Tuesday, July 21, 2009

guest post: Are We Truly One Nation Under God? (Have We Ever Been?)

My second guest post-- the first from someone I've never met and this one from a friend of mine, Shawn Farley...

Shawn wrote this for July 4th. But its questions are eternal-- from the failure to self-govern in Genesis to the idolatry toward government in the Old Testament, as well as contemporary idolatry in the World and even in the Church.

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It’s that time of year again.

You know, fireworks, parades, cook-outs, and a national holiday we Americans call “Independence Day.” For evangelical Christians, it almost certainly involves a special sermon, recognition of veterans, possibly a class or two in Sunday School, and maybe some patriotic songs during the church service.

During the class(es) in Sunday School and the sermon, statements made by the founding fathers of our nation will probably be listed. Such statements by George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or others will be expanded upon.

All of this is perfectly harmless – almost.

However, before we dig into this point, let’s first examine the information known.

The first time I re-examined my beliefs on the subject of the American Revolution occurred when working with a supplier from England. This gentleman was a naturalized citizen of the United States, but had been born and raised in Great Britain. I remember working with Peter in late June 2001 and asking Peter what he was going to do for Independence Day.

Peter looked at me dryly as only the English can do and asked, “You mean the day of American insurrection?”

His statement caught me flat footed. I wasn’t sure what to say. So, I laughed and Peter laughed at his very dry joke.

Still, the thought lingered.

I began re-thinking what I had learned in the past. Why had the colonies rebelled? What had driven our forefathers to do this?

I reviewed what had been written and said by these revolutionaries. I reviewed Thomas Payne, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. Since then, I have sat in on lectures on other signers of the Declaration of Independence. “Give me liberty or give me death!” the statement by Patrick Henry rings loudest from the statements by the American Patriots. The entire Declaration of Independence, written largely by Thomas Jefferson, was a treatise expanding on this statement with the rational argument that separation from England was the logical conclusion. One of the flags developed was that of a snake with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” So much has been written, said, and preserved about this phase in our history.

My conclusion was what we have always heard and were taught: “Taxation without representation.” Though freedom of religion was a reason for the first settlers to come to the western hemisphere aboard the Mayflower, there was no indication that religious intolerance was a reason for the revolution. In fact, if one reads the Declaration of Independence, there is absolutely no mention of any infringement on religious liberties. Around the time of the Revolution, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Anglicans, and many others were thriving in the English Empire. John Wesley was working out the basis for the Methodist movement to begin.

The last paragraph of the Declaration makes an appeal to God for the “rectitude of our intentions” (Wikipedia). When I searched the word “rectitude”, the equivalent was “righteousness”. Could it be the signers were seeking God’s approval for their undertaking?

What all of this tells us that the American Colonists rebelled for the simple fact that we did not want to pay taxes to England in large part because we, the American colonists, were not represented in either house of the English Parliament.

From there, our nation began a struggle to break ties with the British. We fought them all up and down the Atlantic Coast. Initially, the English succeeded against us. However, due to our perseverance and diplomacy to involve the French, we prevailed culminating at Yorktown, Virginia with the surrender of General Cornwallis. Incredible sacrifices were made by all involved. Indeed, many of the men that signed the Declaration were hunted down and killed or imprisoned.

We have invested, as a nation, the last 233 years expanding on this experiment in modified democracy. We have developed the model for the world with our Constitution, we have cultivated a fierce independence on a personal level with results that are sometimes breathtaking. We have created an economy that is, even in its current depressed state, still the envy of the world. Our innovation has allowed us to defeat diseases, defeat Russian communism, and advance the civilizations of the world. We are the “City on a Hill” from a materialistic and worldly perspective.

As an American, a veteran (yes, I was in the 82d Airborne Division making 40 jumps – some of them with my eyes open!), and a patriot, I am so proud of these efforts of the individuals of our nation and the collective synergy that has developed in spite of our differences. I am so proud of the likes of Ridgeway, Gavin, Shelton, McArthur, Nimitz, Lee, and even Grant. Of King, Bell, Edison, Whitney, Kennedy, and countless nameless others who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf!

