Christianity and the American Republic
Also sponsored by Left Wing at PeacefulJewelry
In America, Republic or Democracy? [February 19, 2002] I explained that democracies and republics are not opposites, and that under the United States Constitution our federal government is a republic that has become increasingly democratic over the past two centuries.
An increasingly promoted viewpoint is that the Founding Fathers (not the revolutionaries of 1776, but the men who met to write the new Constitution) were Christians who wrote a Constitution inspired by God. Based on this it is asserted that America was not meant by the fathers or God to be a Democracy, and that we should return to the original Republic where only white Christian men owning substantial property are qualified to vote or hold office.
But exactly when did God come to favor republics over other forms of government, particularly monarchies (and dictatorships) and democracies?
Perhaps other people could interpret the Bible differently, but I see no evidence that the Old Testament Jews ever ran a republic. It is not that there were not republics and democracies in nearby Greece during that period of history. But while foreign monarchs like the Pharao and the Persian kings were often the enemy of Israel, the Jews themselves favored the same king-based system of government.
The New Testament has little discussion of government, except for the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse). Some would portray Jesus as the Messiah, an anti-Roman rebel, but in the Gospels he clearly supports the Roman Emperor, saying "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." [Mathew 22:21 and Mark 12:17] It is worth noting that Rome had once been a Republic, and the classically-educated founders had likely read expositions in favor of republics and democracies by Cicero and other Roman and Greek authors.
At the time of the American Rebellion the home country, Great Britain, was a constitutional monarchy. Parliament and King shared power. There was one official religion. Many Americans had come from Europe to get away from that religion, which identified Christianity with Monarchies, not republics or democracies.
The individual American states were republics, so experience with them was probably the single greatest influence in constructing the Constitution. For the founding fathers there was only one recent historic Republic to worry about and accept or reject as a model.
Between 1649 and 1660, Parliament had governed without a king (having executed Charles I, and refusing to recognize the claimant, later Charles II). The republic of this period was known as the Commonwealth of England. It was marred by becoming an effective military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell.
The kings of England headed the Church of England (aka Anglican or Episcopalian churches). Cromwell and the Parliament were mainly Puritan Christians, which later evolved into sects like Baptists and Congregationalists.
Given that recent example, a Christian republic was certainly a possibility the founding fathers would have considered. Clearly they rejected forming a Christian monarchy, but does that mean they instead chose to construct a Christian republic?
Reading the end product of their deliberations, or checking their diaries and the Federal and Anti-Federalist papers, it should be clear that the writers of the U.S. Constitution meant to found a secular state. You don't find arguments of the type "God has ordained that we should construct a Republic" or "Jesus is King so we need a monarch."
Just read it: God does not establish the Constitution. We the People establish it. It does not seek the blessing of God. It seeks to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." The Constitution is filled with secular mechanics: how each piece of the intricate mechanism will function within the whole. The closest thing to religion in the original, unamended Constitution is the date at the very end: "in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven." The signers do not witness before God, they just witness by subscribing their names.
Religion finally enters with the First Amendment, ratified in 1791: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It was not atheists who demanded this amendment, but Baptists, who were afraid that the Episcopal Church would become the official, and then repressive, federal favorite, as it was still the established church in some states.
Today, in trying to deny people the right to vote and participate in government, religion has been mixed in. This is nothing but a cynical appeal to the irrational. The argument to restrict voting rights, so that America becomes a republic with a very limited democratic component, cannot stand on its own right. Christians and non-Christians alike should be able to see through this scam.
If we ever start back down the road to a state-sponsored religion within a republic in which other religious groups are disenfrachised, the end will be grim. Which ever denomination wins will crush all other denominations with a sword. Better to live together in peace, allow every adult to vote, and perfect our democracy.
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