Freedom, Responsibility, America, and Christianity
As a child grows, they acquire the ability to do and handle tasks that require more trust from the parents. It could be seen when the parent allows their child to use a knife to cut their own food. Or when a parent is able to leave their child home alone, expecting them to be responsible and well-behaved without supervision. Eventually, a parent may even allow their child to borrow the car in order to taste a bit more freedom, again trusting them to obey the laws of the road and act responsibly. But when that child begins to act unruly, or irresponsibly, the trust can be lost and those freedoms may be taken away as old boundaries must be put back in place to ensure the correct behaviors and actions.
We often see in our Bible studies that the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament was very much like this. God enforced strict boundaries over the Israelites, keeping them close under His watchful eye. We learn that this was done to make sure that they were nurtured in such a way to where God could trust them to act justly when He granted them freedom from those boundaries with the coming of Jesus and His New Law. Today, as Christians, we are expected now to adhere to God’s principles on our own volition, just as adults no longer require their parent’s supervision to act responsibly as was needed when they were children. In the country we live in, the United States, we ought to count it a blessing to have had so many of God’s own virtues socially accepted and expected by the general public as a result of the deeds of our founding fathers.
It’s an unfortunate occurrence, but every now and then, I hear someone say out of one side of their mouth that America wasn’t founded on Christian ideals and that religion needs to be systematically purged from our society, and then out of the other side of their mouth say that they can’t understand why our country is becoming so morally depraved. And I have to chuckle and shake my head at the refusal to connect those two dots.
America was built on the idea of freedom. And with that freedom, we recognized that each individual has been inherently given by our Creator inalienable rights, meaning they are not up for debate. Of course, with any right comes a great amount of personal power regarding choice and influence, as we can’t help but touch the lives of those around us with everything we do. And it’s been said that with great power comes great responsibility. The right to free speech means that I have to be responsible with my choice of words and the effects they may have on those around me. The right to bear arms carries with it the responsibility to not only protect myself, but to also ensure that I don’t abuse the power that comes with a firearm in potentially harming someone else. Rights are a lot like privileges, and I remember when I was first granted the privilege to drive, I was taught that this privilege comes with a great amount of responsibility. Because not only do I have my own life in my hands, but also the lives of my passengers and lives of those I share the road with. The same idea applies to owning a pet, or having children, or being employed. Each of these require a personal commitment to responsibility.
In more recent days, there has grown a great distrust in people’s capacity to be responsible with their rights. From school shootings to gang violence to ‘hate speech’ to rape… It seems like many would rather relinquish their freedoms in place of security, as it’s much easier to be as a child hiding behind a boundary of rules and regulations than it is to choose rightly on one’s will.
With all of these points together, it becomes incredibly apparent that America was meant exist as a people who answered to a higher authority. The only way we can live without being policed in every facet of our lives is to have trust from our leaders and neighbors that we can and will behave ourselves and act responsibly with our freedoms on an independent level. And if we can’t collectively prove ourselves responsible without supervision, then like a parent to an unruly child, we will have our freedoms taken from us.
I want to mention just a couple proof texts of our county’s Christian roots, so let’s look a little bit into the contextual mindset of those who founded our country and what they thought about freedom and responsibility.
While not every one of the founding fathers were of the Christian faith, it would be historically dishonest to suggest that the Bible was of no formative influence on the founder fathers’ thinking. Even prior to the birth of the United States, we need to remember that everything we call the influence of “Western Civilization” includes much of Europe. The widespread exploration and preservation of the individual and his intrinsic value traces all the way back to the rise of Humanism around the time of the Renaissance. And the Renaissance spawned from the heavy focus in Christianity toward the importance of the individual and a piqued interest in the nature of humanity. So no matter how we cut the cake, western society and western thinking has its roots in Christian principles, differentiating itself from other cultures which hadn’t yet come to the realization that human life was something to be valued. To that end, it doesn’t even matter whether or not we ‘believe’ that the Constitution and the founding of our country was based on Christian ideals, because by then western thinking was already undeniably influenced by Christianity. But even so, the commitment of our country’s founders to the God of the Bible and Christian principles was so pervasive and widespread that it saturates the historical documents and speeches from the founding era.
This is just a small example, but here’s an excerpt from the Journals of the American Congress from 1774 to 1788 during the Revolutionary War issued by the entire Continental Congress to the American people:
“The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures, demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates, that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his favor and implore his protection…. The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration our present situation, our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his acts of kindness and goodness towards us, which we ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the several states, to set apart the last Thursday in April next, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the Universe, beseeching Him to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens; and make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people…that He would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.”
Notice how the writers implied a personal submission to a higher authority, making their happiness dependent on their worth in God’s eyes. Writings such as these provide an intimate insight into the religious nature of the vast majority of our country’s founders, and their unhesitating willingness to weave their religious convictions into their politics and language. There are no doubt a countless number of declarations that comment on the secular nature of America’s founding whose purpose was to clarify that we are not an overtly Christian-run state. What the Founders sought to communicate to the world was that the newly established government had no direct religious ties to any one Christian organization, as they strove to distinguish it from nations that did establish a state religion, such as England and Spain and other European countries. Clarifying this was essential to maintaining good will with other religious non-Christian (and potentially hostile) countries because there was an understanding that the American people WERE largely Christian, despite not being a Christian state. So to just offhandedly dismiss the role of Christian thought in the founding of America is again, historically dishonest. As much as there was a push to be impartial to religion and accepting toward other cultures, the mindset of the people was still a religious one. John Adams, one of those founding fathers, as well as our second president, is quoted to have said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The rationale for this comment falls directly in line with our parent-child analogies surrounding personal responsibility and freedom. If each individual can maintain accountability for their own actions, such as in answering to the higher authority that is God, then our country will function in unadulterated freedom as it was intended.
Here is a quote from Supreme Court Justice and father of American law, Joseph Story on the contemplation of the first amendment, essentially recognizing that Christianity fits hand-in-glove with our republic.
“In a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty…. Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation”.
Because the founding fathers had trust that the governed people could behave and coexist with a significant measure of responsibility due to an assumed respect for a higher authority, we were gifted with a land known for its freedom. It’s unfortunate how people today so often fail to see this relationship between freedom and responsibility, and even more so between these and our Lord. God through Christ liberates us in so many ways. We need to strive to be ever thankful and should thus remain ever loyal, especially knowing that any other “god” we submit ourselves to will only offer us enslavement.
(Romans 8:1-7) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to flesh, but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
(Romans 8:12-17) “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, or to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
As Christians, we are privileged to have Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Nothing compares to the liberation we experience as children of God. Church, our God has shared with us abundantly the blessing of salvation and the Words of life. I think we all understand the responsibilities that lie in knowing a Truth so great that it ought to burn in our hearts and in our bones to be shared. Let’s not hold ourselves back. We are free in Christ. Why not act on the responsibility of sharing that freedom?