But, mixed in with these successes are the seeds of our destruction. For example, let us take that so well known statement of Patrick Henry. If we change a few words in this statement, the statement sounds strangely like one that might be made by my six-year-old daughter. “Give me a toy or I’m going to cry!”

We expanded the borders of our country under the premise of Manifest Destiny dislodging countless people in the process who had lived on this land for quite possibly 2000 years if not longer. We took from Mexico the current states of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Texas declared their own independence from Mexico and eventually joined the Union.

Then, we had the ultimate test of our own – the American Civil War or War Between the States as it is sometimes known. In fact, as Mr. Peter (my supplier) had shown me above, the definition of an event depends on one’s perspective. For the people in the South, this war has become known as the “War of Northern Aggression.” Regardless of how this war is known, it began for the same basic reason the Revolutionary war did some 85 years earlier - the South did not want to be told what to do by the Federal Government. This issue was so divisive that in fact the issue is still not settled in parts of our country almost 150 years later!

You see, we started at a very early age focusing on “me”. We expanded west because it was our self-proclaimed destiny. We took California because it was ours. We seceded from the Union because the Abolitionists were infringing on our rights [to keep others enslaved thus taking their rights]. All of our efforts became about “me” in one form or another.

It is at this point that we must look to that book we evangelicals at least say we put first in our lives – the Bible. What did God, through the hands and intellect of the writers of this great work, tell us about living on this rotating ball called earth from the perspective of a redeemed child of God? The best example is the life that God in the flesh, Jesus, lived during the 33 years he walked, ate and slept among us. Jesus lived a sinless life thus providing us the standard of how to live, so let us examine what he did.

Jesus paid his taxes (Matthew 17: 24-27) and urged his fellows Jews to pay their taxes (Mark 12: 13-17) in spite of the fact there was no representation for the Jews in Rome. The Romans had conquered Canaan and what they said went! Talk about taxation without representation! Jesus did not want a rebellion. As Jesus lead a sinless life, we are to assume he did not lead a rebellion to become the political leader he was prophesied to be in the Old Testament as it was not the Father’s will at that time. In fact, when faced with the possibility that he may be forced to the center of an insurrection against the Romans, Jesus withdrew (John 6: 14-15) and actually pushed many of his followers away (John 6: 60-67)!

Peter tells us to respect the leaders that are over us stating "For the Lord's sake, respect all human authority - whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed." (I Peter 2:13-14). Note that Peter writes "For the Lord's sake". He is pleading with us. Peter goes on to write "Fear God, and respect the king." (I Peter 2: 17).

Paul tells us the same in Romans 13: 1-6 even going so far as to say that "anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished." (Romans 13:2) This is not a request to submit to the authorities placed over us. Paul does not write that we really should do this if we feel like it. Paul does not write that it might be a really good idea to pay our taxes. Paul writes emphatically that we are commanded to do these things.

Based on these examples from Scripture, what conclusion can we draw from the actions of our forefathers? What does one call it when one does the opposite that God the Father commands? I believe the term is spelled S-I-N. Yes, I know that may be shocking to some of you reading this that I would write that the actions taken by the heroes of our country are sinful. It almost sounds like I am writing for a communist or socialist newspaper attempting to disgrace our country. However, please bear with me a little longer as I describe the consequences of this sin.

Does everyone agree that there are negative consequences for any sin? Look to the original sin. Once Adam and Eve tasted the first time of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, there was nakedness and shame. Then, anger from God. Then God made clothes for Adam and Eve from animal skins (where do you think the skins came from? Yes, God had to kill at least one animal.) Then banishment from the Garden of Eden. Then pains in child birth and "work" took on a negative connotation. Then death entered the world. (Genesis 3) Finally, God would be required to take on the form of a man (John 1) and die on a cross to save us! (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46, John 19:30)

How about adultery? Does anything good come from adultery? Look at David. His actions ended in the deaths of Uriah and David’s and Bathsheba’s unnamed illegitimate son. (2 Samuel 11 - 12) Think of how this sin of adultery has impacted someone you know personally. Is it a positive impact?

