July 4th nears; I’m thankful for the Constitution
While it cannot be said that America is a Christian nation, history leaves no doubt that we are a nation that has been greatly influenced by Christianity. The Founding Fathers were influenced by Christian thinkers like the Baron Montesquieu of France (1689-1755) and Sir William Blackstone, the English barrister whose famous Commentaries on the Laws of England is regarded as the most famous treatise on common law ever written. Perhaps nowhere has such influence been manifested more than with our Constitution. While liberals crow that it is not and there is no evidence to support such an assertion, they are wrong.
In 1984 two professors, Donald S. Lutz and Charles S. Hyneman, published findings from their study of approximately 15,000 items of political content published between 1760 and 1805. The source most often cited by the founding fathers was the Bible, which accounted for 34 percent of all citations. The book of Deuteronomy, because of its heavy emphasis on biblical law, was referred to frequently. The Constitution was adopted in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention and was declared ratified by the states on July 2, 1788.
The impact Christianity had on the Constitution was not lost on our second president, John Adams. In an Oct. 11, 1798, address to the military, Adams said this: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” To what religion was Adams referring? We get our answer from a resolution passed in 1854 by the U.S. House of Representatives: “The great vital and conservative element of our system is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and divine truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
But I wonder how many of us understand the differences that exist in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776? The basic philosophies of these two documents were/are not compatible. The constitutional framers viewed their document as a remedy for the excesses of the Articles of Confederation which they attributed to the radicalism of Thomas Jefferson, who was enamored with the blood-soaked butchery known as the French Revolution, and his followers. Church historian C. Gregg Singer in his masterful book, A Theological Interpretation of American History, has noted how liberals from that time to today have been aware of the gulf that exists between Jefferson’s narcissistic “American Dream” and the Constitution. Liberals have come to view the Constitution with hostility while attempting to make it into something more politically patterned after the Declaration. This can best be seen in the judiciary where activist liberal judges take excessive liberty in their interpretations of the Constitution. An example is the Free Exercise of Religion clause in the First Amendment, originally intended as a check against government interfering in religion. More recently liberal judges have reinterpreted its original intent, mandating religion stay out of government and many areas of public life.
It has been argued that the founders were influenced by The Enlightenment. Such a view has validity when referring to the signers of the Declaration; far less so for the framers of the Constitution. Much has been made about the influence Deism had on the founders, but scholar John Eidsmoe in his magnificent book, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers, says deism never gained a foothold in America. He believes the First Great Awakening, the religious revival of the 1740s, helped keep deism in check. In addition, many states at the time passed laws prohibiting deists from holding public office.
A strong case can be made that attendees to the Philadelphia Convention were more conservative, politically and theologically, than was the membership of the Continental Congress of 1776, which adopted the Declaration. Singer points out that the demand for an end to the excesses between 1776 and 1787 made such a change necessary. After all, the revolution was over and a government had to be formed. Just eight of the signers of the Declaration were chosen to sit in the Convention of 1787. The liberal deist leaders, Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Paine were not there. In fact, it appears greater weight was accorded to Christians than had been previously given in 1776. M.E. Bradford of the University of Dallas has written a series of biographical sketches on the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Only three were thought to be deists and one’s religious affiliation remains unknown. The other 51 in attendance were Episcopalian (28), Presbyterian (8), Congregationalist (7), Lutheran (2), Dutch Reformed (2), Methodist (2), or Roman Catholic (2). Their mission was to end the excesses of the revolution and subsequently the Articles of Confederation. This became so important that leaders like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison came to accept the benefits of Christianity in political and social life of the American people, even if they did not subscribe to such theology in principle. There is little doubt that Christian principles were given a greater hearing at the Constitutional Convention than had been allowed 11 years earlier. The framers seemed to grasp the doctrine of sin during their deliberations and a Christian philosophy held greater sway among those in attendance.
We rightly celebrate our independence and liberty this week. Yet how ironic it is that we hold in such high esteem a document, which served as a rallying point for a much-needed revolution also serves as an expression for modern day liberalism and all the excesses it demands. Indeed its reliance on a leviathan federal government to secure such excesses, is contradictory and will only lead to tyranny. Conversely, standing as a bulwark against such ideas is our Constitution, a document influenced by Christians. American historian Benjamin Franklin Morris (1810-1867) wrote: “These fundamental objects of the Constitution are in perfect harmony with the revealed objects of the Christian religion. Union, justice, peace, the general welfare, and the blessings of civil and religious liberty, are the objects of Christianity, and always secured under its practical and beneficent reign.”
I thank God for our Constitution and America.