Judeo-Christian Heritage from a Congressional Point-of-View

I recently received an e-mail from Randy Forbes, one of my Congressional representatives, updating me on his work to “affirm America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.”  I have written in the past on the meaninglessness of the term “Judeo-Christian.”  While I respect Randy Forbes as a man of principals and godly character, I think he is clearly wrong on the issue of America’s heritage and future.

America was never a “Christian nation… united in some evangelical consensus.  Church membership at the time of the American Revolution was no more than six percent of the population” (C. Douglas Weaver, In Search of the New Testament Church:  The Baptist Story).

Here is an excerpt from Forbes’ e-mail newsletter.

Last May, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives affirming America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and its importance in shaping our government. My statement came in response to President Barack Obama’s April 6 speech in Turkey where he said, “And I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is — although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.” Currently, my video has been viewed over 3 million times, proving America’s religious heritage continues to be a heightened point of debate in our society.

In this particular instance, President Obama is correct.  America is neither Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.  If it was we would be subject to the laws and dictates of that religion.  America is not and was not ever a theocracy.

While Forbes promises “to protect the freedoms of religious expression in public life” I am afraid he is more concerned with protecting Christian freedoms than the freedoms of other religious persons.  We must never forget the mistakes that have been justified by the myth of America as God’s “chosen nation” (e.g., Native Americans, etc.).  I am, of course, wary of the idea that Forbes or any other person can discern the absolute intent of the Founding Fathers or that the “religious values” of the “Founding Fathers” are worth fighting for.  It is clear from history that America is not God’s “chosen nation” and that the most important things to protect our are freedoms.

At the time of the American Revolution many Baptists’, for instance, were being jailed and persecuted for there particular brand of religious beliefs (i.e., voluntary association, baptism by immersion, priesthood of believers, etc.).  Many Baptists felt that religious uniformity and collusion of church and state had produced the “shocking monster of [a] Christian nation” (Weaver).  This sort of language might  seem inflammatory to the modern Christian, but it was central to the beliefs of many at the time of the Revolution.

As a Christian it is important for me to distinguish my nation from my heavenly citizenship;  my duty is to proclaim the gospel in all of  life.  All of the political parties and movements in America have proven to be unsuccessful in producing genuine gospel change in the lives and hearts of the American people.  In fact, the collaboration of churches with political movements have produced disinterested “disciples” with mixed motivations.

Do I think that the gospel is the only hope for every person?  Absolutely.  However, knowing how politicians and power-brokers use religion as a means to dominance, I am careful to separate religious affiliation and law.  Further, based on abuses of the past, it is essential that all people of all religions have the same acceptance and protection under the law.

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9 thoughts on “Judeo-Christian Heritage from a Congressional Point-of-View”

  1. As someone who was largely raised in a Southern Baptist church, the idea of America’s “Judeo-Christian” Heritage, and the necessary connection/interconnectedness between politics and religion were largely assumed. It wasn’t until I was in Seminary that I began to question what my relationship to politics was, and I couldn’t help but feel like a heretic as I began to question, not necessarily my political views, but my views on politics. What I found at the root of them was a (largely) denominational spin on our history and a (near) propogandist view on my Christian duty to be politically minded and motivated.

    I wrote all that just to say that I agree with your post. I feel that a lot of people who zealously hold to our Judeo-Christian Heritage are really putting their faith in Government to turn things around, which we know is impossible, and which neither Jesus nor the apostles advocated.

    I’ve gone on too long, so one more long paragraph won’t hurt. One of the questions I am left with is, how much “faith” am I to put in Government? I see the need for political envolvement, but when it comes to issues that many Christians are quick to protest and get enraged over, I struggle to rise to their level of vitriol, given the fact that Jesus never endorsed or disclosed in His teachings the perfect Governmental system, and he never had a “Money-Changers” moment in a political setting. Luther said Government and Law is there to constrain sinful human nature, but was never meant as a means for “ushering in the Kingdom of God”, the Church should be the picture of the Kingdom to come on Earth. I’m rambling so I will come to an anti-climactic end. Good post.

