Last month President George W. Bush traveled to Great Britain for a controversial state visit. His goal was to restate his case for the war against terror in general and the invasion of Iraq in particular. He spoke of the historic ties between America and Britain, particularly during the 20th century battles of aggression on the European continent. He was greeted with loud protests from those who do not share his vision of the mission he articulates for the United States and Britain in the world.
While he was abroad, the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling, which stated that homosexual couples have the right to marry. By a 4-3 decision, the court not only bypassed federal courts, but also all other state and federal legislative bodies, to decree a new definition of marriage.
By this ruling the court decrees that marriage is no longer defined as a relationship between a man and woman. Equal protection under the law now extends to homosexual couples without prejudice. With one decision, likely to be followed by other states, the divine institution of marriage has been stripped of its God-ordained intent. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has vowed to fight this ruling with an amendment to the state's constitution.
Not only is this decision undemocratic, it is ungodly. It raises itself against the laws of God regarding the sacred marriage covenant between a man and a woman, given by Him at creation. It is another battle in an ongoing culture war that weakens the moral fabric of society. This war, a war of cultures, threatens the survival of this nation as much as does the war on terror. It is important that our readers understand the extent of this war and where it will lead. It may be too late to reverse the outcome, but we can be forewarned of its consequences and pray for our merciful God to stay His hand of judgment.
History chronicles the efforts to fashion the world according to various religious or political ideologies. Most of these ideologies center on creating a governmental structure that establishes universal peace and freedom. The yearning of individuals to live peacefully, free from oppression of any sort, is universal. People, and the nations they create, hunger for the freedom to live as they choose.
Yet we also see the field littered with the wreckage of countless failed designs to create or impose such a world. In America today the battle between those who desire to maintain a religious foundation to the laws of the nation, and those who envision a society without a religious view, is reaching a critical level. This is where the battle lines are drawn.
These issues are worthy of our examination in light of what the Bible says about the role of God in the public life of any nation. Both sides need to heed what the eternal Creator says about His law and truth. Neither side will escape the judgment God will bring on a world that has both ignored and forgotten the basis for true liberty and freedom. Is religious freedom under attack in America?
The recent controversy over the Ten Commandments in Alabama highlighted an ongoing battle, largely in the courts, over the separation of church and state in the public life of America. For refusing to remove a granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, Judge Roy Moore was recently removed from his post as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
In refusing to remove this monument, Judge Moore defied a federal judge's order, a very dangerous precedent for any magistrate. However, his supporters remained outraged by the lack of respect for the religious roots of the U.S. legal system, which they saw symbolized in this drama. His action fed the flames of a hotly debated issue in American public life. Many people, of differing religious persuasions, are deeply concerned about the erosion of the moral foundation of the nation.
John Adams is famously quoted as saying the U.S. Constitution was "made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." Adams' friend, Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, wrote: "No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I as Chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example" (David Limbaugh, Persecution, 2003, p. 320).
Judge Moore is not the only religious official to come under attack for publicly affirming his personal faith. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, an openly religious man, is the target of many who feel his religious zeal is not suited for the nation's top legal post.
Ashcroft, an evangelical Christian and a political conservative, is constantly derided and takes blame for overstepping civil liberties with his enforcement of the Homeland Security Act. This is not surprising given the complexity of today's political and social environment and the needs of fighting the war on terror. Libertarians are concerned that American civil liberties not be sacrificed as terrorists are hunted within American borders.
America in 2003 is a divided country when it comes to interpreting the laws of the land in light of changing morals. The 2000 presidential election exposed a nation divided into two cultures. One is rural, conservative and religious, while the other is urban, liberal and secular. Those in the former tended to vote for Republican George W. Bush while the latter group voted for Democrat Al Gore. It appears that the 2004 election will continue to highlight the differences between these two Americas.
Courts setting the laws
In a recent book titled Persecution, David Limbaugh highlighted the depth of this rift in the legal arena of courts and judges. Limbaugh tells the story of discrimination against religion in American society. To make his case he chronicles numerous examples in the courts, mainstream media, Hollywood entertainment, public education and the private sector. This process is especially clear in the courts, where great strides have been made to create vast social change by striking down laws dealing with issues of religion, sex and gender. The result is nothing short of an attack on God and His laws.
