Many around the world know of our rich heritage and the ardent exceptionalism that has defined America across the pages of history. God has graciously allowed us to be a City on a Hill and a beacon of hope and freedom for millions. Since its founding, people from other nations have often sought to discover the secret to this country’s greatness. The poor, the destitute, and the disenfranchised, have all risked lives, families and homes, to flee tyrannical regimes where despotic rulers seek to enslave and oppress their citizens. Why? For the chance to live and work under a system of government that is subject to the people and where laws are instituted to protect the inalienable rights given by a Sovereign God.
Democracy in the United States has succeeded by in large, because the fabric of society has consistently possessed an underlying moral order and historically, that order has been informed by the fundamental principles described in the Bible. This was especially true in shaping popular social constructs during the country’s formative years. Honoring God, instituting Judeo-Christian precepts and encouraging morality as derived from God’s law, are some of the core ingredients that contributed to the rise of America. Without these principles in place, any government can inappropriately take on the role of playing God, thereby leaving all power to the state, which then defines the parameters of freedom, liberty, individual rights, and justice.
Laws are codified ethics or rules of conduct that distinguish between right and wrong. At the root of all law is the notion that the moral basis of right and wrong never changes, because rules do exist which are absolute. Where does this legal precedent originate, how does it draw authority and what does it require? The Constitution was written to incorporate three distinct branches of government where Congress and state legislatures formulate laws; the Executive Branch enforces the law; and the Supreme Court is charged with upholding the law. However, our Founders also clearly understood that these man-made institutions were ultimately subject to God and His law and no leader or citizen was to be exempt. The display of the Ten Commandments on the wall of a courtroom or other public building is not merely for the sake of aesthetics, but such a depiction overtly acknowledges the underlying policies deeply ingrained in the character of American common law.
In the Declaration of Independence, the people of the United States affirmed that our fundamental laws come from God. In drafting the Document, the Framers unanimously express this belief: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”1
Their goal was not to establish a state religion, but to form a nation founded on a set of absolute rules established by a gracious, loving and Sovereign Creator. They adopted certain rules that were essential to liberty when they affirmed the country’s right to be a nation among nations was based upon the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Furthermore, they set into motion, America’s very first principles: that all human beings are “created equal;” that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;” and that civil governments are instituted to secure those rights, including the unalienable right to the free exercise of religion.
Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, reiterated this truth recently at a prayer breakfast on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session in Virginia, when he reminded citizens that, “Separation of church and state does NOT mean separation of God and government.” Read more evidence of this truth in our blog
Most of our early governing documents, including the Magna Carta, the Northwest Ordinance, and individual state’s Bill of Rights contained language that was rooted in biblical truth and clearly promoted religion and morality for the betterment of society. The following are a few examples:
- New England colonies have often been called “Bible Commonwealths” because they used Scripture in regulating all aspects of the lives of their citizens. The Library of Congress, under their “America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century” exhibit, states:
“Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established ‘as plantations of religion.’ Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create ‘a city on a hill’ or a ‘holy experiment,’ whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves ‘militant Protestants’ and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.”2
- On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to create the First Great Seal of the United States. Franklin proposed the biblical story of God parting the Red Sea. Jefferson suggested the “Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night.”3 Although neither of their drafts was incorporated into the final design, it does suggest these men sought to honor God and reveals the religious consensus among our nation’s founders.
- A month earlier, John Adams wrote to his cousin, Zabdiel Adams, a minister, about the important role that Judeo-Christian principles played in American government, saying, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”4
- John Adams also said this about the United States Constitution, “[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion…Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”5
- Patrick Henry, known for his war cry, “No King, but King Jesus,” served as a member of the House of Burgesses, a Member of the House of Delegates, and was the first and sixth Governor of Virginia. The Declaration of Rights of Virginia confirms that Christianity was fundamental to the nation’s leaders. Henry concludes by stating “It is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”6
- The Northwest Ordinance, as passed by Congress on July 13, 1787 and re-ratified under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, provided instruction for the integration of new states and was the primary governing document in the territory northwest of the Ohio River. Article III affirms that early Americans understood Judeo-Christian principles were a primary source for this evolving government: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”7
- Noah Webster, the Father of American Scholarship, was adamant that the youth must be introduced to the principles that would maintain a free country. In 1829, Webster wrote to James Madison, “The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government…I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable, in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”8
Clearly seen here is a convergence of understanding that without religion, specifically Judeo-Christian ethics, America could not and would not stand. The phrase, “separation of church and state” was included in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists as a means to console their concern with the government infringing upon their rights. It was a promise that government would not interfere with the right of American’s to practice their religion freely in the marketplace.
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus describes the importance of having the right foundation, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
The same is true for this country. Many believe we were built upon the solid Rock of Biblical principles. However, the difference is not merely knowing and “hearing” what Christ has to say, but also in “acting” upon these truths. Time, inattention and willful disregard for the things of God, have eroded America’s foundation. We notice in this passage, the storm comes against both houses. There is no guarantee that merely calling ourselves a Christian nation will make us immune to the storms of life. This reality has been evident throughout our history with Civil and World Wars, natural disasters, economic collapse, acts of terror and an ongoing clash of values. However, surviving these storms is another matter.
In order to see true healing in America, we must continue to remind citizens of our deeply spiritual heritage and as the Israelites did in Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, to restore the walls and repair the foundations (Ezra 4). It is our past, and it is the key to our future. This is the mission of the Prayer Caucus. We invite you to repair and restore with us, to help defend our most precious freedom.