I do not want to write on the subject I’m about to write on, but, at the same time, I cannot keep myself from it. So I am going to take a deep breath, plunge in, and try to stay afloat. Who knows, if I start to drown, maybe someone with more knowledge and insight than me will rescue me in the comment section.
While on a visit to Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, I made lots of observations, but below are the two that inspired this particular blog:
Observation #1: There were groups of people with signs in front of the Supreme Court building who were representing various perspectives on the “Marriage” debate going on inside. One sign said something to the effect of …
I’m not asking what the Bible says about marriage, I want to know what the Constitution says.
Observation #2: While on the floor of the House of Representatives, Noelle, our guide from the office of our state representative, pointed out the 23 relief portraits that are over the chamber’s gallery doors. According to the Architect of the Capitol website, these portraits,
depict historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law.
Interestingly, of the 23 portraits, 22 are profiles that are all positioned to look toward the only full-faced relief, that of Moses, who is positioned in the center of the North wall and in the center of the other portraits, (Noelle explained that Moses is above the door where the President enters and exits for The State of the Union Address.) The Architect of the Capitol website gives the following overview of Moses:
Hebrew prophet and lawgiver; transformed a wandering people into a nation; received the Ten Commandments.
Inalienable Rights – off the main point – sort of:
In between my D.C. trip and this blog, I came across some information on a subject I’ve been trying to understand for a while. I had wondered if the idea of “inalienable rights” (e.g., The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights) was a biblically-based idea. I wondered if the concept of personal rights was really Christian since it seems more biblical for Christians to lay down rights rather than to claim them. But as the authors Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum note in their book, Kingdom through Covenant,
Although the Ten Words expresses these laws negatively, they could also be expressed positively in terms of the inalienable rights of every human person:
Thou shalt not murder = the right of every person to their own life
Thou shalt not commit adultery = the right of every person to their own home
Thou shalt not steal = the right of every person to their own property
Thou shalt not bear false witness = the right of every person to their own reputation.
The authors point out that, though there is a biblical rationale given for keeping the first 4 commandments (Ex. 20:1-11), no such rationale is given for keeping the last six (Ex. 20:12-17) because …
These entail the basic and inalienable rights of every human and have been recognized by the customs and laws of every society.
It is interesting to note that these authors mention The Code of Hammurabi (18th Century B.C. – recognized as one of the earliest surviving legal codes according to the Architect of the Capitol) as an example of such social law. Interestingly, Hammurabi, King of Babylonia, the author of this legal code, is one of the relief figures on the House floor whose profile looks toward Moses. I think this is appropriate since the commandments about how we treat each other find their ultimate and significant meaning in how we perceive and relate to God – the subject of the first four commandments. As a further aside, parts of this code are also reflected in the wisdom literature of the Bible.
So, I guess what I’m wondering is …
- Can we really do what the man’s sign said? Can we really separate American rights and law from the Bible – from biblical understanding? Is that possible? If we take Moses down, will the other 22 faces crack or possibly crumble altogether?
- If we do manage to separate our rights and laws from biblical influence, what becomes the outside value system we appeal to when there are questions or disagreements? Will we appeal to Sharia Law? Arbitrary Opinions? Pop Culture Ideals? Cultural norms of niceness? Popular understanding of the ‘loving thing to do’? The will of the people with the most power or with the biggest guns? Who will replace Moses?
- If we do manage to totally free our rights and laws from all biblical underpinnings, what will the result be? How, apart from what God has told us, will we know how our experiment will turn out? Who besides the Christian God can tell us with certainty the end of a path? Buddha? Homosexuals? Abortionists? The movie or music industry? The President? Congressmen/women?
The main reason why I don’t want to untie the Bible from American liberty and throw it away:
Christians were made for God’s glory – that is the meaning of our life. Glorifying God is what we are to be about doing every day. It is what makes the Christian life meaningful. In order to glorify God, I must rely on what the Bible says as the basis of reality, and I must rely on God’s word as the ultimate authority over my life since believing God, acknowledging his authority, and submitting to it shows that I believe that what God says is right and real and that I value his word. This is one way I glorify God – one way that I testify to his worth.
And I would add that, to the degree that our nation’s laws reflect the Christian God’s moral standards, his value system, to that degree, they also glorify God and that cannot be a bad thing for any nation.
Praying that our country sees the value of our God’s values.
Gentry, Peter J. & Wellum, Stephen J., “Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants,” Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, pp. 328-329.
I realize there is much controversy when it comes to biblical interpretation and the application (or misapplication) of it, but nevertheless, as believers, we are to strive to rightly divide the word of God and seek to apply it faithfully.
Thought to ponder: Without the practice of Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other, the man with the sign may not have had the freedom to hold the sign he so proudly held. Below is what Section 16 of “The Virginia Declaration of Rights” (the basis of our current “Bill of Rights”) says:
That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.