Right Questions for Church Leaders, Volume 1

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Even though Christianity is not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill or Rights, the Founders of the American republic were influenced by Christian ideas in significant ways. For example:. In the Supreme Court decision of Everson v. It is at once the refined product and the terse summation of that history. As evidence, he relied almost solely on statements by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, most taken out of context and made before or well after the Religion Clauses were drafted. Yet consideration of a wide range of Founders and their public actions shows that few if any embraced anything approximating modern conceptions of the separation of church and state.

Of course, they differed among themselves, but it is possible to identify three major areas of agreement with respect to religious liberty and church—state relations. To a person, the Founders were committed to protecting religious liberty. This conviction was usually based upon the theological principle that humans have a duty to worship God as their consciences dictate. It reads:. By the end of the Revolutionary era, every state offered significant protection of religious liberty. The federal Constitution of did not, but only because its supporters believed the national government did not have the delegated power to pass laws interfering with religious belief or practice.

In the face of popular outcry, the first Congress proposed and the states ratified a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from restricting the free exercise of religion. Scholars and jurists debate the exact scope of religious liberty protected by the First Amendment.

For instance, it is unclear whether the amendment requires religious minorities to be exempted from neutral laws. For example, does the Free Exercise Clause require Congress to exempt religious pacifists from conscription into the military? In , at least nine of the 13 colonies had established churches.

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Although establishments took a variety of forms, they generally entailed the state providing favorable treatment for one denomination—treatment which often included financial support. Members of religious denominations other than the official established church were usually tolerated, but they were occasionally taxed to support the state church, and some were not permitted to hold civic office.

Under the latter model, citizens were taxed to support their own churches. Although a few Founders challenged establishments of any sort in the name of religious liberty, most arguments were framed in terms of which arrangement would be best for Christianity.

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Let their doctrines be scriptural and their Lives upright. Then shall Religion if departed speedily return, and Deism be put to open shame, and its dreaded Consequences removed. As appealing as the wall metaphor is to contemporary advocates of the strict separation of church and state, it obscures far more than it illuminates. Capitol, where he heard John Leland, the great Baptist minister and opponent of religious establishments, preach.

The point is not that Jefferson was a pious man who wanted a union between church and state. His private letters make it clear that he was not an orthodox Christian, and his public arguments and actions demonstrate that he favored a stricter separation between church and state than virtually any other Founder.

Yet even Jefferson, at least in his actions, did not attempt to completely remove religion from the public square, and what Jefferson did not completely exclude, most Founders embraced. This point may be illustrated in a variety of ways, but a particularly useful exercise is to look at the first Congress, the body that crafted the First Amendment.

More significantly for understanding the First Amendment, on the day after the House approved the final wording of the Bill of Rights, Elias Boudinot, later president of the American Bible Society, proposed that the President recommend a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. In response to objections that such a practice mimicked European customs or should be done by the states, Roger Sherman, according to a contemporary newspaper account:.

This example, he thought, worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentleman who moved the resolution. The House agreed, as did the Senate, as did the President. The text of his proclamation is worth quoting at some length:. Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…. I do recommend…the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the People….

Similar proclamations were routinely issued by Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison. Jefferson, it is true, refused to formally issue such proclamations, yet as Daniel L. There was virtually no support for contemporary visions of a separation of church and state that would have political leaders avoid religious language and require public spaces to be stripped of religious symbols. So did America have a Christian Founding? History is complicated, and we should always be suspicious of simple answers to difficult questions.

As we have seen, there is precious little evidence that the Founders were deists, wanted religion excluded from the public square, or desired the strict separation of church and state. On the other hand, they identified themselves as Christians, were influenced in important ways by Christian ideas, and generally thought it appropriate for civic authorities to encourage Christianity.

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What do these facts mean for Americans who embrace non-Christian faiths or no faith at all? Although the Founders were profoundly influenced by Christianity, they did not design a constitutional order only for fellow believers. They explicitly prohibited religious tests for federal offices, and they were committed to the proposition that all men and women should be free to worship God or not as their consciences dictate.

All [citizens] possess alike liberty and conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy. For instance, the Founders believed that humans are created in the image of God, which led them to design institutions and laws meant to protect and promote human dignity. Because they were convinced that humans are sinful, they attempted to avoid the concentration of power by framing a national government with carefully enumerated powers. As well, the Founders were committed to liberty, but they never imagined that provisions of the Bill of Rights would be used to protect licentiousness.

And they clearly thought moral considerations should inform legislation. America has drifted from these first principles.

Right Questions for Church Leaders, Volumes 1-4

We would do well to reconsider the wisdom of these changes. The Founders believed it permissible for the national and state governments to encourage Christianity, but this may no longer be prudential in our increasingly pluralistic country. Yet the Constitution does not mandate a secular polity, and we should be wary of jurists, politicians, and academics who would strip religion from the public square.

Such faith may well flourish best without government support, but it should not have to flourish in the face of government hostility. Among his numerous essays is First Principles Essay No.


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Dee, , p. Aledo, Tex. Kosmin and Seymour P. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and George M. Like many other scholars, he almost completely neglects the possibility that Christian ideas may have had an important influence in the era. A revised version of the paper will be published as a book chapter with the same title in Daniel L. Dreisbach and Mark David Hall, ed. Louisville, Ky. I have modernized spelling and punctuation in all quotations. New York had establishments in select counties. Most colonies had religious tests for office, and all had laws encouraging and protecting Christianity and Christian morality.

Sydney E. Schutz, eds. In the portico lay a multitude of PWD and this comment applied to them as well Jn. Similarly, when Jesus healed the paralytic man lowered through the roof Mk. The implication of this comment is that it was necessary first to get the sin out of the way before the disability could be healed. According to Grant , the healing stories of Jesus "have also served as proof of the moral imperfection of people with disabilities. The conflation between sin and disability confirms the religious model of disability, which views disability as a punishment inflicted upon an individual or family by God as a result of sin.

Consequently, disability stigmatizes not only the individual but the whole family. The implication is the exclusion of PWD from the social, economic, political, and spiritual spheres of society. The metaphoric use of disability in the Bible further reinforces the view linking disability with disobedience to God. Israel's disobedience is compared with disability. In Isaiah the children of Israel are asked to lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. In Isaiah , Israel is compared to the blind and the deaf:. Hear, you deaf; look you blind, and see!