparently are, first of all, Founding Fathers, and secondly, characteristic of the lot of them in rejection of Christianity and in acceptance of deism.I am frustrated by this because it is characteristic of the way a lot of people want to treat this issue. They think that they can take names that we associate with that period and are well known, sift through their writings and find some things that they think are hostile to Christianity, and therefore conclude that not only these people are anti-Christian, but all of the rest of them are anti-Christian, as well.It’s an example of Steven Morris turning the exception into the rule. Since he can find what he thinks are seven different people that are important personalities during this period of time, who at some time in their lives may have written something that can be understood to be non-Christian, then that characterizes the whole group of them as deists, ergo the subtitle “Most were deists who rejected the divinity of Jesus.”Morris’ sightings are simply specious. Thomas Payne and Ethan Allen, for example, were in no- wise intellectual architects of the Constitution. Rather, they were firebrands of the Revolution. Was that important? Sure, they made an important contribution, but they weren’t Founding Fathers. Period.Now, as for Washington, Sam Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. If one looks at the literature of the time–the personal correspondence, the public statements, the biographies–he will find that this literature is replete with quotations by these people contrary to those that Mr. Morris very carefully selected for us. Apparently, he also very carefully ignored other important thinkers: John Witherspoon, for example, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry. All individuals who were significant contributors to the architectural framework of this country and who had political philosophies that were deeply influenced by Christianity, especially Calvinism.But there is another thing that he completely overlooks in this analysis. Something that makes a mockery out of his analysis, and also answers the question quite simply and directly and in the affirmative for us about the Christian beginnings of our Republic.This issue is actually very simple. The phrase “Founding Fathers” is a proper noun. In other words, Founding Fathers refers directly to a very specific group of people (although I think you could be a little bit flexible and include a little wider group of people). Those who intellectually contributed to the Constitutional convention were the Founding Fathers. If we want to know whether our Founding Fathers were Christian or deists, one needs only to look at the individual religious convictions of those 55 delegates of the Constitutional convention.How would we know that? We look at their church membership primarily, and also at their correspondence. Back then church membership was a big deal. In other words, to be a member of a church back then, it wasn’t just a matter of sitting in the pew or attending once in a while. This was a time when church membership entailed a sworn public confession of biblical faith, adherence, and acknowledgment of the doctrines of that particular church.Of those 55 Founding Fathers, we know what their sworn public confessions were. Twenty-eight were Episcopalians, eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutheran, two were Dutch Reformed, two were Methodist, two were Roman Catholic, one is unknown, and only three were deists–Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin.To heap more fuel on the fire of my point, of the 55, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Dutch Reformed (which make up 45 of the 55) were Calvinists, for goodness sake! In other words, these weren’t just Christians, these were among the most extreme and doctrinally strict Christians around. Of the 55 delegates, virtually all of them were deeply committed Christians. Only three were deists. Even Franklin is equivocal because, though not an orthodox Christian, Franklin seems to have abandoned his deism early in life and moved back towards his Puritan roots. Indeed, it was 81 year old Franklin’s emotional call to humble prayer on June 28, 1787, that was actually the turning point for a hopelessly stalled Constitutional convention. We have his appeal on record thanks to James Madison who took copious notes of the whole proceeding. His appeal contained no less than four direct quotations from Scripture. This does not sound like a man who was hostile to the Christian religion.But this assessment doesn’ t answer a more fundamental question: Are we a Christian nation? It seems clear that most of the Founders were Christians, not deists. But what about the question “Are we a Christian nation?” I think the answer depends entirely on what is meant by “Christian nation.”Are the theological doctrines of the Bible explicitly woven into the fabric of government? The answer is no. The non-establishment clause of the First Amendment absolutely prohibits such a thing. However, was the Biblical view of the world–the existence of God who active in human history, the authority of the Scripture, the inherent sinfulness of man, the existence of absolute objective morality, and God-given transcendent rights–was that the philosophic foundation of the Constitution? The answer is, without question, yes. The American community presumed a common set of values which were principally biblical. Further, the founding principles of the Republic were clearly informed by biblical truth.A question can be asked at this point. Given the fact that most of the Founding Fathers–either those who are among the 55 delegates to the Constitutional convention or those outside of that number who were significant architects to the Constitution–were in fact biblical Christians and had sworn to that, and those that weren’t were at least deeply moved and informed by a biblical moral view, one could ask the question, “So what? What does that have to do with anything today?”I think that Christians may be a little out of line on this part of the issue, and I want to bring it into balance. Regarding the question, Is America a Christian nation?, if we mean by that that Christianity is the official, doctrinal religion of this country, the answer is of course not. That’s prohibited by the exclusion clause of the First Amendment. If we mean that we were founded on Biblical principles by Christian men who had a deep commitment to the Scriptures by and large, the answer is certainly yes.But then the question is, So what? How does what happened 200 years ago influence what is going on now? I actually have two points to make.This fact doesn’ t give Christians a trump card in the debate on public policy, in my view. Just because Christians were here first doesn’t mean that their views should continue to prevail. Within the limits of the Constitution, the majority rules. That’s the way this government works, ladies and gentlemen.But let’s not rewrite history to relegate those with religious convictions to the sidelines. That is the other half of this. The privilege of citizenship remains the same for all despite their religious convictions. Everyone gets a voice and everyone gets a vote. Christians don’t have a leg up on everyone else because we were here first. Even the Christians who wrote the rules didn’t give us that liberty. They didn’t give us that leg up. They made the playing ground even for everyone, every ideology, every point of Keep it White view.Having said that, though, in writing the First Amendment and the non-establishment clause, they did not have in view this current idea of separation–that the state is thoroughly secular and not informed at all by religious values, especially Christian. This view that is popular now was completely foreign, not just to the Founders, but to the first 150 years of American political thought. It’s absolutely clear that the Fathers did not try to excise every vestige of Christian religion, Christian thought, and Christian values from all facets of public life. In fact, they were friendly to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular, and encouraged its education and expression.As to the durability of this tradition, I suggest that anyone who has any doubts about this simply read Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which is etched into the marble of the northern wall of the Lincoln Memorial. Go there and read it. Face Lincoln, turn right, and there it is. It contains no less than three or four biblical references.After that you can reflect on Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863. It begins this way: “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions [By golly, how did that get in there?] in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon. And to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.”I think that pretty much settles it.

