Saturday, January 24, 2015

America as a Christian Nation, Can we Fix Our Future by Looking at Our Past?

"I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests--and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning--and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution--and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!" Alexis de Tocqueville..
Historically there is much evidence that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, for the purpose of spreading the Gospel. 

 The Virginia Charter of 1606 and The Charter of New England in 1620  mentioned the desire of the colonies to advance and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. The Mayflower Compact in 1620 states, “We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith…

Secularists cite numerous arguments where they believe the United States was always intended to be a secularist nation. Main arguments are that many of the founders were deists. They point out that deists rely on reason and nature and therefore deistic philosophy was the driving force behind the Revolution because Christians viewed rebellion in politics and government as non-Biblical due to Romans 13:1, 2.
They claim that Jefferson’s wall of Separation of Church and State means that government was made to be neutral or secular. They point to the Treaty of Tripoli later on as definitive proof that we were never a Christian nation.
Let’s break these arguments down one at a time.

They claim that the words Creator and Divine Providence which substituted the word God in many documents is proof that many of our founders were deists.
The founders did look to the age of reason and nature among other philosophies. Deists in large part believe in a god, or higher power, but believe that God has removed Himself from our activities or that He created us, with free minds and wills and had nothing more to do with us after that. Men such as Jefferson and Franklin were not religious men, when one considers religious denominations and yes many did criticize organized religion. But being critical of organized religion is not proof that they were deists.

Benjamin Franklin observed something during the Constitutional Convention which had been meeting for five weeks, and had hit a major deadlock which was threatening the effort to unionize the States. What did Franklin suggest to help this impasse? “We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.” He started.
He reminded the men that when they had been facing opposition and danger from the British, they had prayed before meetings and they had been heard and answered. “All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?

We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service…”

Secularists point to Franklin as being influenced by deism and being a proponent for it because of some of his writings, yet they don’t bring up the fact that Franklin was also a friend of the evangelist George Whitefield, one of the main influences of the Great Awakening which was an instrument used to usher in the Revolution.
In the late 1600s when the British Monarchy established the Church of England, the King also established himself as the head of the Church other religions, such as Catholicism, Judaism, and Puritanism, were suppressed.

Basically everyone was forced to practice the same religion, and it created complacency and a spiritual desert among believers. Religion became something done out of habit or obligations. People went through the motions of forced worship, but without deeply felt convictions of the heart and soul. After numerous decades of this kind of complacency in both England and the American colonies the spiritual “revival” of the Great Awakening happened.

The Great Awakening was a spiritual renewal that swept both England and the American Colonies. Many Christians began to leave the established habitual approach to worship and awakened them by excitement and emotion in prayer and worship and people found a new personal relationship with God through Jesus instead of a religion. This new spiritual renewal began with people like John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield in England and crossed over to the American Colonies during the first half of the 1700s.

The Awakening’s biggest significance was the way it prepared America for Independence.  As secularists point to the belief in organized religion’s church that questioning and rebelling against authority and government was unbiblical, it was the awakening which showed people that they could boldly speak out. Whenever churches weren’t questioning the morality and oppression of the British Crown, the people were able to leave and either form new congregations or join those who taught that religious power resided in individuals, not an established church.
The congregations were energized and then because of preaching from those who came to be known as the Black Robed Regiment, the Colonists came to realize that political power did not reside in the hands of the English Monarchy, but in their own will for self-governance. By 1775, Colonists from different denominations were brought together by a common goal of freedom from British control which led to the Revolution. The Great Awakening had made that possible.

Secular discussions delve into the founders’ personal disdain for organized religions and use this as evidence shows that they intentionally placed a wall between religion and state.
Many look to Thomas Jefferson as an example of freedom from religion because Jefferson was not a believer in religion. While falling closer to the side of deism, Jefferson as others had a high respect of Jesus’ life, even if they questioned his deity or miracles accounted in the Bible. They still held Him as an example of an exemplary life which ought to be modeled after. He and others believed religion was necessary to induce people to civil behavior yet had little respect for organized religion, focusing instead on the person of Christ. Jefferson like most of the founding fathers believed in a government which didn’t dictate a state established denomination, and believed that all Christians had the freedom to worship without one denomination being given special benefits over another. 

The phrase, "wall of separation between Church & State" was written by Thomas Jefferson to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, to assure them that the government would have no direct influence on religious practices. Jefferson's letter stated, "The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall is a one directional wall; it keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government." 

People who knew how religion had been tied to the British Monarchy, and therefore, were forced to pay taxes for church affairs, even if one were not Anglican, did not want the government to meddle in the pulpit or in the affairs of the church. Thomas Jefferson, while supporting a separation of church and state, clearly by his actions showed that he meant this separation was for the benefit of the church, not the government.
The 1st Amendment states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

From the founders own beliefs, words and actions, we know that they meant that there would be no State run church. This did not mean government officials could not pray, ask others to pray, talk about Jesus Christ or even grant funding for public displays such as crosses and statues.
John Adams stated that “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.” 

In almost all cases, the States mention Almighty God in the preambles to their constitutions. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia do not have preambles but mention God in sections of their constitutions. Tennessee's mentions "Lord" in the context of dates.