  2. Judeo-Christian is certainly not a meaningless term for me and for many others. It is generally accepted as indicating religious thought, presentation, or discussion that is based in Jewish and Christian history. Just because it means nothing to you doesn’t effect its meaning to me and the others who use it in the application of the term to the origins of American history.
    Our Declaration of Independence states clearly that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In its closing the founders stated, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor. I consider the Declaration of Independence to be a covenant document and the basis of a contract among the signers and in recognition of Almighty God’s place in the providential founding of America. A clear recognition that the one true God of the Bible is our Sovereign!
    In the deliberations in writing the constitution the Bible was the most frequently cited source. The second was Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and Blackstone states that his commentaries on English law were based on the Bible. Numerous founders declared that our republic would fail but for its protection and preservation by an “religious and moral people.”
    You said that “America is not and was not ever a theocracy.” Who has made such a claim. Not our founders, none of the many preachers who supported the revolution, not Congressman Forbes and certainly not me. Did any of these just cited want America to be subject to the laws and dictates of a religion? Absolutely not! Do we as Christians have an obligation to participate in the political realm and are we not ambassadors of Christ wherever we go and whatever we do? Are we to be hospitable to all people? Yes, I believe we are so commanded.
    Finally, during the American founding era from 1730 to 1805 itinerant preachers and evangelists were delivering political sermons from pulpits, buggies, horseback, and from stumps. Some great names fill this list, Whitefield (Anglican – seven trips to America), Davies (Presbyterian), Mayhew (Unitarian – very different from today’s Unitarian/Universalists), Wesley, John (Methodist), Witherspoon (Presbyterian), Edwards, Jonathan Jr. (It was my pleasure to present part of one of his sermons on the National Day of Prayer, 2009. It was unbelievably timely.), Webster, Noah (Congregationalist) and Madison, Bishop James (Anglican). These men were all subjected to persecution and jail but remained steadfast in their beliefs in our fledgling country.
    About Congressman Forbes comments you said, “I am afraid he is more concerned with protecting Christian freedoms that the freedoms of other religious persons.” You do him a great disservice and have made a determination of intent that you cannot support. He protects Christianity because he is a Christian and it is Christianity that is under brutal and continuous attack by the domestic enemies of America. And be assured, if they win this battle they will take away the religious freedoms of all. Congressman Forbes took an oath, as did our president, … “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That is precisely what he was doing in his comments on the floor of the House of Representatives.

    1. Del,

      You really do need a blog! That’s a long comment. Let me clarify a few things. When I say the term Judeo-Christian is meaningless, I mean (more or less) Biblically and logically meaningless. I know it has a generally accepted meaning, but I think it adds confusion to our conversation as followers of Jesus.

      Second, I hope all of our political leaders uphold and defend the constitution. I deeply respect and admire Mr. Forbes (even though I disagree with certain things he might/say do).

      I hope America does not “fail,” but I am less concerned with the success of America (or America’s forms of politics, law, etc…) than I am with the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      I was not aware that Christianity was “under brutal and continuous attack by the domestic enemies of America.” Christianity has always had opposition (nothing has changed in that regard). As a Christian I am not very worried about those who attack my beliefs (I feel no need to be defensive), but rather work to demonstrate the gospel in all arenas of life.

      Thanks for the contributions.

    2. Del,
      I did just want to comment on one thing you said. You said that the Declaration represents, “A clear recognition that the one true God of the Bible is our Sovereign!” When you look at the Declaration and the men involved in its writing, you see Thomas Paine (a decidedly non-Christian) and Thomas Jefferson (a Biblical revisionist) who had great influence on the thought behind the Declaration and the actual writing of it. I think if you look clearly at the history, you cannot say that the Declaration of Independence represents a clear recognition of THE ONE TRUE GOD (I am only trying to add emphasis and am not yelling).
      Christianity is not the only relgion to use the Bible as a sacred text, the quoting of the Bible may (although many times may not) signify the authors belief in the One True God.
      In all your proof that the Declaration and Founders were building this nation on a clear orthodox belief actually seems to fit more in line with Secular Humanists, who prize personal freedom over dogma, and use a Deistic view of a Creator who has “endowed us” and then backed away, as a foundation for making claims for personal freedom.