Do you see where this goes? There is a never ending trail of pain and sadness that comes from committing sin.

With so many examples for living under authority from the New Testament, why did our founding fathers decide to take things in their own hands? More importantly, however, is what have been the consequences of this sin?

Now we focus on the consequences of our nation’s sin; the sin of our forefathers. To start this final section, I ask you to list out all of the issues that plague our nation from the perspective of an evangelical Christian. A great number come to mind. Abortion. Divorce. Pornography. A general decline in morality. Same sex marriage. Pick one or two or three! Please take note before proceeding that I am a fallen human just as you are and just as the any person that may have dealt with or is in the middle of any of these or countless other situations.

Now take these issues and do a thorough review of why any one person would want to engage in any of these activities. For example, why does a woman want an abortion? Statistics tells us that 93%+ of the time a woman wants an abortion is because the coming child would cause a change to her life that is unwanted by her whether fear of being not ready, fear of being unable to afford a child, parental influence, interference with career plans, etc. "Give me my abortion or give me…”

The divorce rate in the United States is currently between 50% and 53% depending on where you look. Regardless, one in two people you will meet have had a divorce or will have one in their lifetime! Again, why? “I just didn’t love him or her anymore.” “I fell in love with someone else.” “I just wasn’t happy anymore.” “Give me my divorce or I’ll sue you for it!” There are some valid reasons for divorce such as physical abuse or child molestation or abuse to name a few. Even in these situations, the abuser is wrapped up in themselves and not looking at what is happening to the person they vowed to love and honor. Again, it is all about “me”.

We evangelicals sit around and wring our hands over these issues and many others. We stress over what is becoming of our nation. We shake our heads when we read the latest headline and take on a judgmental tone when hearing that our neighbors are dealing with one or more of the issues listed above. We worry about Judge Sotomayor being nominated to the Supreme Court and what impact having a "liberal" judge on the court may have. We worry about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and how this will impact the Republican Party and how it looks bad on us. How can this be happening we ask one another. And then, during this time of year, and often throughout the year, we idolize the very people who set us on this course. We wonder how “the separation of church and state” ever emerged into our national conscience since it was never in the Constitution to start with. Maybe we should start by realizing that what we idolize every year is not at this time was not what God intended. Maybe we should take the lead in humbling ourselves before God and praying for our country and stop with the hero worship whether the heroes are from 230 years ago or last November.

What we engage in is compartmentalization. This is the same compartmentalization that allows a minister to preach about how evil adultery is while at the same time carrying on an extra-marital affair himself. Or how a state governor justifies flying to Argentina to be with his mistress and yet has the nerve to apologize to his wife and their four children. Or how a president claims to be a Christian while allowing prisoners to be tortured during his watch. Or how another president looks straight into a camera and says he did not have sex with that woman only to find out that later that he did indeed have sex with that woman. Or how the most vocal advocate for global warming jets around the country in his G5 expelling more pollutants into the atmosphere than riding a commercial jet that was going that direction anyway. Or how I ignored the homeless person this past week while in Tennessee while listening to contemporary Christian music on the radio. What a bunch of hypocrites we are!

Maybe the problem with our nation is what occurred with David in 2 Samuel 24 by taking a census. Instead of relying on God as the strength of Israel, David decided to take a count of the number of warriors who could “handle a sword” (2 Samuel 24:9). Having received the count of 1,300,000 warriors, David must have felt some sense of satisfaction or pride in having built an army so large. Surely, no one would think of attacking Israel now! However, in verse 10, David begins to feel guilty for doing this “foolish thing” (2 Samuel 24:10). Maybe the pride that we feel in the accomplishments of our nation is what is coming between God and us? Maybe our national pride is our sin? As Jesus’ lessons and statements tell us, we are to let nothing come between God and us. Could it be that our continued celebration of our own revolution and our national accomplishments has become our downfall? Could it be that by continuing to celebrate our own national sin, we are failing to seek forgiveness and thus we fall into the trap of Romans 1 of being turned over to our sin?

