America’s Christian Heritage

The fourth of July is a special day in the history of America.  It was on this day in 1776 that settlers who had been geographically in a ‘New World’ but politically subjects of an old British Guard that ruled them in tyranny codified their determination to be free in the Declaration of Independence.  Over two hundred and thirty years after its inscription, the Declaration remains one of the grandest documents of political and humanitarian philosophy in the history of civilization.  However, none of its content or clarity would be possible without the conscience and conviction that comes from the Holy Scriptures.

Many of the colonists had been turned off by the heavy handedness of the British Empire and of King George in particular.  The King basically viewed the American colonists as sources of revenue for the mother country who were sublevel citizens of England at best.  Through a series of demoralizing acts, England’s Sovereign along with a consenting parliament alienated the American colonies and the cry of ‘no taxation without representation’ began to rise among the settlers of the New World.  Still, while many if not most wanted to be free from British tyranny, there were many if not most who did not relish in the idea of bucking the most powerful empire on the face of the planet.  (I’m reminded here of Benjamin Franklin’s statement regarding the revolutionists, “We must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately!”)

Americans received much of the needed catalyst for revolution from the eloquent lips of Patrick Henry, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  On March 23, 1775, he delivered his famous ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death’ speech.  In this grand oratory, Henry used such biblical allusions as ‘people who have ears but don’t hear and eyes but don’t see’ to describe those opposed to fighting Britain.  He said they were so concerned about their ‘temporal salvation’ in this physical life that they failed to see the higher salvation of freedom and the ‘holy’ cause of liberty which God had ordained for man.  Henry appealed to the ‘God of hosts’ and to the ‘just God who presides over the destinies of nations’ to fight against the forces of tyranny represented by the repressive regime of Britain and to fight for the cause of liberty.  He was convinced that the God of Holy Scriptures would be on the side of the righteous, though weak versus the tyrannical, though strong.

This oratorical spark would give rise to a conflagration for freedom.  In June of 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a five man committee (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston) to author a document that would delineate the grievances against Britain and declare a severing of the relationship between the American colonies and the mother country.  All five men would provide valuable input, but they chose Jefferson as the one who would be responsible for the final draft.  He worked hard on the document for two weeks but his first draft was rejected by the others because they did not see it as adequately reflecting the deeply held religious convictions of the colonists.  Mind you, Jefferson had included such statements as the idea that Americans were subject to ‘the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’, but the committee felt it still needed a more theistic (God-centered) tone.  (Note:  many scholars espouse the idea thatJeffersonwas not a Christian, and it is true that of the founding fathers he and Franklin are the two whose Christianity is most up for debate.  Yet, that being said, Jefferson, who is also credited with the ‘separation of church and state’ idea that has been so misrepresented in today’s society, went to Christian church services held in the Capitol building every Sunday and supplied the services with paid government musicians to assist in worship during his presidency.)

The final draft of the Declaration contained more specific phrases such as ‘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’ and that the colonists were ‘appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions’ and acting ‘in firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.’  The Declaration went on to list 28 violations of natural, biblical law that had been appropriated onto the colonists by the British Empire.  The men concluded by saying that to the cause of freedom and with the support of Almighty God they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their ‘Sacred’ honor.  This was no feeble statement for in the Revolutionary War to follow, of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 9 would be killed, 5 taken prisoner by the British, 12 had their homes sacked and/or destroyed, and 17 lost all they owned and were labeled as traitors.

Were the colonists not convinced of transcendent biblical truth and authority, they would not have had the courageous empowerment to fight against the evils of tyranny.  Moral relativism (the view that there is no absolute right or wrong) and religious pluralism (the view that all religions are equal and will lead to heaven as long as they are followed sincerely) that are so popular in our day tend to have no backbone to even call anything evil, much less to stand against it at the cost of meaningful sacrifice.  The words ‘Creator’, ‘holy’, ‘Sacred honor’, ‘self- evident truth’, ‘God of hosts’, ‘salvation’, etc. that were on the lips and pens of our founding fathers are now seen as politically incorrect in the very nation that they helped forge.

Before concluding this article I feel it necessary to make sure that a couple of things are perfectly clear.  First, although I want laws passed that line up with the Bible and that elevate righteousness, as a Christian my hope does not lie in any legislation or government of men.  We should vote, we should make our voices heard to our elected leaders, but when we rely more on these kind of efforts than we do upon prayer and the preaching of the gospel, then we have misplaced our faith.  Second, though I present the good Christian heritage of our nation’s founding, I am not romanticizing all of America’s history.  Like any enterprise that involves flawed humanity, our country has made many mistakes, oft sinning and failing to live up to the promise of our creeds.  That being said, no nation in the annals of mankind has done more to procure freedom for its own citizens and propagate the ideas of freedom to other lands near and far.  We are blessed to live in the USA and should be very thankful.  May we first and foremost be good citizens of the household of God!  May we as well be good citizens of America!  And may we remember and stand up for the Christian underpinnings upon which this nation was founded!