  3. Mark,
    God has at many and divers times used all kinds of people to accomplish his purposes. I believe that He did assemble a rather interesting and unique array of men and women (Abigail Adams, comes to mind.) tasked to form a totally new government that recognizes His sovereignty over man. There is, even to this day, no other governmental founding document that is so written.
    Most of the individuals, somewhere upwards of a hundred men, involved, not just the headliners, that were involved have recorded in history, many in their own writings, a clear statement of faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation. I will not put forth defenses for these individuals and their beliefs but will share a couple of thoughts in the matter. Mr. Jefferson, although the drafter of the Constitution, did not develop and write the Declaration of Independence on his own. After days, weeks, and years of meetings a committee was directed to draft this great document. Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration was returned to the Committee and the Congress where 86 changes were made. The changes to the introduction and closing are important. They include: Emphasis on key words: “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God (para. 1); Creator; Life; Liberty; Happiness (para. 2). At best Jefferson was a Deist. He claimed to be a Christian as a disciple and student of Christ’s teachings, But, he denied the virgin birth, the miracles performed by Him, and His resurrection. That does not take anything away from his contribution.
    Mr. Paine brought some great historic wisdom to the table, but there is nothing to indicate that he was or was not a Christian or even a Deist. In fact many have taken his teachings to a apostate extreme and believe that we can use the minds that God gave us to analyze and determine what is true in the Bible and what is not.
    The founders clearly did not build a nation on a clear orthodox “sectarian” belief system, but did clearly establish a nation that is rooted in the knowledge of God’s total involvement in the affairs of men. “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.” — President George Washington, first inaugural address, April 30, 1789. Hardly a secular humanist point of view and very representative of many similar declarations I could post from original writings.
    Samuel Adams stated the sovereignty of God most clearly, “While the Declaration of Independence was being signed, Sam Adams rejoiced to see that Congress was acknowledging the Lordship of Christ over the affairs of men. He said, ‘We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.’.” Federer, America’s God and Country, 460. IBID page 122.
    Christianity has been under brutal attack, particularly in America, since the days of the “God is dead!” mantra from the secular humanists and then more effectively through the ACLU which spends millions of dollars every year on their goal of removing all references to God and Christ for every venue except behind the doors and walls of the church. If you are not aware of this I weep for you and others who don’t recognize the threat. If we fail and God brings judgment you will all be most surprised and dismayed.

  4. Excuse me Mark, I should have addressed the foregoing comments to Keith. I’ll watch that more closely in the future.

  5. Del,
    I do not disagree that there were many great men of God surrounding the establishment of our Nation, but where I believe our disagreement lies is in the function of Government. I would agree with Luther that the function of Government and Law is to constrain sinful nature, and (branching off of Luther) to allow all people the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of property/happiness. I guess one question I have for you is to define the function of a Government based on Christian principles. Is the thrust of that Government to evangelize? Must you confess Christ as Lord to gain citizenship? What about the Government makes it “Christian”? Or are you just saying that in principles of human equality, freedom,financial independence, justice are based on Christian principles? If so I would agree and say those principles are also advocated by many Enlightenment thinkers (of which Paine was most certainly one).

    One issue I always come back to is that if I apply Biblical Principles to the Government, I do not come up with a Capitalistic Economic System for one. Yet, speaking in terms of the role of Government that is the best system available, we’ve seen what happens with Socialism. The Church though is not to act based on a Capitalistic model, many churches are doing that today and look at the state of the Western Church. The Bible has in mind the individual or the Church, not a Government system.

    I am not saying the hope of a Christian nation was not there, but we see throughout the Old Testament the failure of Government repeatedly with Israel. It is our sinful nature that makes Government incapable of as Samual Adams apparently hoped to help bring and establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus never advocated a perfect Christian Government, or the establishment of a Christian Empire or nation, he advocated the establishment of the Church. I would rather spend time developing and debating the failure of the Church and how to establish IT rightly, over and above how to fix a broken human system and construct. I love America and the Declaration, and I will be involved politically and even believe in the draft and would fight and die for this country, but I love the Church more. And I think that is the right view to have. That is why I agree with Mark’s second to last paragraph. Government is not going to be the agent of God’s social redemption, the Church will be, where’s our passion and focus on that?

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