Notes on the Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State.

The above is the title for a rather interesting essay I came across on that topic in a most unlikely place. The essay is hosted at the Quartz Hill School of Theology which would incline one to think it would be arguing that this country was founded as a Christian nation. You can imagine my surprise when I read the piece and found that it puts forth a rather well argued explanation as to why this country was not founded on Christian belief. A small excerpt from the introduction sets the tone quite nicely:

    Many well-meaning Christians argue that the United States was founded by Christian men on Christian principles. Although well-intentioned, such sentiment is unfounded. The men who lead the United States in its revolution against England, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and put together the Constitution were not Christians by any stretch of the imagination.

      Why do some Christians imagine these men are Christians? Besides a desperate desire that it should be so, in a selective examination of their writings, one can discover positive statements about God and/or Christianity. However, merely believing in God does not make a person a Christian. The Bible says that “the fool says in his heart, there is no God.” Our founding fathers were not fools. But the Bible also says “You say you believe in God. Good. The demons also believe and tremble.”

      Merely believing in God is insufficient evidence for demonstrating either Christian principles or that a person is a Christian.

      Perhaps, to start, it might be beneficial to remind ourselves of what a Christian might be: it is a person who has acknowledged his or her sinfulness, responded in faith to the person of Jesus Christ as the only one who can redeem him, and by so doing been given the Holy Spirit.

      The early church summarized the Christian message in six points:

      1. Jesus came from God.
      2. You killed him.
      3. He rose again on the third day.
      4. He sent the Holy Spirit
      5. Repent and be baptized.
      6. He’s coming back.

      An individual who would not acknowledge this much of the Christian message could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a Christian. The founding fathers of this country did not acknowledge this message. In fact, they denied it.

The essay then goes on to look at some of the men involved in the creation of our country whom many Christian apologetics often like to claim as one of their own including Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. I particularly like this passage:

      Why do Christians want the founding fathers to be Christians?

      Is it because they wish the best for these people?

      Hardly.

      It is because they hope that by demonstrating they were Christians, they can justify their political agenda. Rather than wanting something new (the injection of Christianity into government) they seek to restore something they imagine has been lost.

      Reality: nothing has been lost. It wasn’t there to start with. Therefore the whole concept of “taking back America” is a lie. America was never Christian.

The essay continues on to blast several recent myths with regards to the Separation of Church and State including the popular notion that the concept as it’s currently interpreted by the Supreme Court came about in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. An argument I hadn’t heard used before involved the idea that the American revolution was, in and of itself, unscriptural:

      At its foundation, our American revolution was unscriptural. Therefore I have a hard time seeing how our government could have been founded on Christian principles, when its very founding violated one:

      Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

      No matter how you cut it, the founding fathers were revolting against the King of England. It should be remembered that Peter wrote these words while Israel was suffering under the domination of government far more oppressive than England ever was. In fact, compared to current taxes, our forefathers had nothing to complain about.

      What Peter wrote seems perfectly clear and unambiguous; furthermore, it is consistent with what Jesus said about his kingdom not being a part of this world (John 18:23 and 36).

      As a Christian, it would be very difficult to justify armed revolt against any ruler. Passive resistance to injustice and evil, as embodied in the concept of civil disobedience, however, does have Scriptural precedent (as for instance in the case of the early Christians described in Acts 5:28-29:

      “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

      Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (see also Acts 4:18-20)

      Civil disobedience means obeying a higher, moral law, but willingly suffering the consequences of your actions and submitting to the authority of those in power to arrest or even kill you for your disobedience. Peter and the others were arrested, and many of them were ultimately martyred. But they never participated in violent protest, nor did they resist those in authority by violence.

I must say that the whole essay is a worthy read for anyone with the misguided notion that America was founded as a Christian nation.

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