Did Jefferson promote an impenetrable wall of seperation or a picket fence?

Declaration of IndependenceDuring my tenure working with John Rankin at TEI (Theological Education Institute), there were many occasions where we addressed questions rooted in the issue of church and state. In all those debates and conversations, the phrase “wall of separation” was often referenced suggesting there was a constitutional sanction against religious involvement in government and politics. The phrase “building a wall of separation between church and state” was written by the U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in a January 1, 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut.In that letter, referencing the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”Without bias, it can be clearly seen that Jefferson was not saying that a citizen could not profess, by word or deed, his religious convicts in the arena of political discourse, but rather, the government had no right to prevent a free exercise of religion or promote a specific brand of religion. I believe that John Rankin does a great job in explaining this position and the underlying basis for Jefferson’s remarks. Here is John’s views expressed on his web page. Enjoy.

Church & State

In the biblical narrative, these assumptions are key to understanding the nature of church and state:

  1. The level playing field choice between good and evil in the Garden of Eden;
  2. The war of the ancient serpent against the Messianic lineage, where the devil seeks to establish “sorcery at the right hand of power” in human politics, so as to destroy the religious, political and economic liberty for all people to see the Gospel demonstrated and taught, and thus to believe in it; thus, the raising up of “godly counsel at the right hand of power”;
  3. The debate during Passover Week, where Jesus gives his enemies a level playing field to rake him over the coals with their toughest questions; they do so and end up silencing themselves in his presence; Jesus wins the debate, but does not take human political power; instead he goes to the cross, pays the price for sin, and in the power of his resurrection gives the Holy Spirit to believers who will give that level playing field to all people across history to choose citizenship in the eternal kingdom of God.

