I had a fascinating discussion yesterday with a friend of mine who is a liberal democrat. He voted for Hillary Clinton and believes in big government. Naturally, we were talking about Syria and the MOAB launch into Afghanistan, and we disagreed, like we do with many other political questions, how the Trump Administration is doing. (Full disclosure of political diversity: he worked in Obama’s White House, I worked in Bush 43’s White House. His job was cooler than mine though, I was just an intern.)
Yet on matters of faith and the ultimate question: Who do you say Jesus is?—on this we fully agree. Which leads me to a second question, and perhaps the ultimate political question—what do you say government is? On this question, we fully disagree. With respect and admiration to my liberal Christian friend, I don’t think we can accurately answer the second question without correctly answering the first.
In an increasingly politically and religiously diverse America, we have been sold the idea that the political questions of government, rather than being dependent on faith, are completely separate. Even many evangelicals have bought into the idea of “separation of church and state.” Who I say Jesus is (God or merely another good teacher or a complete heretic) should be discussed only within the walls of church because my answer only matters to the church. But when it comes to government, politics, social issues, and American life, who cares who I say Jesus is?
But the Founders saw these questions of who we say Jesus is and what we say government is inextricably intertwined. For government to have any legitimate basis in society, it must have a moral standard. It must have a particular stance on the question of where we derive our morality from. In other words, who do we say Jesus is? Is He God? Is He our moral lawgiver or not?
Civil government in any society prohibits certain acts and conduct. We designate these specific prohibitions as criminal conduct. Therefore, every society does in fact legislate morality, the question just becomes, whose morality are we legislating? We cannot answer this question in a political vacuum if we are honest. We cannot procedurally ever truly separate church and state, even if we try ideologically. More importantly, the Founders did not answer this question in a vacuum or in fact separate the question of morality and the question of government power. Most importantly, our Founders answered this question not just for themselves as individuals, but as the representatives of the United States of America in the first political act from which all other political acts of America followed.
The Founders specifically recognized that America’s legal basis to gain independent political sovereignty was fully and totally reliant on the answer to who Jesus is and a precise recognition that we as a new sovereign nation appealed to the ultimate source of political authority—the Supreme Judge of the world. They had to first answer the question of who God is to determine what power their government would have. They did not separate the question of moral authority and the question of political authority. The Declaration of Independence shows how inextricably intertwined our Founders understood these questions to be.
In fact, they began with a unanimous statement of the moral basis of law and political governments:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, in becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
Before the Founders ever contemplated what system of government would be designed for America, before they answered any political questions, before they argued over federal versus state powers, they answered the question of who God is. And they unanimously declared that government is subordinate to a moral authority. That life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only possible with a truthful recognition of who God is.
John Adams wrote in 1798, a decade after the Constitution was ratified, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He meant that our Founders (himself included) first recognized moral Truth and then designed a constitutional republic that answered who God is.
Our political debates in the past 60 years have sought to excise God from the public square. To not answer the question of who God is. To argue that the question of God is irrelevant. We have sought to divorce these two important questions and answer the political government questions in an amoral vacuum. And we are in a mess. We are attempting to answer moral legislative questions, religious liberty questions, and basic civil rights questions without first recognizing our Founders answered the question and established a government specifically built upon their answer.
And, our Founders also recognized that a government built upon this answer of who God is must, like God Himself allows, recognize religious liberty. God does not compel belief in Him. He offers His Truth to us, which is the Gospel that Easter celebrates. The Founders also recognized that true liberty and pursuit of God requires answering this question of who God is on an individual basis.
And some, on an individual basis, will answer this question differently than the Founders. And the Founders understood that in order to preserve true individual liberty while also preserving a moral government, provided for religious liberty.
A Muslim American has the right to build a mosque in the same way a Christian has the right to build a church and a Jew a synagogue. And Muslim is under the Constitution as the law, which is under the morality of God, as is a Christian, a Jew, and an atheist. But if I want my religious liberty as a Christian protected, then it’s also protected for the Muslim and Jew and even the atheist who does not want to be compelled to any belief in God. Christians are hypocritical if we say religious liberty just for me and not for you. Atheists and secularists are hypocritical if they say religious liberty is unconstitutional.
We live in a very difficult age to protect religious freedom because of religious pluralism, and especially because we have lost the significance of why our Founders first answered the question of who God is and from where our government obtains its legislative morality. This is precisely why John Adams was correct and why our Constitution was indeed made only for a moral and upright people. It is inadequate to the government of any other in the sense that it does not in fact restrain some religious or non-religious activity to the extent some may desire. But it likewise doesn’t restrain Christians to the extent others may desire. This is a very good thing for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the only way to preserve true liberty.
We miss the point on both sides if we fail to recognize the role and scope of the Constitution–it preserves and protects individual rights of American citizens. And any law made in furtherance thereof must indeed recognize the ultimate natural law (not any other form or basis of law) whereby it obtains its authority. It is a critical distinction.
We cannot have a system of government that recognizes an absolute moral Truth without answering the question of who God is first. We in fact do not have a government that does not recognize its source of moral authority. Our Founders answered the question of who Jesus is first. He is God and our divine lawgiver. Natural law is the basis of our Constitution’s authority.
So I submit to my friend, the liberal democrat, that we can disagree on the political questions because we do have the freedom and liberty to do so. But we cannot separate the questions of who God is with the questions of politics and government. We must answer the political questions in light of our response to who God is. To conserve our constitutional republic, to keep it, as Benjamin Franklin said immediately after the Constitutional Convention, means we must recognize our government’s source of moral authority.
This Easter Sunday is not just a religious holiday. The Fourth of July is not just a political holiday. I submit that Americans must understand why we celebrate both, with latter dependent on the former. We would in fact not have a Fourth of July holiday without an Easter Sunday. The events of July 4, 1776 would not have been possible without recognizing the event of Easter Sunday and without recognizing God.
Our Founders answered this question for our government. But we as individuals must still answer it for ourselves. On this Easter Sunday, who do you say Jesus is?