Op-Ed: Politics and the Third Commandment
By Donna Volmerding
Particularly in this election year, Christians are having discussions about the candidate whom they think is the better one, and the philosophy and ideology that they believe is best for America and shows God’s love the best.
In C.S. Lewis’ “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” he discussed the “growing desire for a Christian ‘party,’ a Christian ‘front’ or a Christian ‘platform’ in politics.” He expounds by saying:
“Nearly all parties agree in professing ends which we admit to be desirable — security, a living wage, and the best adjustment between the claims of order and freedom. What distinguishes one party from another is the championship of means. We do not dispute whether the citizens are to be made happy, but whether an egalitarian or a hierarchical State, whether capitalism or socialism, whether despotism or democracy is most likely to make them so.”
We do not have a Christian party in America, and most Americans would not want one. (I haven’t found anyone who would.) First, our kingdom is not of this world. While we certainly are commanded to make this world as good as we can for ourselves, our families and our neighbors, it is not the final resting place for Christians. It is a stepping-off point.
Second, there is so much disagreement among Christians about what ideology or system of government truly serves God’s ends the best. As Lewis stated, some Christians believe that no one can be trusted with more than minimum power over others, some that an authoritarian state better promotes the Christian life, and some demand a Left revolution and redistribution of wealth.
Third, our Constitution was wisely based on a government with deep Christian influence and thought but one that allows freedom of religion. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Political science professors at the University of Houston collected 15,000 writings from the founding era, isolating 3,154 direct quotes made by the Founding Fathers. This is the breakdown of the source of those quotes: Baron Charles de Montesquieu, 8.3 percent; Sir William Blackstone, 7.9 percent; and John Locke, 2.9 percent. Most interestingly, the researchers discovered that the Founding Fathers quoted directly from the Bible 34 percent of the time. Blackstone, a brilliant 18th-century English judge, author, professor and lecturer of law at Oxford University, used the Bible to arrive at his conclusions.
Quotes from our Founding Fathers:
- Benjamin Franklin — “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?” (June 28, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention when the delegates were deadlocked) “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”
- George Washington — “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. … It is impossible to govern rightly without God and the Bible.”
- John Adams —“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- James Madison — “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions … upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
In 1800, Congress approved the use of the Capitol as a church building for Christian worship services. As president, Thomas Jefferson attended these services and employed the military band to play for them at taxpayer expense.
John Quincy Adams said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of Christianity with the principles of civil government.”
The influence of Scripture is evident in the Supreme Court building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress.
Author Jerry Newcombe says that “Without exception, the constitutions of all 50 states refer to ‘the Almighty God of the universe, the Author and Sustainer of our liberty.’”
Almost every Ivy League school was established primarily to train ministers of the gospel. Harvard College’s first presidents insisted that there could be no true knowledge or wisdom without Jesus Christ.
In 1892, the Supreme Court stated that “Our lives and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise … our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian … This is a religious people … this is a Christian nation.” (Holy Trinity Church vs. U.S.)
Because of their understanding of the Bible and laws based on Judeo-Christian principles, our Founding Fathers gave us several invaluable gifts — a comprehension of the importance of limited government because of man’s fallibility, laws based on a wise understanding of Who gives us our freedoms, and the right of conscience with freedom of religion.
Can there be any doubt, even among those who profess a strong central government as the ideal, that our Constitution gave us the greatest, richest, most free, most powerful nation that ever existed? It is certainly one that has been exceedingly blessed by God. It would be a travesty to deny the wisdom and discernment of the Founding Fathers and trample the documents they produced.
As C.S. Lewis explained, “By the natural light He has shown us what means are lawful: to find out which one is efficacious He has given us brains. The rest He has left to us.”
Donna Volmerding, a member of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is editor of The Fort Wayne Lutheran magazine.