The diversity demon: A house divided
As the colonies established themselves they became a magnet for Christian groups with divergent theological views. Congregationalists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Moravians, Presbyterians, Quakers, Heugenots, Amish, Brethern, Mennonite, Dutch Reformed, and Roman Catholics planted seeds in the available fertile ground, all put down roots and grew.
Efforts to maintain the exclusivity of the Reformed Faith were futile. The Thirteen Colonies became a potpourri of diverse Christianity. Following the Revolutionary War more denominations were established: Episcopals, Methodists, Universalists, Unitarians, and Mormans all developed substantial followings.
When the Constitution was constructed in the late Eighteenth Century there were so many religious denominations that any attempt to designate a preference would have opened a hornets nest. A number of the colonies themselves had competing official religions. The First Article of the Bill of Rights addressed this issue by removing the right of the government to establish a particular religion and guaranteeing the right of all religions to exist.
Though it was common for the State Constitutions of the original thirteen colonies to mention the name of the Savior, the Constitution for the United States of America did not. Delaware was the first colony to ratify the new document in December 1787. Legislatures of many of the thirteen colonies produced significant resistance. With a vote of 34 yeas and 32 nays, Rhode Island was the last colony to ratify in May of 1790. Of the total votes cast by all colonies there was one nay for every two yeas.
Though our fledgling nation was ninety eight percent Christian, conflicting theologies of different Protestant religions destroyed commonality.
C-Span recently aired the first segment of a February 2nd program from Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Presented as the “Second Annual Ronald Reagan Symposium” the program was titled “The Future of Religion in American Politics”. An eight person panel included three college professors, Hadley Arkes, Amherst; Daniel Driesbeck, American University; and Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago; a magazine editor, Marvin Olasky; a pundit, Michael Barone; two from tax free organizations, Daryl Hart and Michael Cromartie; and one from the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Novak.
Included in the first segement were Arkes, Driesbeck, Novak, and Elshtain.
Missing in this generous display of erudition was the Name of Jesus, the exclusivity of the Christian religion, and any grasp of sound theology. There were extensive quotes from the Founders on the role religion should play in the new nation. President Washington’s remarks were quoted at length. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct,… “ President John Adams statements were mentioned as well.
The political realm often brings conflicting statements from those who are attempting to influence voters. John Adams had been exposed to the enlightenment while sojourning in Europe and near the end of his life became a Unitarian. Nevertheless, during his campaign against Thomas Paine he said, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.”
There is no doubt that our Founders supported the propagation of the Christian religion but there is doubt about their own personal involvement. Their statements frequently related to the new nation and its government and seldom, if ever, mentioned their own dependence on the propitiation of Jesus Christ.
I either missed the second segment of this symposium or it has not been shown. The first segment seemed to be in agreement that the Reformed Faith was too stringent, that in our diverse society god should be acceptable in the political realm as long as exclusivity was omitted.
The original thirteen colonies inherited religious diversity from Europe and Europe inherited it from the Reformation. In retrospect one might posit that the Reformation was a revolution against the Catholic Church that ultimately created a theological void which filled with chaos giving a foothold to rampant secularism. The heresies were real and the revolution was necessary, but like our current War in Iraq the culmination was neither orderly nor constructive.
From a government perspective, religion can never be taken seriously when multiple denominations and theologies must be recognized.
The majority of the respected Universities in the United States were founded by Christians with the objective of educating young men in the Christian Faith. In a book entitled “The Soul of the American University“, George Marsden describes in great detail the deterioration of Christianity. Diversity was the irresistible danger. As Universities determined to extend their facilities to wider and wider portions of society their approach to religion became less and less specific and more and more general.
What is missing in the State and in the Church is the Christian principle so plainly put forth in 1644 by Scottish Christian theologian and author Samuel Rutherford: Lex Rex, the Law is King.
Rutherford was one of the divines invited to work on the creation of the Westminster Confessions and a bright star on the Christian scene during his lifetime. He believed that rulers should be accountable under God’s Laws the same as their subjects. All of the heroes in the Bible were under the authority of God. The use of human reason to overrule the mandates of God always produced God’s wrath. Wikipedia says Rutherford’s book “Lex, Rex, presented a theory of limited government and Constitutionalism. It laid the foundation for later political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and thus for modern political systems such as that of the United States . After the Restoration, English authorities burned Lex, Rex and cited the author for high treason, which his death prevented from taking effect.” It is recorded that when the high treason summons came Rutherford was on his deathbed. His reply was “Go and tell your master that I’ve a summons from a higher Court. And ere this message reaches him, I’ll be where few kings or great folk ever come.” Read Wikipedia here.
It appears that the primary reason efforts to maintain a Christian presence in the United States public square have been lost is the diversity of theologies that make up the Christian majority of our population. Efforts to win an argument that our Founders created a Christian nation have as much to support opposition as to affirm supporters and even if the supporters were to win it would be difficult to determine under which Christian denomination we were living.
True religion is always exclusive. Multi-religionism nullifies exclusivity and allows humanism to flourish.
There is only One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His only Son, Our Lord and King, Jesus, The Christ. Jesus is the ONLY Key to the Father and His Holy Spirit the ONLY means of true conversion.
The theology bequeathed us by the Reformers and confirmed in the Westminster Confessions was a result of extensive work by some of history’s best theologians, that it was forsaken by dozens of rebellious detractors has reduced Protestant Christianity to the condition of a shorn Samson.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”