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History of American Christian Political Involvement
By Dave Leach
"When decent moral folk can't say what they believe
because it would offend a jerk,
it's no surprise that fools' cries fill the skies!
Let's make Freedom Of Religion work!"
-- Dave Leach
Rev. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg criticized his brother, who was also a pastor, for being involved in politics. His brother had really gone too far. It wasn't enough that he had preached a fiery sermon against the crime of his government. But after his sermon, instead of going to the door to shake hands with the people as they were leaving, he dis-robed right in front of everybody, in order to reveal the military uniform under his pastoral robe! Then he promptly challenged all the men of his church to follow him in enlisting in the army! He had really cracked his nut!
At least that's what The Reverend Muhlenberg thought, until he watched the enemy torch his own church. Right then and there, he decided to join the Revolution himself.
That same Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg rose in the ranks of the Revolution until, as the first Speaker of the U.S. House, his was only one of two signatures on the Bill of Rights. The other signature was that of John Adams. (From tape #382, Uncle Ed. Show, first aired August 3, 2002, David Barton speaking to a GOP meeting at the Iowa State Historical Building, Summer, 2001. (Time elapsed in the show: 37:30)
Political science professors from the University of Houston and LSU, Louisiana State University, wanted to know where America's Founding Fathers got their unique ideas -- ideas not found in any other charter or constitution -- ideas that had never been tried before. So the professors collected 15,000 writings of our founding fathers, and counted who they quoted most. The project took 10 years. The professors found that the most frequently quoted source was the Bible. 34% of all their quotes were from the Bible, several times more than from any other source. (Ibid, 39:40) Another 60% of their quotes was of men whose works were based on the Bible, for a total of 94% of their quotes which were based, directly or indirectly, on the Bible.
So, do you think the Bible should not be quoted during a discussion of American law? Do you think politics is "dirty" and Christians should stay away from it in order to keep themselves pure?
Where did the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence say they got their ideas for their Declaration? One of their sources, they said, was a 1765 book, a classic still in print: "Two Treatises on Government." Written by a theologian, it cites the Bible 1,700 times to show what God says about how government ought to operate! And you think God has nothing to say about politics? (Ibid, 38:00)
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton said they got the inspiration for their Separation of Powers from Jeremiah 17:9. (Ibid, 40:50)
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(No, the passage doesn't specify the solution which Washington and Hamilton found. But it states the problem which Separation of Powers was designed to minimize. It is the assumption that no government official or officials can be completely trusted, that justifies, in the public mind, from that day to this, the need for "checks and balances", subjecting each branch of government to the restraint of the other branches to prevent it careening out of control.)
The Three Branches of Government were taken by our Founding Fathers from Isaiah 33:22.
Isaiah 33:22 For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
(In other words, the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches of government. The Supreme Court, Congress, and the President.)
The tax exemption they gave churches, which we still have today, came out of Ezra 7:24.
Ezra 7:24 Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.
(Also see:) Matthew 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? 25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. (In other words, Christians are the ones who most efficiently perform the legitimate functions of government: they found hospitals, schools, they help the needy, they reduce crime through preaching "Love thy neighbor as thyself" [their Second Greatest Commandment], and they even provide National Defense by bringing God's Blessings upon their armies, through their submission to Him. Jesus' point was that Christians are the ones who ought to be supported by taxes. It would be the most outrageous hypocrisy, were less useful men allowed to tax them! Jesus considered it very important that Peter understand that although they would pay taxes this time, that it wasn't time to fight that battle, that payment of taxes by Christians was an outrage and that one day it should be stopped!)
Our Founding Fathers said they got their inspiration for Article 4 of the Constitution from Exodus 18:21-22.
Exodus 18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: 22 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.
Article 4 establishes what we call "Republicanism". It is what guarantees that every two years we will have local, county, state, and national elections. Section one requires states to honor each other's contracts. Section two gives citizens from other states the same rights as citizens of the state, and provides for extradition of criminals to the state in which their crimes were committed. Section three
No wonder John Adams, the other signer of the Bill of Rights whose signature was also on the Declaration of Independence, said "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the...general principles of Christianity."