I realize this is a difficult side of this topic to consider, a side that the vast majority of Americans have never considered. As a result, the first reaction will be one of anger and that the entire argument is based on an incorrect premise. However, I am asking you to step back a re-consider all of the notions you have had.

Please do not misunderstand that we are called to move forward and to live out the Great Commission. Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves, repentance and forgiveness are available. We can ask forgiveness. We can go on our knees to God and ask forgiveness and break the chain.

Perhaps, this July 4, instead of celebrating breaking God’s commands, we should repent instead. Perhaps, we should get rid of the pride that has built a wall between God and us and return to God only for our protection, strength, and provision. Perhaps we should focus on being Christians only and leave everything else at the altar.

Take a hard look in the mirror, fellow evangelicals. We have met the enemy and he is us!

15 Comments:

At July 21, 2009 at 11:37 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Eric,
Thought-provoking, but long.

I skimmed it and I'm trying to reconcile Shawn's "pacifist" interpretation with your vocal opposition to government taxation and support for secession.

No doubt, self-examination and repentance is needed in the Church but do you think this means that Jesus wants us to pay our taxes and go quietly, for instance? Should you be posting anti-taxation and secession stuff on your blog?

As far as the "Founding Fathers" go, I feel there is enough evidence to support their intention to govern this country on the priniciples of Christianity and the Bible.

Human government will be far from perfect but it seems they were attempting to develop it in a God-honoring way. I do feel God blessed that desire.

I would say that for some it has turned into worship of democracy and Christian American Republic as the answer for ours (and the world's) problems.

Interesting post!

 
At July 21, 2009 at 2:36 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Ecclesiastes (poetry), read as a whole, is interesting related to this discussion, I think.

"A Time for Everything"
born/die
keep/throw away
war/peace, etc.

"Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed...
the dead are happier than the living"
(Sounds a lot like "Give me liberty or give me death!")

"A man can do nothing better than to eat, drink and find satisfaction in his work"

"Obey the King's command"

"There is a proper time and procedure for every matter"

"Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commands"

 
At July 21, 2009 at 5:21 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

From Psalms:
"The horse is made ready for battle, but victory lies in the hands of the Lord"

While I do not believe War is his perfect will for humanity, the Scriptures reveal that God uses it providentially to decide the courses of men and nations.

We can only speculate on his plans and purposes.

Here's an interesting quote (truism):
"The winners and losers regard the legacy of war quite differently"
Noam Chomsky, Rogue States

 
At July 21, 2009 at 9:54 PM , Blogger Shawn said...

PianoMom:

I can assure you I am not a pacifist. I served a total of 14 years in the U.S. Army. At one point, I was part of the "tip of the spear" as we would say.

For secession, I would not encourage seceding from any union, no matter how flawed.

What I hope to accomplish is to cause you to re-evaluate any and all pre-conceived notions we have as fallen human beings. I believe we are so fallen, so twisted, that the most basic assumptions we make can be and are sometimes diametrically opposed to God's plan. We end up opposing God unknowingly largely because we are so fallen and twisted.

For example, depending on your view of end times theology, the description of the woman on the beast in Rev 17 and 18 could describe the U.S. (that's right, us!). As a result, for us to try to save this "godless nation" as one of my friends states he is committed to, will be against God's plan.

Btw, this began by trying to reconcile all commands and aspects of the Bible. As the Bible does NOT contradict itself, such commands given by Peter and Paul must be understood.

Thank you for reading! If only you re-examine your beliefs, this has been successful!

Shawn

 
At July 21, 2009 at 10:38 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Hello Shawn,

The biggest paradigm shift in my view recently has been on post WWII US foreign policy. As you wrote, I think we have been prideful, ruthless and very sinful in many cases here.