Many states mention God in sections that refer to religious freedom, but many of those refer to "Almighty God," which, by all objective standards, is an endorsement of the Judeo-Christian faith.  Several of the religious freedom sections mention Christianity specifically.
When we think of Philadelphia, one of the first things we think of is the Liberty Bell which bears the inscription, "Proclaim Liberty throughout All the Land unto All the Inhabitants thereof" Which is taken from the Book of Leviticus 25:10 in the Bible.

If one were to tour Washington DC, one would see evidence of Biblical inscriptions and phrases in many buildings and memorials which have been all been well documented. Engraved at the Jefferson Memorial are the words of Jefferson, God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

For over 200 years the majority of American people believed in Jesus Christ, and yes, Christian morals and values were even taught in public schools, our early Government officials prayed out loud- in the Name of Jesus, and even held Christian services in Congress.

In Patrick Henry's own words at his speech given at the House of Burgesses he said, “It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”
American troops have paid high costs or given their lives during the years fighting in nations in the Middle East.  These are politics of government and war, but while our nation is still a beacon of freedom for many, it is also a source of anger to many in that part of the world because they confuse America’s modern secular/humanist society with America’s Christian heritage. 

People from other nations have always believed America was a Christian nation. This brings us to the Treaty of Tripoli, which secularists use as proof that the founders did not base our Government on the Christian religion.
North African Barbary Coast Muslim States had terrorizing ships in and around the Mediterranean through government-sanctioned piracy. Hostages captured by the Barbary pirates were either ransomed or forced into slavery.  

Life for the captives often was harsh, especially for Christians, and many died from their treatment. Some captives converted to Islam which made life in captivity easier. Before the American Revolution, the North America colonies were protected from the Barbary pirates by British warships and treaties. During the Revolution, France formed an alliance with the colonies and provided protection for U.S. ships

The US Marine Corps was born in Tun Tavern when in 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at the Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on land, but there was not a standing Navy nor enough ships yet to protect US citizens and shipping interests.
Two American ships were captured by Algerian pirates in July 1785 and the survivors were forced into slavery until $60,000 in ransom was paid. The U.S. was forced to pay tribute and goods to the Barbary nations for the security of its ships and the freedom of its captured citizens.

Pirating in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean continued from the Barbary Coast States and prompted the U.S. to initiate a series of peace treaties, collectively known as the Barbary Treaties.
The Treaty of Tripoli was a Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli, Libya on November 4, 1796 and at Algiers on January 3, 1797. The original in Arabic was submitted to the US Senate on May 29, 1797. The Resolution of advice and consent passed on June 7, 1797 and was ratified by the United States on June 10, 1797.

Secularists point to Article 11 of the treaty for proof of a secular American government. “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation; it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
So what does this mean? Joel Barlow was the American diplomat who served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army, but secularists argue that after reading “enlightenment” literature and hanging around Paine and Jefferson, he turned against Christianity and became an advocate of secular government.

However again, Barlow’s issue was with an organized and established church and it being pushed into service of the government. Secularists use Barlow’s book “Advice to the Privileged Orders” from 1793 to push the secular idea, yet he included a footnote explaining, “From that association of ideas, that usually connects the church with religion, I may run the risque of being misunderstood by some readers, unless I advertise them, that I consider no connection as existing between these two subjects; and that where I speak of church indefinitely, I mean the government of a state, assuming the name of God, to govern by divine authority; or in other words, darkening the consciences of men, in order to oppress them. In the United States of America, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a Church; and yet in no country are the people more religious…” pp. 53-54
Secularists don’t take into account the context of the Treaty or historical situation of the time. It’s interesting as well that one wonders why put such a specific statement regarding the Christian religion in a treaty with a Muslim nation?

Islam is the state, the governing law as well as the religious faith of the country. Since the Muslim States believed America was a Christian nation they were afraid of a Holy War. The US had to assure the Dey of Tripoli that the US didn’t view its struggle with the pirates as a religious issue, and that they wouldn’t enter a war on religious grounds, nor would the US impose Christianity on the Muslim people of their States.
This fits with Article 14 of the new Treaty of 1805 which was signed during the Jefferson presidency.  As the Government of the United States of America, has in itself no character of enmity against the Laws, Religion or Tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any Mahometan Nation, except in the defense of their just rights to freely navigate the High Seas: It is declared by the contracting parties that no pretext arising from Religious Opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the Harmony existing between the two Nations; And the Consuls and Agents of both Nations respectively, shall have liberty to exercise his Religion in his own house; all slaves of the same Religion shall not be Impeded in going to said Consuls house at hours of Prayer. The Consuls shall have liberty and personal security given them to travel within the Territories of each other, both by land and sea, and shall not be prevented from going on board any Vessel that they may think proper to visit; they shall have likewise the liberty to appoint their own Drogoman and Brokers.”

In 1805, the US refused to pay “tribute” to Barbary Coast pirates to keep them from raiding American merchant ships.  Jefferson said of the idea of continuing to pay, “Too long, for the honor of nations, have those Barbarians been [permitted] to trample on the sacred faith of treaties, on the rights and laws of human nature!  As President, negotiations for a treaty failed, so Jefferson called on the Marines.
America has always been a Christian nation, even if many people in America today don’t consider her to be.
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Source: October 12, 1816. The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, (future Supreme Court Justice)

I’ve always believed we can fix our future by looking at and learning from the past. One of answers for our country lies in the past. More about that in the coming weeks as time allows.

I started this article with a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, now I’ll end it with another. “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”
C.A.E 2015

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