Congress to this day opens its sessions with prayer, as does the Iowa State Legislature, though in the last few years a popular alternative to prayer is some musical group which may not even do anything religious.
But the first Congress listened not only to prayer, but once a year they listened to an entire sermon. A sermon typical of those published then has this heading: "A sermon preached before His Excellency John Hancock, Esq.; Governour; His Honor Samuel Adams, Esq, Lieutenant Governour; The Honourable The Council, Senate, and House of Representatives..." (42:42)
They started that practice in 1633, in Virginia. To this day we still have copies of early Iowa sermons preached to the Iowa Legislature.
Newspapers published, prior to elections, sermons actually titled "Election Sermons". One was headed "Voice of Warning to Christians on the Ensuing Election of a President of the United States." In those days they called political parties by name, political candidates by name, and in the pulpit they said don't you dare vote for so and so. (43:10) Do you think the people who gave us our government, wanted Christians to refrain from witnessing to it?
When Did This Change?
History of Christian Apathy
(Obviously this is not a complete list.)
1800 divorce was so rare and so serious that it could only be granted by state legislatures. That began changing by the mid 1800's, until by 1900 divorce had climbed to the shocking rate of 2% of marriages! It continued its meteoric climb until by 1920 it had reached some 20%, and of course today it is over 50% for whites and 80-90% for blacks!
1870-75 Christopher Langdell, a lawyer, pioneered the concept that we shouldn't interpret laws the way lawmakers meant them to be interpreted, but instead we should let them "evolve", just like human beings themselves evolved. In other words, if your mother tells you not to stick a fork in the light socket, we should not worry so much about what she meant, but we should allow her words to evolve in our minds into new and wonderful meanings. Goofy, but Supreme Court justices love it to this day, to the extent that when President Reagan nominated, to the Supreme Court, Robert Bork, who said we should obey the Original Intent of laws, liberals pulled out all their resources to not just defeat him but humiliate him, and they succeeded.
April 2, 1902, moving pictures were displayed on a wall which people could see for ten cents. Before that, the Bible was America's cultural glue: everyone had one. Everyone read it. In addition there were many wonderful books, and scholarly newspapers. Everyone had to learn to read, just to enjoy all this fine entertainment.
But moving pictures required no education to understand, and they were so wonderful that great numbers of people flocked to see them. They are expensive to produce, so they were not practical unless millions saw them; so film makers needed to balance the intolerance of sin, among Christian viewers, with the intolerance of Christ among sinful viewers. The result is necessarily a more wicked cultural glue binding America than the Holy Book of God that bound America previously.
1902-1939 Freud, born in 1856, was a professor in a Vienna university from 1902 until 1938 when he fled to London from the Nazis. His famous peer, Jung, argued with Freud about how to classify psychology. Jung said it should be classified as a religion; Freud insisted it be called a science, not necessarily because it is, but because this is an age that honors science. As Psychotherapy has multiplied, its own research documents its inability to help some people very much more than it hurts others; and in those studies where psychiatric treatment is compared with some other form of communication, the other form of communication comes in first. In 1993, in Daubert, the U.S. Supreme Court created a new standard for determining what evidence is "scientific"; not whether it is published in a science journal, but whether it is scientifically testable. To help readers of its decision understand the new standard, the Court quoted an article by Karl Popper explaining why psychotherapy is the premiere example of a discipline which is not scientifically testable. And yet psychotherapy, to this day, has nearly supplanted Christianity, even in churches! Not to mention in schools, hospitals, and child abuse trials.
1928, the Supreme Court gave the right to a teacher of evolution, named Scopes, to teach evolution over the objections of his school board. The facts presented in favor of evolution, at trial, have since been repudiated even by evolutionists. But the decision stands, to the point that in 2000, the elected State Board of Education in Nebraska passed a state policy that permitted science teachers to teach scientific facts even if they were inconsistent with evolution. That policy raised such a stink that they were turned out at the next election and the policy was reversed! Now science teachers are only permitted to teach those "facts" which support the theory of evolution!
