The January inauguration of a new president marked the 42nd time Americans had witnessed an orderly, peaceful and voluntary transfer of power and authority from one leader to another.
In the history of nations that is a remarkable and unprecedented accomplishment. It is a testimony to the wisdom of the nation’s forefathers that the United States has enjoyed such a long, peaceful, prosperous history.
What principles were in the minds of the forefathers that allowed them to institute such a remarkably stable, farsighted system of government? On what values did they build their new nation?
An unbiased study of American history shows those principles and values are based squarely on the book on which President George W. Bush in January placed his left hand as he took the oath of office-the Bible.
The United States was founded on Christian ideals and values by men who were, for the most part, strongly and deeply religious.
The official oath of office, as written by the founding fathers, states: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
When George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president in 1789, he spontaneously added “I swear, so help me God,” and kissed the Bible. As near as historians can tell, every president since has followed Washington’s example in adding “so help me God” at the end of the presidential oath.
Growing American disunity
Though you rarely read about it in modern history books, the religious faith of the founding fathers guided the deliberations that formed the foundation of the United States’ legal system and established the standard by which they expected the nation to operate.
But today, rather than being the glue that in past years bound the country and its leaders together, religion-specifically religion based on the Bible-has become a point of contention.
The Cabinet nominee for the new president’s administration who drew the sharpest criticism in Senate hearings, former Missouri governor and senator John Ashcroft, was denounced by a broad range of special-interest groups (and some senators) who argued that his Bible-based beliefs rendered him unfit for a position as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer.
Although many great things have taken place in the United States, and it remains the undisputed leader of the free world, we see many disturbing trends within its borders. The very factors that contributed to making America great are seldom stressed by its leaders and often are hotly criticized. What does this mean? Has the United States lost its way? Where is the country headed?
Guided by the Bible
The greatness of the nation was once inseparably linked in its citizens’ minds with the nation’s respect for God and the principles of morality and character taught in the pages of the Bible.
As delegates from the states met to craft a national constitution in the summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin, governor of Pennsylvania, addressed the group: “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His [God’s] 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.’”
Franklin then called on the group to offer regular, daily prayer to ask for God’s assistance and blessings in their deliberations (William Federer, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations , 1996, pp. 248-249).
Presidents and politicians routinely made mention of God and biblical principles in their public statements. In 1778 James Madison, a primary architect of the Constitution and a future president, remarked: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions … upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves … according to the Ten Commandments of God” (Federer, p. 411, emphasis added).
You can almost hear these ancient words of Moses echoing in the words of the founding fathers: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6 Deuteronomy 4:5-6 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
American King James Version×).
The founders of the United States wanted God’s blessing on their endeavor and generally recognized His laws as their guiding principles. They knew the nation’s success and greatness would come in proportion to the favor God granted it.
Regrettably, we seldom find such statements by the founding fathers in modern history books. Most have been deliberately expunged. But, when you do find them, they clearly reveal the thoughts and beliefs that motivated these men. Let’s notice a few such comments: Patrick Henry, member of the Continental Congress and five-time governor of Virginia, declared: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded … by Christians; not on religions [denominations], but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Federer, p. 289).
John Adams, member of the Continental Congress and second president of the United States, remarked: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and a religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Federer, pp. 10-11).
His son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, stated: “… The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth … It laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity …” (Federer, p. 18, emphasis added).
These bold men were outspoken in declaring that they had founded the United States and its government on Christian principles.
Political-science professors at the University of Houston assembled 15,000 writings from the founding fathers as a research project that lasted 10 years. They isolated 3,154 direct quotes cited by the founding fathers. They discovered that these men quoted from the Bible four times more often than any other source.
More than a third of their quotes came directly from the Scriptures. They took another 60 percent from writers such as William Blackstone (who wrote the then-standard text on law) who relied on the Bible in forming their conclusions. All told, the professors found that 94 percent of their quotations had some biblical foundation.
Government modeled on Scriptures
The Bible, moral principles and a constant looking to God for guidance were so integral to the thinking and acting of the majority of the founding fathers that they influenced even the structure of the government.
For example, historical sources show that these men’s concept of three branches of government was inspired by Isaiah 33:22 Isaiah 33:22For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
American King James Version×: “For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King…” (emphasis added throughout). From this they derived the idea for the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.
Their rationale for separation of powers into three branches of government came from Jeremiah 17:9 Jeremiah 17:9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
American King James Version×: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (New International Version). Recognizing what the Bible said about the condition of the human heart, they did not want to vest too much power in the hands of one man or a small group.
They even decreed that government should exempt churches and other religious organizations from taxation based largely on Ezra 7:24 Ezra 7:24Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, on them.
American King James Version×: “… You have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God” (NIV). The Congressional Record of Sept. 25, 1789, shows that a discussion of 2 Chronicles 6-Solomon’s dedication of the temple-led to declaring the first Thanksgiving holiday.
John Quincy Adams said in 1821 that “the highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity” (Federer, p. 18, emphasis added).
The Supreme Court, in a decision in an 1892 case, declared: “Our laws 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; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian” (Federer, p. 599, emphasis added).
The court’s decision quoted 87 precedents, including quotations from and acts of the founding fathers and congressmen and officials of state governments. At the end of the list the justices said they could cite many more but that 87 should be sufficient to show that the nation’s laws are based on and include the teachings of the Bible.
Separation of church and state?
Today, however, we’re subjected to the mantra that the founding fathers advocated separation of religious principles from the laws and the operation of the government. As we have seen, nothing could be further from the truth. These farsighted men knew that taking God out of the picture-separating biblical principles from government and society-leads to disaster.
