Our most cherished beliefs as Americans – equality and human rights, the value of the individual, limited government, freedom – are branches of a tree with Christian roots. The founders believed these truths could be grasped by reason apart from special revelation. They are public, even self-evident, truths and not just sectarian beliefs.
Most of the founders also believed that our grasp of these truths would wither unless they were constantly reinforced by faith. Because everyone can be corrupted by unchecked power, however, the founders devised a system with no established religion but broad religious freedom. That way, separate religious institutions would hold each other in check, while believing citizens would reinforce and defend the public truths they share and on which our nation is founded.
Does that mean that we should never refer to scripture or mention God in public debate? Not at all! Christianity is part of the American vocabulary. Practically every major freedom movement in American history was advanced not just with religious but with biblical arguments: from the American Revolution itself, to the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights movement.
For instance, in his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln reflected on God’s judgment for the evil of slavery. It concludes with these stirring words:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Slavery was the norm, not the exception, for most of human history. Even in the Christian world, it took centuries for it to be eradicated. It was banned in Europe only to reappear in the colonies during the age of exploration. Now that every country has officially abolished it, it might seem inevitable that slavery would disappear. But how likely is it that slavery would have been abolished in the West and elsewhere if Christians had not become convinced, as Christians, that it contradicted their faith?
Biblical arguments have an established place in our political debates. Just a few years ago, a University of Chicago law professor put this point nicely:
[S]ecularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.
That professor went on to become the forty-fourth president of the United States: Barack Obama. So don’t be intimidated. You have every right to apply your faith to your politics.
Adapted from Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late (FaithWords).