1947 The Supreme Court, in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), quoted an obscure letter by President Thomas Jefferson about a "wall of separation between church and state", without mentioning the context, which was an assurance to the Danbury Baptist Church that the rumor was untrue that the federal government was about to make the Congregationalists the national religion, to which everyone would be forced to attend and tithe. The Supreme Court created an interpretation of that phrase from a politician's personal letter, and made it America's new public policy: an interpretation that was blasphemy to those who wrote the First Amendment!
1954 Lyndon Baines Johnson (popularly dubbed "LBJ") was Vice President to John Kennedy and became President when Kennedy was shot in 1963. At the end of Kennedy's term he ran, in 1964, and won, serving until 1968. But years before, he was a candidate for Senate who was publicly known to be corrupt, promiscuous, and sleazy. Pastors told their congregations, "Christians, you can't send this man to the Senate. We're told in Matthew 7:16-20 and Luke 6:40-44 that if a tree has bad roots, it's going to produce bad fruit. This guy has a TERRIBLE private life. What do you think his fruit is going to be?"
He was elected, and by 1954 he was able to persuade other senators and representatives to pass a law in the IRS code saying ministers could not talk about political candidates from the pulpit. (Ibid, 43:40)
But is such censorship Scriptural? Or let's put it this way: is that Christian readiness to stop witnessing, at the first blast of government intimidation, Scriptural? Remember when David sinned with Bathsheba, and God sent the prophet Nathan to publicly rebuke David? (2 Samuel 11-12)
But today they would say "LBJ, we have a message from God, but we can't say it because the IRS would take our nonprofit status away. So what we're going to do is pray that God will send somebody else to tell you."
Throughout the Bible God sends His People to confront political leaders.
A recent example of LBJ-level vindictiveness against God's Ministers was John McCain, who was a front-running candidate for the Republican nomination for President against George Bush in 1999; but Evangelicals in South Carolina organized against him, attacking his principles in an attack reported across the nation, causing him to lose big in South Carolina, putting the brakes on his momentum. (45:25)
But he remained Senator. And now, in 2002, he has finally managed to pass into law his "McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Law".
In order to explain what this law does, it is necessary to understand what LBJ's amendment to the IRS code did.
Warning: this information will be offensive to minds determined to justify suppressing Christian witness. This is information which most Christian leaders either don't know, or pretend not to know. Church leaders will tell you, today, "we can't talk about politics or we will lose our nonprofit status which means members who tithe won't be allowed to take a tax exemption on their personal tax returns for their tithing." Not so.
In the IRS code, there is something called a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. There are two subdivisions of this category: churches, and "Educational" "nonprofits". IRS rules for them are found in IRS Publication #557. The rules regarding political involvement are slightly different for churches, compared with educational nonprofits. Neither are allowed to endorse political candidates, though both are allowed to "educate" the public about political candidates.
What is the difference? Not very much. It's a matter of what news critics call "spin". Here's an example:
Pastors under today's LBJ law are able to say of Iowa's governor (the McCain/Feingold law does not change the IRS code and applies only to Federal candidates) "Governor Vilsak muscled through an Executive Order protecting cross dressers from being fired from state government jobs, for cross dressing on the job!" A pastor can quote, in the same sermon, "Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination..." (we will even omit the rest of the verse). The pastor can back up that Old Testament verse with a New Testament verse which says the same thing: "1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor...effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 ...shall inherit the kingdom of God." The pastor can explain that "arsenokoites", the Greek word translated "abusers of themselves with mankind", is defined "one who lies with a male as with a female", which parallels the scenario of Leviticus 20:13.
The pastor can even explain "Vilsak's sin is an abomination, a 'fighting action' designed to foment cultural war. It is like throwing lard into a mosque, like killing a cow in India, like yelling 'nigger' at a civil rights rally, like using taxpayer funds to immerse a cross in urine, like forcing Christian prolifers to pay heavy fines to abortionists. It is designed to offend. Its purpose is to desecrate the most sacred principles life offers."
Then the pastor can quote "Proverbs 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." And Proverbs 25:26 "Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked" (NIV), and finally Proverbs 3:27 "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."
Here's the ONLY thing the pastor canNOT say, since LBJ's law: "Vote against Vilsak!"
Now does this seem, to you, an insurmountable restriction on the ability of Christians to educate each other about political abominations?
In other words, pastors can "educate", but they can't "endorse". The same is true for "educational nonprofits", like prolife organizations, or home school groups, etc.
