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Friday, March 2, 2012

Raised Eyebrows For 300 Years

Early Americans expected the state to not interfere with church governance, and the authority of the church did not extend to civil policy-making. But mixing biblically-informed standards with civil affairs was normative. In fact, such standards were mixed with the public square from the start of the colonies until 1947, when the Supreme Court first suggested otherwise. The idea of not mixing biblically-informed standards with the public square would have been met with raised eyebrows for 300 years.  

As late as 1911, Woodrow Wilson, our 28th President, said:

“We know that there is a standard set for us in the heavens, a standard revealed to us in this book [the Bible] which is the fixed and eternal standard by which we judge ourselves… We do not judge progress by material standards. America is not ahead of other nations of the world because she is rich. Nothing makes America great except her thoughts, except her ideals, except her acceptance of those standards of judgment which are written large upon these pages of revelation… Let no man suppose that progress can be divorced from religion, or that there is any other platform for the ministers of reform than the platform written in the utterances of our Lord and Savior. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.

Not all Americans at the time of the nation's birth were followers of Christ, and those who claimed to be had their faults. But the early American ethos was bent toward a biblially-informed view of the world, as evidenced by the following statement issued by the House Judiciary Committee of Congress on March 27, 1854: “At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, but not any one sect....In this age there is no substitute for Christianity....That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”

Expected? Encouraged? Why?

Because, as George Washington put it, “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Did he mean biblically-informed principle?

Seems so, according to the House Judiciary Committee of 1854, and Woodrow Wilson.  

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