______________________________

On April 11, 2007, John Rankin addressed a Mars Hill Forum at Patrick Henry College with Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, looking at this issue. Barry responded well, though not agreeing that the metaphor of “the wall of separation between church and state” needs to be changed. They found no stated disagreements in terms of history or biblical ethics – it was more a matter of a different political prism they each hold, where both say no to state-established religion. John argued that “the wall of separation” is a negative metaphor, and only divides; his proposal is for the positive metaphor of “a level playing field” for all religious and political ideas. Here is his prepared text for the evening (with some slight edits).

_____________________________

Good evening in the name of Jesus, the incarnate God of the Bible, Yahweh Elohim. This greeting is appropriate for me to give in any setting where people yearn for religious, political and economic liberty – for these liberties are part of the unalienable rights upon which this nation is founded. Historically, unalienable rights have only one Source – the God of the Bible, and they are given in the biblical order of creation. And I desire and pray for all people to enjoy these liberties equally. Of necessity, we need this foundation to address our question tonight: “What is the Nature of the Separation between Church and State?”

To wit: the nature is rooted in the simple metaphor of a wall, and metaphors can be wonderfully instructive, and as easily misleading. Dr. Daniel Dreisbach of American University, in his definitive work, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State, focuses on the nature of the metaphor as Jefferson and others used it.

Tonight I will seek to define the use of this metaphor, and why I consider it a poor one to begin with, even before it was later misused. It is both reactive and negative in nature. Then I will propose a new metaphor, which is proactive and positive in nature. It is also quintessentially radical, being rooted in the biblical order of creation and the person of Jesus.

I am particularly interested to see what my colleague Barry Lynn thinks of my metaphor, for indeed, his organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, roots its identity in its interpretation of the metaphor, “a wall of separation.”

On January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson answered a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. The Baptists were grateful for his election in the bitterly contested 1800 campaign against President John Adams. They highly regarded Jefferson’s well known views on religious liberty.

Adams was vociferously supported by the New England Congregationalist clergy establishment, which was in lockstep with political Federalism, and they called Jefferson an infidel and atheist. The Congregationalists came from the Puritans and had some excellent original theology, especially in terms of the concept of vocation or “calling,” and the economic power it unleashed still blesses this nation. But it also had a central weakness, seeking to establish an earthly theocracy, where all citizens in Massachusetts and Connecticut in the 17th century either had to be Congregationalist, or by the force of state taxes, they had to support the Congregational Church.

Later, non-Congregationalists were exempted from these taxes, so long as they verifiably attended some other Christian church. But the Baptists complained that this was only a human privilege of “toleration” being given by the establishment – truly a condescending negative. They rightly wanted equal access to the unalienable right of religious liberty – a true positive for all people.

In his letter of response to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson saw that it was published widely and immediately, taking advantage of the opportunity to strike back at the Congregationalist clergy and the Federalist political establishment, a) to rebut the charge he was an infidel and atheist, and b) to advance the cause of Republicanism – that is, the preeminence of state’s rights in view of a limited federal government. He used language that kept the federal government out of institutional religion, lauded freedom of conscience in religious matters, and then used the famous metaphor: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State…” The letter was not wholly satisfactory to the Danbury Baptists, but largely so, even as Jefferson used it for his own purposes.

Jefferson was quoting the First Amendment before using the metaphor, yet he was in France at the time of its composition and ratification from 1787 through 1791. Thus his metaphor is neither constitutional nor should it be legally definitive. And, unlike much modern interpretive gloss, it does not separate political and religious life.

As the exegesis of Dr. Dreisbach sustains, Jefferson referred to a wall of separation between the federal government on the one hand, and state government and the institutional church on the other. It was not a wall separating religious life and political life. Though he rightly opposed an established Anglican church in his native Virginia, nonetheless as Governor he signed “A Proclamation Appointing a Day of Publick and Solemn Thanksgiving and Prayer” in November, 1779. He opposed the federal government doing the same, and thus was charged by Adams and the Federalists of being an infidel and atheist. In other words, he was acting as a partisan Republican against partisan Federalists. The texture of reality is not so facile as it might otherwise appear.