So what did the McCain/Feingold law (S 27) do? It restricted the ability of churches and nonprofits to "educate" within 60 days prior to an election! At least the law doesn't apply to all candidates: just federal candidates. And it doesn't apply to all means of education: just TV ads. Which doesn't restrict pastors at all, because no pastor I ever met will even take out a postcard concerning a political race, much less a TV ad! It does, of course, severely restrict well funded Christian activist organizations.
Here's part of an analysis by Edward Zuckerman, writing for "PACs & Lobbies, Feb. 14, 2001, in an article called "McCain-Feingold: the dark side of campaign reform".
"But the current version of the McCain-Feingold legislation raises other questions for constitutional scholars, particularly the definition of "electioneering communication" that applies the restriction only to messages that are distributed to the general public by "broadcast, cable and satellite."
"Plainly, the legislation permits corporations and labor unions to make unlimited, undisclosed expenditures for "issue advocacy" communications if they take the form of newspaper, magazine or billboard advertisements, or direct mail or telemarketing campaigns.
"Corporations and labor unions can buy all the full-page ads they want in newspapers like the Arizona Republic and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to criticize lawmakers like McCain and Feingold, but they can't spend a dime to broadcast those same messages on tv stations in Phoenix and Milwaukee.
"It is a distinction that recalls the 1871 complaint by one of history's most corrupt politicians, Tammany Hall boss William Marcy Tweed, when Harper's Weekly published a villifying Thomas Nast cartoon: "I don't care so much what the papers write about me--my constituents can't read; but, damn it, they can see pictures!"
Web address of the bill: "http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c107:4:./temp/~c107lVT0bU::
If LBJ's censorship of Christian Witness was more symbol than substance, what else happened to silence the voices that created a government of Freedom?
My 81-year-old mother remembers that in the late '50's, the Gospel Drumbeat was "We elect politicians who look so good, but they get in office and turn so bad. It must be politics itself that is dirty, and that contaminates everyone who gets too near it. Therefore the safest way for Christians to stay holy is to stay out of politics."
Of course the problem with that logic is that it applies equally to positions of church leadership. "Power corrupts" at every level. So should Christians deliberately turn over the reins, of both church and state, to the wicked?
Nevertheless the "logic" stuck.
1960. It was about 1960 that the movement to retire old people gained so much momentum that laws were passed that forced many to retire! The Biblical image of old age as a time of wisdom and the right to exercise authority gave way to the image of someone no longer able to help himself, useless, needing to be cared for by others. Instead of to elders, the culture turned for its wisdom to the relatively young and foolish. Culture began to unravel as history receded farther from memory.
1960 presented a new dilemma for Christians. John F. Kennedy ran for President. Charming, a cool accent, a gorgeous wife, all the things that are important in a President.
The problem for Protestants in America was that he was Catholic. No Catholic had thought of running for President before! Could Protestants stand by and allow their influence, nay, their control, weaken?
This seems silly today, and indeed it is sad that Protestants were more concerned that he was a Catholic, than that he was a womanizing lecher whose family millions were made bootlegging. But it is a fact that 1960 was a turning point in the confidence Protestants had that their Salt was worth "savoring". Protestants seriously asked themselves that question: whether they should assert themselves against Kennedy, on the grounds that he was a Catholic. Kennedy's election finally decided the issue in most minds: no, we shouldn't; and while being Catholic should have been the least of Protestant concerns, the defeat for Protestant self confidence spilled all over more legitimate concerns.
So when the "Sexual Revolution" began in the 1960's, the natural consequence of a nation not caring whether the President it elects is a promiscuous member of a family of bootleggers, Christians sat on their hands helplessly for awhile, until they started "getting with it" by bringing into their churches the same erotic music that got their children pregnant. (Indirectly.)
1962 in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered prayer out of public schools! It was the first case in court history to use zero precedents! (A "precedent" is an earlier case quoted as authority for the current decision.) In defiance of all previous precedent, a fresh new unprecedented interpretation of the Constitution was created which violated the First Amendment "free exercise of religion". For the 170 years of Constitutional history before then, "church", in the phrase "separation of church and state", meant
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