Sunday, July 1, 2007

Theocracy: Just Say No!

There is a prevailing opinion in secularist circles that American Christians want to create a theocracy in this country. In fact, this has become quite a popular theme for fundraisers on the left. I would like to reassure our atheistic friends that for the vast majority of Christians, nothing could be further from the truth. You see, Christianity had its fling with theocracy centuries ago. It didn’t work out too well. From the time of Emperor Constantine to the rise of the modern nation state, the church wielded vast temporal power. This power only corrupted the church and diverted it from its true mission in the world: bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the earth.

But what about all the right-wing talk of America being a Christian nation? Yes, there is definitely a sense in which America is a Christian nation. It is a nation founded on Christian principles and friendly to Christian practice. Most of the founding fathers were Christians. Their words and their actions were motivated by their faith. But they were wise enough not to establish a state religion. Nowhere is Jesus Christ explicitly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill Rights as he is in many of the colonial charters and constitutions. I am convinced this was no accidental oversight by the founders. Instead what we find are general Christian principles such as justice, freedom of conscience, and the equality of all men before God.

The founders never intended that the government, or anyone else, have the right to coerce an individual to believe and practice any particular religion. I don’t know of a single Christian today who would subscribe to such a notion. At the very core of evangelical Christianity is the idea that each individual must freely choose whether to follow Christ. A forced conversion is a false conversion and does no one any good whatsoever. In fact, forced conversion is a great evil and I repudiate all such efforts in prior centuries which were falsely done in the name of Jesus Christ.

I don’t support theocracy. I don’t know anyone who does. But I am alarmed at the efforts of some to expunge all Christian faith and expression from the public sphere. These efforts are unwise, unjustified, and unsupported by the history of this nation. In forbidding the establishment of a state religion, the founders did not intend to forbid Christian speech by those who hold office. In fact, we have two hundred years of precedent to the contrary. Of course in a Christian-majority nation there will be many officeholders who are Christians. Of course they will be motivated in their speech and their actions by their faith. But that’s a long way from creating a theocracy. This is still a nation of laws and it will remain so. The Christians in this country are as happy about that as anyone else. Christians came to this continent from Europe specifically to create such a society, where all citizens are subject to the rule of law, where they can participate in the democratic process, and where they are free to practice the religion of their choosing.


Gordon R. Vaughan said...

Hi Bill, just found your blog. As a Christian engineer, the relation between science & faith is, of course, of considerable interest to me, too.

Gary North wrote a fascinating book about theocracy and the constitution back in the late 80s, Political Polytheism, which argues that the omission of the explicitly Christian state preambles was, indeed, intentional.

I don't know if anyone would totally agree with his many varied assertions in that fairly lengthy book, but his basic argument was that the real separator of church & state wasn't the First Amendment, but rather the constitutional provision against requiring a religious test oath for the federal government.

Of course, many of the states required this, in varying forms.

BTW, I'm in Sugar Land, which must not be too far from you.

Bill Hensley said...

Thanks, Gordon. Sounds like we're practically neighbors.

True religious freedom means facing the possibility that people of another faith might get elected and I might be under their authority. Given the fact that Christianity seems well on its way to becoming a minority religion in this country, this is a scary thought for many of us. Neverthless, if I as a Christian want to exclude non-Christians from power I can't claim to support true religious freedom. We need to be consistent in arguing for the free exercise of religion in this country. If we seek to restrict the rights of others it will be bad for us in the long run.

The flip side is that if I want to vote for someone because he is a Christian and I think that means he'll be a better office-holder, no one should find anything to complain about. That's how I feel about it so that's how I vote, and I shouldn't have to hide that fact or apologize for it.

Eratosthenes said...

I would actually argue that there are, in existence, ardent supporters of theocracy, since you said you don't know of anyone who supports theocracy. In the Middle East they already have theocracy, it isn't difficult to imagine that there are at least a few theocrats there, and to be honest with ourselves, we can't deny that there are probably people in this country that support theocracy, though a scarce minority. There are always those "outliers" of society. Not that I disagree with the article overall, just pointing out that maybe someone who reads that article might be a theocratic supporter.

Bill Hensley said...

Thanks for your comment, Eratosthenes. What I actually said was that the vast majority of Christians in this country don't support theocracy, and that I don't personally know anyone who does. I agree, of course, that there might be a very, very tiny number who do. (It's a big country!) I also agree that the idea of a Muslim theocracy might be quite popular in some Muslim countries. Let's hope it continues to be an unpopular idea here in the U.S.