Legalized abortion continues to be a major topic, which pushes deeper into the rift of American society. In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, ruled that abortion was a constitutional right for a woman. This, becoming the de facto law of the land, is despite the fact that the Constitution says nothing about abortion.
Since then, millions of so-called legal abortions have been performed in every state in spite of opposition and debate, which cuts across all society. Former President Ronald Reagan was on record as opposing abortion and on this issue aligned himself with millions of Americans who feel abortion is murder and a blight upon society. Abortion is legal in America only because of Roe v. Wade. Neither state legislatures nor the U.S. Congress have enacted a law that legalizes the procedure. It is "law" because of the Supreme Court ruling.
In June of 2003 the Supreme Court issued another landmark ruling. It involved a Texas law, which forbade two persons of the same sex to engage in intimate sexual conduct. In Lawrence v. Texas the court, in effect, declared any state law dealing with sex between homosexuals to be invalid and unconstitutional. Speaking for the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said homosexuals "are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime" (Los Angeles Times, "Bans on Gay Sex Ruled Unconstitutional," June 27, 2003).
Justice Antonin Scalia spoke for the minority, saying the court "signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" and that its ruling "effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation" (ibid.). By court decree the United States, like Canada, is "legalizing" marriage between homosexual partners. Scalia's warning has come to pass in November's Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling.
Keeping the knowledge of God
Judicial activism in determining the moral law of the land is alarming many who see this as contrary to what the framers of the Constitution intended. It is also seen as a deliberate attack upon religious values in American society.
In 2000 the Supreme Court decided a case involving public prayer in a school before a football game. A chaplain gave a prayer over the school's public-address system. Some students were upset and sued. In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the court struck down a school district policy that allowed student prayer before activities. The court said students should not have to face "personally offensive religious ritual."
David Limbaugh writes in his book: "Chief Justice William Rehnquist got to the real nub of the problem when he commented on the majority's overt antipathy toward religion in public life, an antipathy—as this case alone shows—that has permeated the highest reaches of our judicial system. Rehnquist wrote: 'But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court's opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."'"
Limbaugh comments, "This case dealt a significant blow to religious freedom by holding that a public school... violated the Establishment Clause" (op. cit, pp. 23-24).
The Establishment Clause is the section of the First Amendment to the Constitution that says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." In the area of public education, this statement against federal support of religion has been interpreted to some extreme ends. Doing so has systematically removed much of the Judeo-Christian teaching upon which the educational structure was founded.
Limbaugh goes on to say that this void has been filled with other values. "While the education establishment vigorously opposes the dissemination in schools of any value or belief that can be remotely traced to the Bible, it affirmatively endorses other values that many Christians find repugnant. Public schools are replete with values-laden curricula, from sex education and sexual orientation instruction to notions of self-esteem and death education" (p. 4).
In their effort to remove school prayer and other religious values from the school environment, the courts engage in lofty and erudite language to defend the modern interpretation of the Establishment Clause. The same defense is used to remove a monument containing the Ten Commandments from a courthouse.
The U.S. Constitution is a noble document, forged by wise and understanding men who searched centuries of law codes to write their document. It can even be demonstrated that in the political writings of the Founding Era (1760-1800), the founding generation cited the Bible more often than any other source (Limbaugh, p. 312).
Yet the First Amendment, however understood, is only the writing of men and does not carry the same weight as the Word of God. When the judges of a nation hold a human document in higher regard than the Bible, there will come a divine judgment of terrifying proportions. God says, "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). The apostle Paul said men did not "like to retain God in their knowledge," becoming "haters of God." They merit the "righteous judgment of God" (Romans 1:28-32). If America is to retain its lofty status as the world's most powerful nation, it would do well to heed this warning.
It is plain that the governmental mechanisms established to insure liberty are now being used to undermine the remaining values of faith and virtue in the legal code. The framers of the Constitution understood the need for a system of checks and balances to restrain human nature in government. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote in The Federalist 51: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself" (Limbaugh, p. 319).
This ideal state has never been achieved. It could be argued that democracy has come closest, yet Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time."