Now I say he rightly opposed a state established church, based on principles of religious liberty. But even yet, as President he did not seek to have the Congress require the same of Massachusetts and Connecticut, both of which still had state establishment of the Congregational Church. He believed it was a state issue to resolve, not a federal one, and as it turned out, it was resolved within two decades. The Danbury Baptists wanted disestablishment, not the language of a wall of separation, and even though Jefferson agreed in principal, he was not a Federalist, and did not appease them here by interfering with state politics.

Jefferson’s wall was not regarded as anything definitive by his peers, and largely fell out of the public eye, apart from a fleeting appearance in 1879. But in 1947, in the Everson v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Justice Hugo Black quoted the metaphor and added something novel to it. It was something both non-Jeffersonian and non-constitutional, saying such a wall should be “high and impregnable.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded the same year, and ever since, the wall metaphor has been used by them and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) et al. to separate much government and religion in a sense that is foreign to Jefferson’s purpose. As some scholars say, it is the wall that Hugo Black built.

But at the prior level, how does the wall metaphor actually apply to the substance of the First Amendment itself?

The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Against a backdrop of nationally established churches in Europe, the Anglican Church in England, the Roman Catholic Church in France and the Lutheran Church in Germany, for example, the seeds of religious liberty grew well in the Colonies and nascent United States. In the one and a half centuries from the Puritans in Plymouth, and through the power of the First Great Awakening, the finest fruit of the Reformation began to take hold by the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the First Amendment in 1787 – no political coercion in religion. Laws only apply to actions, even as Jefferson stated in his Danbury letter just prior to what I quoted earlier: “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions…”

Critically here, the First Amendment is a restriction on the federal government, and for the sake of protecting the four liberties that follow. There is no restriction on religion, even as established by a state (and if a person did not like one state’s established religion, he or she could freely move to another state). The federal government shall make no laws setting up an established institutional church, which would be discriminatory, and this is what “establishment of religion” means. On such a basis, it shall not prohibit the freedom of religion, whether in the individual conscience or the freedom of people to form an institutional church. The federal government shall have no veto powers over the church, and since no institutional church is established by the United States, none has a privileged position to make demands of thefederal government. This is a type of natural distinction, but not for the sake of a “high and impregnable” wall of opposing camps with the federal government as master; but for the sake of a mutual cooperation in the pursuit of religious, political and economic liberties.

What this means is that all people are equally free to participate in political life, based explicitly on what they believe, whether as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, atheists or otherwise – so long as we all honor the equal access to political life and argument for those who believe otherwise, all within the rule of law.

Too, if Hugo Black’s “high and impregnable wall” were literally in view in the First Amendment text, then as the syntax would then make clear, any range of particular religious expression can be banned or severely limited in government. Thus likewise, speech, the press, public assembly and redress of the government can also be banned or severely limited. The First Amendment is clear – religious liberty is the first freedom; and only when we are free to believe what we choose, do we then have the freedom to speak those beliefs, publish those beliefs, assemble on the basis of those beliefs, and critically, to redress and challenge government policies based on those beliefs.

Earlier I said that the metaphor of “a wall of separation” is reactive and negative. Any wall that isolates is by definition negative. But history also shows why negatives happen – this is the nature of war, even a just war waged to protect the innocent. But ultimately, if we only react to the reactions or negatives of others, we will all drown in the same miserable soup. Hugo Black’s “high and impregnable” wall of separation was crafted against a long historical backdrop of religious intolerance, and hopefully none of us here want such intolerance.

So, how and where can the proactive and positive gain the greater influence?

Here the language of Jefferson is helpful – as the scribe for the Committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence, even as the heterodox rationalist he was.