I do believe however, that the men who fleshed out our governmental system relied on biblical standards of justice and freedom. I think historical evidence supports that many of them believed in explicitly Christian truths as the basis for a healthy and productive society. This should be commended, in my opinion.

As to whether or not you are a "pacifist" - I put that in quotes because Eric Schansberg has expressed support for secession and is vocally opposed to taxation - right, Eric?
So you would be somewhat of a pacifist in comparison - "just pay your taxes and submit to the Union".

We do have a representative form of government here in the US that requires our participation in order to function properly. Therefore, expression of views on how it should operate is important. I agree with you that a "me" mindset or idolatry is definitely not where you want that to lead.

John the Baptist is an interesting NT example which most people having these discussions leave out. He was beheaded for challenging the government.

Jesus, on the other hand, was sent to challenge the Pharisees.

Two different roles. Jesus says of John the Baptist that of women, no greater man had been born.

You had some excellent points and you did make me think. It went a little too far to one side, in my extremely humble opinion

 
At July 22, 2009 at 10:25 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Piano Mom wrote:

"do you think this means that Jesus wants us to pay our taxes and go quietly, for instance? Should you be posting anti-taxation and secession stuff on your blog?"

Yes and yes. We should pay the taxes decided upon by the government. But we should work to oppose damaging taxes, especially insofar as they harm the most vulnerable in our society (e.g., massive federal payroll and modest state income taxes on the working poor).

 
At July 22, 2009 at 10:34 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Of course, we are to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's"

I think Shawn's post is discussing whether or not, as Christians, we should be actively working against these policies.

How about secession?

 
At July 22, 2009 at 10:47 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

One can make the strongest Biblical case in working against policies that cause damage to others, particularly as that damage increases and as the damage is imposed on more vulnerable people. (This is a key point in my book on Christianity and public policy-- which, by the way, makes a fine gift for.....uhh, uhhh, Labor Day.)

As for secession, that is quite similar to the War for Independence-- except that legal provisions for secession are available to at least some states.

 
At July 22, 2009 at 10:52 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

I agree with you on both counts, which is why, while I think the views expressed in the post bear consideration, they are somewhat off base.

 
At July 22, 2009 at 8:35 PM , Blogger Shawn said...

PianoMom:

After reading all of your posts, I believe you are missing the point. The point of this is not whether or not we should be participating in the political process currently or if we should protest taxes under this modern system.

The point of this is that as fallen human beings living in this utterly fallen, twisted world that has but a distant notion of the memory that we and it were created for by our Creator, we must be very careful to consider and re-consider the assumptions and premises upon which we live our lives. We miss the Father's will by living in our own clouded world far from the clarity of eternal perspectives.

Though the founding fathers MAY have tried to found this nation on Christian principles, I beg you to show me anywhere in the Declaration of Independence where Thomas Jefferson, et al listed any grievance against King George III that pertained to infringement upon religious practices or liberties of any kind.

As a result, their actions do not square with the commands of the Apostles Peter and Paul listed in the body of my argument. As a further result, most if not all of the social "sins" of modern day America stem from this basic view held by all Americans that I can pursue happiness at whatever the cost.

Our part in this comes through our glorification of this event in our history. As a result, the sins of the fathers are passed to the third or fourth (or tenth) generations. When I was in college, I did things that I am not proud of now on this side of the cross. However, if I recounted these stories and re-lived them to my children, my children would most likely want to live them for themselves. Through this method, my sins would be passed to them. This is the point of my argument.

Re-evaluate everything in our lives taking nothing for granted, no sacred cows with the exception of Jesus as our Savior. Anything that comes between Jesus and us is sinful.

Shawn

 
At July 22, 2009 at 11:04 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Shawn,

I appreciate what you are saying.

I do not think I am missing the point, I simply disagree with you in some areas.

For instance, this:

"As a result, their actions do not square with the commands of the Apostles Peter and Paul listed in the body of my argument."

If you consider the Bible in its complete context, I'd have to say this point is debatable - you state it as a definite.

"As a further result, most if not all of the social "sins" of modern day America stem from this basic view held by all Americans that I can pursue happiness at whatever the cost."

