Monday, November 2, 2009

The American Experiment

Lesson 10: The American Experiment

This tour of the foundations of the United States is simply meant to point out how far we have departed from the ideas and motivations of the Founding Fathers. Dr. Tackett offers reference after reference from the speeches and writings of those who were responsible for the birth of this nation that clearly show how religion, especially Christianity, informed everything they did.

It is common these days to engage in revisionist history by claiming that the Founders were all "deists and pagans" and thus attempt to de-legitimize the presence of a godly influence in the American Experiment. But what are the facts?

Though there were many others involved in the historical and military actions of the Revolution, the important characters in play here are the intellectual architects of the Constitution. These are the men who subscribed to the ideological philosophies and political realities that became the framework on which this nation was based. There were 55 men who undertook this endeavor.
  • 28 Episcopalians
  • 8 Presbyterians
  • 7 Congregationalists
  • 2 Lutherans
  • 2 Dutch Reformed
  • 2 Methodists
  • 2 Roman Catholics
  • 1 Unknown affiliation
  • 3 Deists (Williamson, Wilson & Franklin)
These numbers reveal that 93% of the Founders claimed Christianity at a time when doing so required a sworn public confession of Biblical faith. Not only so, but 70% (the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed) were Calvinists -- considered by some to be the most extreme and dogmatic kind of Christian. All deists and pagans? No quite. But what about the most notable and outspoken of those who did claim deism?

Ben Franklin was one. On June 28, 1787, it was Franklin the deist whose emotional appeal to engage in humble prayer brought the constitutional delegation out of a hopelessly stalled deadlock and led them to compromise. His words contained at least four direct references to Scripture:
... And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? 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 labor 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 ...
Then there is Thomas Jefferson. Though he was not a signer of the Constitution, he was the foremost proponent behind the Bill of Rights that followed it -- and an outspoken deist who famously cut all the accounts of miracles out of his Bible. He was sometimes openly disrespectful of organized Christianity but he was also the author of the Declaration of Independence which contains at least four direct references to God. In his Second Inaugural Address, he asked for prayers to Israel's God on his behalf.

The point is that the men who founded America may not have all been Evangelicals as we know that term today, but they were also not deists in the way we understand that term today. Regardless of the ways they differed however, what matters is what they all held in common -- and that was an understanding of the world that was heavily informed by the Christian view of things.

Their political ideals rested on a Christian foundation that permeates every word of the Declaration, the Constitution, and even the monuments and icons that bear their names. The government they instituted is modeled on the Trinity itself: God as King, Judge and Lawgiver reflected in the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches. Each of these serves to check and balance the power of the others -- a clear acknowledgment of, and guard against, the dangers of the fallen human Anthropology we discussed in Lesson 3.

The so-called "separation of church and state" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. What you do find in the First Amendment is the protection of the church from the State -- the very embodiment of the "sphere sovereignty" we discussed in the last tour -- and the very opposite of what we are asked to accept today.

Today the force and conscience of our Christian roots is far removed from what the Founders instituted. God has become a pariah and our culture is attempting to banish Him from our schools and institutions. But if the Founders were right, the virtue of a nation rests on the morality of its people, which is in-turn built on the reality of God's character. If the ultimate foundation is removed, the rest of the society descends with it. We don't have to look far to see the effects of that.

The sad fact is that we are quick to blame the culture for taking our country from us. But the reality is that it has not been "taken," we have given it away, bit by bit, for much of the last 100 years. It has happened so gradually and so insidiously, that we have hardly noticed it slipping away. One of the Founders was well aware of that possibility:
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.
~ James Madison
Part of the impetus for The Truth Project was that (as noted in Lesson One) only 9% of self-professing Evangelicals actually share the Founders' view of the world. Is it any wonder we have been duped into corrupting the American Experiment? And what we will do to restore it?

[Some of the quotes and statistics about the Founders cited above are from Greg Koukl's, The Faith of Our Fathers, available on the Stand To Reason website]

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