In 1 Samuel 8 the story is told of the ancient nation of Israel rejecting God as their king and demanding a king like all the other nations. Samuel the prophet warned them of the problems that would come. He predicted the ultimate downfall of every human form of government when he said, "You will be his servants" (verse 17). When any government fails to serve the good of its people and is placed above the will of God, it is on the slippery slope of decay and decline.
"They all slept..."
The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville toured America during the 19th century. He observed the unique religious nature of the people. He saw that religion and liberty were so "completely mingled that it is almost impossible to get them to conceive of the one without the other. Religion...must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions" (ibid., p. 321).
If America is a religious nation, why has our society seen such overwhelming transformation of foundational institutions? For years many have chronicled the decline of morality in the popular culture. Politicians, clergy and business executives, to name only a few, have come under the withering satire and denigration of movies, music and television. Marriage and traditional gender roles have been redefined before the catatonic eyes of a public amused into a comatose state.
The past 40 years have seen great social changes take place in the country. In all of this, where were the churches? Why hasn't religion, with all its megachurches and modern marketing techniques, stirred the country to another "great awakening"? Could it be that they have been asleep and that they lack the true power of the Holy Spirit?
In the wake of the impeachment and sex scandals of President Bill Clinton in 1998, Paul Weyrich, a leader of the Christian political movement Moral Majority, wrote in the Washington Post that conservative Christians had "lost the culture wars." His words implied that religion does not exert a strong or life-changing influence on the national scene. This may seem contradictory in light of the public's perception of the influence of churches and religion.
Polls indicate 80 percent of Americans believe in God. Yet Gallup polling shows church attendance has actually declined since the 1960s and has remained level since 1980 with no appreciable growth. Two thirds of the population may claim membership in a church but that does not always translate into attendance, much less the practice of a faith.
Some evidence suggests that Americans tell pollsters they attend church when they really don't. A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly quoted John G. Stackhouse Jr., a teacher of theology and culture: "Beginning in the 1990s a series of sociological studies has shown that many more Americans tell pollsters that they attend church regularly than can be found in church when teams actually count" (May 2003, p. 34).
For those who do attend, what do they believe and how does that translate into a living faith? Sociologist Alan Wolfe has written a book titled, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. His conclusions, after traveling the country interviewing and observing churches and members, are enlightening and sobering. He says that American religion has become mainstream enough to look like the popular culture of the land. He concludes that American culture has triumphed over religion.
If so, then the power to halt societal decline does not rest in religion. It has lost its power. Wolfe says: "In the United States, culture has transformed Christ, as well as other religions found within these shores. In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture—and American culture has triumphed."
On matters of fundamental biblical doctrine, things have dramatically changed. "Talk of hell, damnation, and even sin has been replaced by a nonjudgmental language of understanding and empathy. More Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem... Far from living in a world elsewhere, the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else" (pp. 2-3).
Many large popular evangelical churches do not systematically teach or clearly define their doctrines, because they want to attract the unchurched, the large mass of middle America who claim no attendance or affiliation. In a theological "catch 22," Wolfe states, "Evangelical churches lack doctrine because they want to attract new members. Mainline churches lack doctrine because they want to hold on to those declining numbers of members they have" (p. 87).
To benefit from faith, we must be willing to pay the price of repentance, commitment and conversion. If one wants inner peace, God's blessing and a resilient free country, then there must be a turn to God and a true faith unlike any experienced before. For there to be a turnaround in the United States that will reverse the cultural and moral slide, there must be a recognition that change cannot take place without a transformation from the values of the society to the values of the Kingdom of God.
With God's help we can change ourselves, but we cannot change the world. Only God can change this world, and the Bible shows that will not happen until the return of Jesus Christ. Until then the message of the Kingdom is preached and those who seek it must "take it by force" (Matthew 11:12). Living by the values of the Kingdom is a daunting task in today's world. The teachings of Christ shed an embarrassing light upon those whose work mirrors the kingdom of darkness.
It is time Americans see the grave danger gathering on the horizon of our beloved nation. It may be too late to change the course of this nation and its drift from its moral foundations. But it is not too late for you, the individual citizen, to turn to God in profound repentance.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said, "When a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive." To the House of Israel, He said: "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin...Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18: 27, 30-31). —WNP