It is true that Americans pursue happiness at whatever cost, but is it the result of this supposed "sin" of the Revolutionaries and their rebellion against England?
Major Stretch between Cause and Effect, here.
It just doesn't make that much sense to me.

Your position also seems extreme, for instance, in saying you would never be for any type of secession no matter how flawed the government.
You can't confirm this Prescription biblically for all peoples and times. I don't God can be placed in a box like that.

In any case, I think the best thing you communicated was that we need examine our hearts, seriously consider what we our glorifying, our basic assumptions about our history, and also the fact that to some degree we are all flawed human beings with contorted views about the world, ourselves and
God.

 
At July 22, 2009 at 11:19 PM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Also, if you look into the history of the conflict, it seems to be more of a smoldering disconnect and distrust (over various perceived injustice - not only taxation), an escalation of tensions, and then the eruption of physical conflict.
It's not like they all got together and decided to open-fire on the British.

I also think there is evidence to suggest that the colonists attempted a peaceful resolution with Britain.

Ambiguity exists as to what was in their hearts and minds, as well as what actually transpired because none of us were there.

 
At July 23, 2009 at 12:57 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

Here's the bottom line, as I see it.

If Eric Schansberg can make a Christian/biblical case for active opposition of taxation, support for secession (though I don't think his religious liberties have been threatened - correct me if I'm wrong), grass roots efforts to stand up to government tyranny to carry forth the cause of freedom and justice --

so can the "Revolutionaries".

In their case, it lead to war, though I don't believe that was their intent at the start.

Here's another thing on "Give me Liberty or Give Me Death":

None of us knows what it really is like to conduct our lives under a truly oppressive govt. We have lived as free people our entire lives, so this makes passing judgment on Henry a little more difficult.

 
At July 23, 2009 at 5:41 AM , Blogger Shawn said...

Ask the Chinese Christians about living under an oppressive government. I once heard that the Chinese Christians said that the U.S. needs more persecution.

Given the choice of the following situations:

1. A Christian from a pro-Christian theocracy,
2. A Christian from an open choice society such as ours,
Or
3. A Christian from an openly anti-Christian society such as China or Iran

Which Christian would you choose to be?

If we are all truthful, the Christian from situation 3 will be the most committed to Christ.

As for blaming everything completely on the FF, again this action was part of larger conscience that put us on the road to where we are now. I suggest you read Frank Laubach "Game With Minutes" written in the 1940's to start to get the perspective that the issues with contemporary Christians have existed for quite some time longer than the past 10 to 20 or even 40 years.

There have been many steps along the way, however, a long journey begins with one step. This was a defining moment and we continue to justify it which strengthens the pursuit of happiness plan of everyone. If you want to look at the consequences of one simple action, take a look at simply eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All Adam and Eve had to do was not eat. However, every sin and rule and regulation that has resulted in all of humanity has came as a result of this one simple rule being broken.

As for modern day demonstration, our Constitution does allow for this. Indeed, the colonists had this same ability and right. It is nothing new. Jesus uses a parable of a widow petitioning a judge over and over until he grants her justice. The example for peaceful demonstration is there.

The further point to this is that we as Americans put too much emphasis and trust in our form of government. We make the same mistakes that the Jews did when they rejected God as their King and chose Saul as their king.

We are an utterly lost and rebellious people to God. Please take a moment and re-examine every pre-conceived notion you have.

 
At July 23, 2009 at 7:54 AM , Blogger PianoMom said...

It seems you are changing the argument.

Now, it seems to be about whether persecution is good for the Church and I would tend to agree that it is.

But we were talking about whether or not Christians should ever oppose their government.

It still seems that the example of John the Baptist or any of the OT Scripture is not considered in your argument, which I think makes it faulty to a certain extent.

I agree that people tend to make an idol of the government, thinking it will fix everything for them.

I think that my interpretation of the Bible and history can be different from yours on this topic and we can both still be committed followers of Christ.

I suppose we will have to "agree to disagree"

 

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