Monday, November 07, 2005

Disestablishing Distortions (Presbyterian Outlook)

Disestablishing Distortions:
"...Though our U.S. Constitution was produced by a congress consisting mostly of Christians, the first clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of an official religion. The apparent irony goes deeper when we acknowledge the contributions of Christians in the formation of our government, beginning with the revolutionary war itself. This was something particularly true of Presbyterians. Historian Lefferts Loetscher said that the fires of the American Revolution were fanned from Presbyterian pulpits sufficient for the British to describe it as “the Presbyterian Rebellion.”

Whatever you may think of the disestablishment clause, the biblical wisdom and Reformed theological stamp that shaped our Constitution is unmistakable. James Madison, educated at Presbyterian Princeton where he was a student of John Witherspoon, was its principal author. Remembered as “The Father of the United States Constitution,” Madison helped produce what Lutheran historian Martin Marty has called “a thoroughly Calvinist document.” Marty claims that the Constitution supplies the checks and balances any Presbyterian would love, for the unspoken implication found throughout, “is the conviction that while humans have a great capability, self-interest would always turn them against the common good if left to themselves.”...

-- Willian L Hawkins in a sermon preached at New Hope Presbytery, October 2005
Benjamin Sparks, in this Presbyterian Outlook editorial, begins with Hawkins' sermon and makes a case for the Constitution, like the Bible, being a document that leads to the "Promotion of Social Righteousness." He identifies "religious arrogance" as being what the framers of the U. S. Constitution were hoping to keep out of government, but that reads into the First Amendment language that is not there:
" Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Many feel that this establishes "freedom from religion", but it truth is establishes the right of every American to choose the manner in which they express their religion, or even not to express it at all.

The language issue is the most troubling:
"...What this historical review reveals is that the religious/political rhetoric to which we have been relentlessly subjected in recent years is neither Reformed nor Presbyterian. The “Christianity” that clamors to reclaim the vacant public square is often grounded in fantasies from apocalyptics and fundamentalists who exult in vengeance, rob the poor, and corrupt public life, even while they “starve the beast of government” to death. And they claim righteousness...."
Personally, I think Mr. Sparks is overreacting to a problem that is defined so subjectively that it should not be a basis for condemning other people. I know of no evangelical Christians who exult in vengeance or robbing the poor. Quite the contrary, people who take their faith seriously will "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" -- and these people are found across the spectrum of conservative to liberal Christians.

How Christians express themselves has often been a line of division in the Church. If fact, a few years ago there was discussion among some of the more liberal groups in the PC(USA) about how the "fundamentists" had coopted the language of faith, and that it was time to "take back the language". The result is that now both sides tend to use similar language in defining their positions.

Mr. Sparks has provided many thought-provoking editorials during his interim editorship, and this article is no exception -- even if it seems to condemn certain Christians a little unjustly.


Michael W. Kruse said...

Yes. Me thinks Mr. Sparks goes a wee bit over the top at times.

Denis Hancock said...

Did you see Rob Harrison's letter to Presbyweb today? He seems to think that this was more than a "wee bit over the top".

Personally, I try to avoid inflammatory language in my blog. It is too easy to fan things into a firestorm.