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Signers of the Declaration of Independence gave colonists and other nations an ethical basis for their formation of a new, independent government. . .
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
As colonists withdrew their consent to be governed by a “divinely appointed” king, these thoughts were discussed in prayer as well as street and pulpit. They concluded that the equality of man created in the image of God is definitely a Biblical concept.
However, to many colonists this equality did not include the blacks, women, Jews, Catholics, and those who refused to publicly declare themselves protestant Christians.
Some colonies became states requiring religious tests for voting and holding office. These requirements about religion were discussed and abandoned in the formation of a new federal government.
“…Anti-Federalist critics of the proposed Constitution warned that abolishing religious tests would allow Jews, Catholics, and Quakers—even “pagans, deists, and Mahometans [Muslims]”—to hold federal office, perhaps even to dominate the new national government.”
On the other side of the debate, Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) records his personal convictions on the purpose of government and religious freedom:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Though America was founded in a devout Christian society that had been affected by “The Great Awakening”, our founding fathers did not ask God to bless the formation of a Christian Nation. A protestant theocracy would be in conflict with their evangelical faith, and has inherent ethical contradictions to their principles of government.
- If all are created equal, should not all be able to have a voice in government?
- Should the laws of the land be established to protect the unalienable rights of blacks, native Americans, women, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and non-believers?
- Should they be free to live, worship, and take part in government?
However, many of the first American voters who went to war embracing the Declaration of Independence failed to live up to these logical implications of their own self-imposed standards of government. Of course, God knew our hypocrisies. History reveals that He heard the prayers of the enslaved and disenfranchised as well as the Caucasian, male, protestant Christians.
He inhabits eternity and often answers pray over time. Working patiently within the human heart, He has chosen to bless the collective colonist’s prayers for a new nation by burdening succeeding generation’s with aspirations to fulfill the American dream.
Martin Luther King spoke of this in his 1963 speech during the March On Washington,
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
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With civil war, non-violet marches, boycotts and protest movements; Americans inherit this dream with a richer focus as we consider our equality in a nation nurtured by generations who have prayerfully sought to overcome our own prejudice.
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Simultaneously–just as in 1776–many Christians have tried to change society by using legislation to encroach our values upon all Americans while others have realized that a protestant theocracy operates in conflict with our faith.
While we cannot abandon our hope and faith when enacting laws, Christians should not ignore our own belief that we are to come to love God in a personal freedom of choice.
1 John 4:18 infers that Religion and a Christian conscience cannot be imposed by the constraints of government.
The laws of the land enact fines and penalties that give us no choice but to act within commonly agreed social values. In America we have agreed to use laws to value our neighbor’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or to quote Thomas Jefferson, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”
Unfortunately, prohibition–though valued by some Christians–proved to be injurious to others as it did not reflect a commonly held social value.
Sadly, racial slavery was a commonly held social value in 1776. However, the Christian who opposed this abomination, lived out their lives in prayer, setting a moral tone that eventually transformed the conscience of America as we realized our own hypocrisy engraved in the heart of the Declaration of Independence.
The children of the Great Awakening have done a service to all generations by establishing not a Christian Nation, but a nation of Christians that may cultivate a love of God among their neighbors.
Their debates concluded that a truly free country protects neighbors from harming one another while allowing citizens to embrace a diversity of thought—including a lie—so they may come to the knowledge of truth in their personal pursuit of happiness.
Abundantly above and beyond what they envisioned, God still answers the prayers of the first generation of Americans as He holds succeeding generations to account to this visionary American Dream so eloquently stated in our Declaration of Independence.
. . . Meditate in His Presence day and night . . .
Psalm 1 (paraphrase)
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