In the Declaration, we read these words: “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

By definition, “unalienable rights” are those rights which human government cannot define, give or take away. They can only be acknowledged as prior to and greater than the existence of human government, and which human government must serve. Jefferson and his colleagues knew that by appealing to the Creator, that King George III could not trump them in any way – for though he was violating the lives, liberties and property rights of the Colonists, and could lay claim as the highest human authority for the British Colonies, he could not trump the God of the Bible. Thus, Jefferson the rationalist, Franklin the deist and the other 54 signatories – the vast majority of whom were actively or formally orthodox Protestants, with one bold Roman Catholic in their midst – they all agreed on a theological andhistorical point of reference.

No pagan religion or secular construct has ever conceived of such unalienable rights. In pagan religions, the gods and goddesses beat up on each other and on us – the very opposite of unalienable rights. In the Epicurean swerve that presaged Darwinian macroevolution, the universe does not know we exist, spits us forth and swallows us up with no concept of unalienable rights. The deism of the Enlightenment is likewise impotent – being a philosophical idea of an amorphous and ahistorical deity which has no articulation or concept of unalienable rights.

The unalienable rights were expressed in the Declaration with a Jeffersonian philosophical flair – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the Fifth and Fourteen Amendments, they are legally more precise in the third instant, “life, liberty and property.” The liberties in view are codified in the First Amendment – religion, speech, the press, assembly and redress of grievances; and summarily covered in the arenas of religious, political and economic liberty.

Thus, Jefferson would only view the First Amendment through the prism of unalienable rights given by the Creator – a radically theological idea, and his “wall of separation” can have nothing to do with separating religion from political life. It was a reference to his bottom-up Republican view of the federal and state governments, in contrast to the top-down Federalist view.

This being the case, and given our love for metaphors in human communication to sum up something as historically intricate as the First Amendment, what is a positive metaphor to serve its first freedom, of religion, and its cognate four freedoms?

In Genesis 1-2, we find the biblical order of creation. It precedes and defines the fall into sin – best defined as broken trust – which is then introduced in Genesis 3. And the promise of redemption, also introduced in Genesis 3, seeks to restore us to the original good trajectory of the order of creation.

We have two choices in life. Give and it will be given, or take before you are taken. This contest is most importantly a question of power – the power to give versus the power to take. Giving is proactive, taking is reactive.

The only place in written history where the proactive and positive power to give are fully present, and unpolluted by broken trust, war, disease etc., is Genesis 1-2. And here the content of unalienable rights is rooted, even while its language is not technically used – for indeed, “unalienable” is a double negative compound word, and there is no negative to negate in the biblical order of creation. Rather, we have the positive gifts which precede and define the rights we redemptively call unalienable.

Human life is made in the image of God, human freedom is given in the first words to the first man by the sovereign Yahweh Elohim, and we are given the stewardship over the creation to work, produce, prosper and be free in the buying, selling, trading and bartering of our property – all as original gifts of God, and all of which lead to true happiness within the human community in God’s sight. Life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Crucially here, we have the only proactive definition of human freedom in history. In Genesis 2:15-17, we are given a level playing field to choose between life and death, good and evil, truth and falsehood. The language used here, in the Hebrew, is itself a great metaphor, “in feasting you shall continually feast” from an unlimited menu of good choices, versus “in dying you shall continually die” if we eat the forbidden fruit.

How many people here tonight do not like the idea of a never-ending banquet to enjoy with your friends and family, with an unlimited menu of good choices? This is the biblical definition of freedom. Thus, we are all theologically united, and I have discovered that the same is true even among pagans and secularists.

This is also the radical nature of the biblical order of creation – nowhere else in pagan religious origin texts or secular constructs are both good and evil placed side by side, with the freedom given to choose between the two, with the long range confidence that truth will rise to the top, and with the power of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus to ensure its final possibility for those who believe. This leads us into great and detailed theological territory beyond my available time. But in essence, we cannot be free to say yes to God unless we are first free to say no. This is the freedom of dissent, though we will always reap what we sow. As it says in the RSSV (that is, the Rankin Sub-Standard Version), “God so loved the world that he gave us each the freedom to go to hell if we damn well want to.” And I am not using “hell” gratuitously, for as Jesus says, people choose darkness because they know their deeds are evil, and do not want to come into the light, the light that defines the kingdom of God.

