Christians and the US ConstitutionFeatured, Politics, Religion — By Nathan Bennett on July 13, 2012 at 8:36 am
I do not know what the United States of America was supposed to be on its founding. Sure, there was a lot of Christian and sort-of-Christian influence on the founding institutions of our country. As for whether it was supposed to be a Christian country, we have to come to grips with what it is before we can move on to what it should be. My on-the-workbench-in-the-garage opinion is that America would need to have a monarchy before it could be an officially “Christian” country. My monarchist fancies aside, I think the country really needs a new constitution before we will have a decent answer to questions of church and state and the degree of their separation.
The United States Constitution, first adopted back in 1787, predates the Industrial Revolution, the telephone, the airplane, and the advent of computers. The United States of America has gone from former European colony to a nigh imperial power in the world with communities of naturalized citizens hailing from places barely even on the European map at the time of our country’s founding. Amendments and interpretations of the original document have so far built up that going back and forth between what the writers meant and what we need the Constitution to do today requires a person to have more degrees than a themometer, and even then, relevant interpretation of the thing for contemporary America essentially has to make enough of everyone happy so that the country can get to the next day.
Given that the current Constitution was a consensus between powerful contenders, a new constitution would only require the same if not more hard negotiation and compromise in today’s vastly different world. In America today, we have Christians of every stripe, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, New Age practitioners, and just about everything else imaginable. If the representatives of other religions are not just as American as you or I, then we need to bring that up, too, in a new Constitutional Convention. I expect that they would have something to say about it.
It seems to me that Christians get religiously wrapped up in what the Constitution is and is not supposed to be. Consumed with zeal as though for their Father’s house, they organize get-out-to-vote campaigns for the sake of everything from defeating socialism to banning abortion and gay marriage. If constitutionally established institutions merely become fulcrum points from which to lever an agenda (and thus political weapons rather than tools of governance), then the Constitution’s original point has been lost. Christians can be just as guilty as them durn liberals in the manipulation of government institutions.
While our forefathers took an excruciatingly long time to resolve foundational controversies like slavery, at least they effected agreements that kept the country together long enough for internal struggles to find internal solutions. Regarding slavery, at least we resolved it and the Civil War on American terms, not terms imposed by intervening European powers. Politics — that is, all the theory and the practice related to running a country — is a filthy business, and the guys whose skulls you would dearly love to crack are somehow also the people whose official approval you need to get things done. Solutions are dirty, and we need a new dirty solution and political consensus that deals with contemporary dirt.
Aside from questions of church and state, there is a mass of other issues that would be appropriate to address in a new constitution: campaign finance, representation in Congress, declaration of war, the UN, economics, multinational corporations and government authority, and the list goes on. A new Constitutional Convention would force us to dig up everything and deal with it all at once. The goal is not to solve all of America’s problems forever and ever but to move the state of governmental activity forward and not let party politics turn routine matters of government into campaign talking points. A new constitution should form a clear continuity from the old to the new in terms of language and essential function of the document in question, but it’s got to be made.
Perhaps it logically proceeds from what I am saying that Christians should have different standards depending upon their relation to governmental responsibilities. In terms of methods of doing business, they definitely should have different standards. For earthly objectives, earthly rules apply; for heavenly objectives, heavenly rules apply. While the Church of Jesus Christ can get on without a formal hierarchy, government cannot. While the Church of Jesus Christ can and must afford to ignore the influence that wealth gives to the wealthy, government cannot. While the Church of Jesus Christ can give sacrificially and gets off with a miracle when it can give no more, government is not always so lucky. Perhaps it is even the mortality of government power that makes government an atrocious tool in the hands of the Church. God can use governments for whatever he wants, but Christians can only obey God, not empower his will. Perhaps if Christians push for a new and fairly negotiated constitution, they could do some earthly good with heavenly payoffs.
In sum, I believe that politically active Christianity strives for an artificial unity in life that tries to harmonize the government with the Church’s mission on the earth. Christians have to functionally be able to live next to people who are not Christians, especially if we want to fruitfully share the gospel with them. A new constitution may or may not be the key for Christians in America, but we have to come to terms with what our country is and what we Christians are within it lest we make ourselves just one more giant special interest group in the current dysfunctional system. As Christians join the world system, they correspondingly suffer when it collapses. While Jesus does not absolutely need a healthy and well-governed United States of America to advance his kingdom, I rather like the place and want it to be well. Rather than proclaiming what America should have been and therefore should be today, let us learn what it is and get something done that will give us something to argue about for centuries to come.