President Washington, in his 1796 farewell address, reminded Americans of the source of their success and how to continue it. Several of his warnings-points he considered essential for the nation’s success-were overtly religious. He noted that the two foundations of political prosperity in America were religion and morality, and no one could be called a patriot “who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens” (Federer, p. 661).
That statement alone makes it hard to reconcile the modern concept of the separation of church and state with the belief and practice of the “father” of the country.
The state of the union
Washington repeatedly mentioned God and the need for His blessing as he left office and bade farewell to the new nation. A little more than 200 years later President Bill Clinton, in his farewell address, reflected on the condition of the nation. But he gave credit not to God, but to the American people, telling them: “You have made our social fabric stronger, our families healthier and safer, our people more prosperous … Our families and communities are stronger … Our economy is breaking records … Incomes are rising across the board … America is in a strong position to meet the challenges of the future … [I’m] confident that America’s best days lie ahead.”
No doubt the United States is a more prosperous nation than it was a decade ago. The nation in recent years has seen its greatest economic growth. Although the economy slowed beginning in 2000, it remains an enormous and powerful economic engine.
But what of the nation’s social fabric? What about its families? Are they indeed healthier, as Mr. Clinton claimed? Although it is expedient for a leader to assume a positive and hopeful tone, we should also ask on what is such hopefulness based.
Without God, mere hope is built on sand. God is no longer welcomed as a part of society. He is relegated to the churches and not even allowed out in public.
As recently as 1957 an act of Congress made “In God we trust” the United States’ national motto. Today such an act surely could not reach the floor of Congress, much less be accepted. A similar motto adopted by the State of Ohio, “With God all things are possible,” was declared unconstitutional last year because, said one of the ruling judges, it was “an endorsement of the Christian religion.”
What has happened? How have we moved so far from a time when debates on the floor of the Congress, and even arguments before the Supreme Court, were settled by references to Scripture? Now even alluding to the Bible is cause for a case being thrown out of court. Have courts’ decisions to alter national policy and separate God’s principles from their rulings had any effect on the fabric of America?
One of George Washington’s farewell warnings encourages eternal vigilance: “… Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle” (Federer, p. 661).
Did Washington’s prediction come to pass? When we look at the 1963 Supreme Court decision that removed Bible classes and religious instruction from public schools as the point at which religious principles were effectively separated from public and educational policy, what do we see?
Statistics cited by David Barton in the 1993 video presentation America’s Godly Heritage show that pregnancies among girls ages 10-14 increased 553 percent from 1963 to 1987, and births to unwed mothers ages 15-19 have increased every year since 1963. Rates for both had been stable for decades before 1963. Infections of sexually transmitted diseases among high-school students shot up 226 percent in only 10 years.
Among American families, divorce rates, which had been declining before 1963, began to skyrocket, climbing 117 percent in 15 years. Single-parent families are up 140 percent, and unmarried but cohabiting couples are up 536 percent. Violent crimes rose an astounding 794 percent.
Which way is better?
Jeremiah 6:16 Jeremiah 6:16Thus said the LORD, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
American King James Version×has good advice: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.”’”
The constitution of the State of Delaware in 1776 stated: “Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to public office or place of trust … shall make and subscribe the following declaration …: ‘I, ____, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration’ ” (Federer, p. 203).
Other state constitutions made similar statements. This was consistent with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it did not require membership in a specific denomination.
The Pennsylvania and Vermont constitutions contained identical provisions that “each member [of the legislatures], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration …: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good, and punisher of the wicked …’” (Federer, p. 504, 623). In other words, it was a public proclamation by a politician acknowledging that he would answer not only to voters but would be accountable to God for his performance in office.
Nations and citizens accountable to God
It was obvious to the founding fathers that an individual answers to God. But they believed that a nation also answers to God.
On the floor of the constitutional convention in 1787, the difference between individual and national accountability was explained. An individual answers to God in the future, in the resurrection. But, when a nation dies, it is forever dead.
So when does it answer to God? Virginia delegate George Mason, known as the father of the Bill of Rights, explained: “As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins, by national calamities” (Federer, p. 423). The founders believed a nation would directly answer to God for its sins and its rejection of Him.
As students of the Scriptures, they understood many of its lessons. They knew God was patient with the kingdom of Israel for more than 200 years.
They understood He was long-suffering with the nation of Judah even longer. But eventually the day of reckoning for Israel and Judah arrived. The founding fathers wanted the United States to be a Christian nation-in substance, not just name-to forestall a similar day of reckoning.
The prophet Daniel was no stranger to the rise and fall of kingdoms. He lived through the fall of Judah and the downfall of mighty Babylon. God prophesied through him that, at the end of our age, “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1 Daniel 12:1And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
American King James Version×).
Other prophecies detail the rise of new international powers-and predict the calamitous fall of existing powers, including the United States, Britain and other British-descended nations.
Jesus Christ similarly predicted that the time of the end would be marked by “great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equalled again.” He explained what He meant: Unless that time of world upheaval and terror is cut short, “no living thing will survive …” (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×, New International Version, Revised English Version). At that time the world’s problems will have grown so great that no power on earth could resolve them, not even a superpower.
God is patient both with individuals and nations. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×). When Americans consider whether they are still one nation under God, they would do well to heed not only the warnings of the founding fathers and biblical prophets but the lessons of history. Without a drastic change of direction to seek the One who has blessed the United States so greatly, the country will go the way of former powers. GN