One radical element here is that Yahweh Elohim gives the ancient serpent, Satan himself, a level playing field access to the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve. Only truth can get away with such hospitality. As well, the theocracies under the Law of Moses, and under Jesus when he returns, are both communities of choice. There is no such thing as an imposed theocracy in the Bible – “Choose this day whom you will serve” says Joshua.

Jesus follows the same during Passover Week, where he offers a level playing field for his sworn enemies to rake him over the coals with their toughest questions. And by being proven blameless in the process, thus able to die for us as the spotless Lamb of God, the use of the level playing field is the basis for our salvation. Interestingly, when Jesus came into Jerusalem that week as the Son of David, the anointed heir of the founding king of Jerusalem, it is the most explosive church-state debate in history, because of King Herod the Tetrarch’s fears, and of his religious and political sycophants.

The Jewish religious elite had been bought off by Herod the Great from 20 B.C. on following, building them a temple more magnificent than that of Solomon, from whence they derived great wealth and power and status. But it came with a price – they had to agree not to interfere with the Roman political order, to raise questions concerning social justice or mercy outside the temple walls. That was truly a “high and impregnable wall,” and Jesus challenged such an idolatry head on. He won the debate hands down, then instead of taking political authority, he suffered and died and rose for us, so we who are Christians are to announce the coming of the true politics, the kingdom of God, using earthly politics to advance religious, political and economic liberty for all people equally, as a taste and invitation to the age to come.

Well, this covers much territory, and we have just skimmed the surface. What can we glean, and what is the positive metaphor we can define?

The reigning metaphor is the “wall of separation between church and state.” It is reactive and negative in essence, rooted in the power to take before being taken, and it has been wrongly used since 1947 to restrict religious liberty, where the First Amendment liberties of religious expression have been systematically purged from much of political, governmental and even cultural life. And invariably, the cognate First Amendment liberties have also been injured. This purging has been heavily weighted against biblically rooted Christianity. The “wall of separation” language assumes a war, and as such, the war will never end. It separates and does not unify our nation. It is the opposite of e pluribus unum – “out of the many, one.”

The healthy metaphor would be “a level playing field for all religious and political ideas.” In this proactive and positive paradigm, based on the biblical power to give, and rooted in the essence of the Declaration, the checks and balances on power in the Constitution, and in the liberties of the First Amendment, we maximize freedom.

But there is a rub which I suggest lies at the core of the debate. The only Source for these liberties are found in the unalienable rights given by the God of the Bible, and people who do not want to honor the Creator, or who have been burned by impositional religion, fear that an acknowledgement of this Source will permit religionists, especially “Bible thumpers,” to shove religion down their throats.

The only Source for unalienable rights is also the only Source for the freedom of religion, and opposition to imposition against the human will is uniquely found in the biblical order of creation. And this is not a partisan religious or institutionally religious sentiment. The biblical order of creation is fully Christian and pre-Christian, fully Jewish and pre-Jewish, fully and universally human, tracing back to the one Creator. As the apostle Paul said to the skeptical Athenians on Mars Hill, “he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Therefore, those of us who are truly biblical begin first with the essence of the power to give, which as Jesus taught us, is to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated. We advance the Gospel in the actions of our lives which honor and do not harm the lives, liberties and properties of others – and thus invite people to consider what they believe, and what best leads to such cherished unalienable rights.

It is a contest of the power to give versus the power to take, and for too long both church and state have majored in the power to take before being taken. The biblical motif is the power to give a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, rooted in the Garden of Eden, and with Jesus during Passover Week in the face of his enemies, where first we want to be sure others are listened to before we wish to be heard. This has been the project of the Mars Hill Forums for 14 years now.

We have two choices in life: give and it will be given, or take before you are taken.

And we have two choices of metaphor in American religious and political life: a level playing field versus a wall of separation.

I choose the level playing field, and if enough of the church were to do likewise, the nation would be transformed in the name of Jesus, and more people than ever would be attracted to his person and the kingdom of God into which he invites all of us.