Why does exploring the founders’ reliance on God in the Declaration matter today? Because it is the most fundamental matter at the root of every political question. Why are humans equal? Because God created them so. Why do all humans have dignity? Because they are created in the image of God. Why can government not solve every problem? Because it is not God.
Mike Johnson opened his tenure as Speaker of the House with a speech citing the creator God mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. The speech drew criticism from columnists in the Washington Post, Time, PBS, and the New York Times, among others. Much of it shifted between Johnson’s support of Trump, his church affiliations, and his penchant for employing biblical language.
Each of the columns raced to the accusation that Johnson is a Christian nationalist. Yet none of them offered a counterargument to the fact that the Declaration of Independence actually does reference God in the course of justifying America’s separation from the British. The Declaration in fact makes four references to God, using the parlance of the 18th century.
The first reference is in its opening paragraph, which appeals to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” thus grounding the legitimacy of the new “thirteen united States of America” in natural law and its divine author. This nation endeavors to conform to God’s moral order from its inception.
The second reference comes in the first sentence of the next paragraph and is the most famous: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The securing of these rights concisely expresses the American understanding of government’s purpose. Government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But both government and the people are subordinate to the Creator, who stands outside the material world and brought all things into existence.
Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress presumed a common (although not coerced) belief in God. Without God, the fight for independence was unjust. Without God, the new nation had no duty to protect life and liberty. Without God the people’s right to pursue happiness, understood by the founders as the classical pursuit of goodness and virtue, would deserve no mention. Without God, the Declaration’s claims become sophistry, because the very concepts of justice, goodness, and truth are subject to constant redefinition based on the whims of the moment.
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By Kevin DeYoung — 6 months ago
The book as a whole is thoroughly researched and effectively argued. Hall’s work is a needed reminder that even if America never was, and is not now, “Christian” in every sense of the word, we can never fully separate—nor should we want to separate—Christianity from America. The fight for liberty, not least of all religious liberty, is ongoing and should be the concern of all Americans.
There are few artifacts more enduring in the American imagination and more symbolic of our national ethos and essence than the Liberty Bell. The bronze “State House bell” was ordered from the Whitehouse Foundry in London by Isaac Norris, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, in 1751. After the bell cracked on its first ring, local metal workers John Pass and John Stow melted down the bell and cast a new one. Famously, after 90 years of hard use, their “Liberty Bell” also developed a crack—a crack made more noticeable in 1846 when technicians attempted (unsuccessfully) to repair the bell and stop the crack by making it wider. Today the 2,000-pound bell sits in the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia and is viewed by more than a million visitors every year.
The bell is so well known as a historical artifact, and “liberty” has such a universal and positive ring for most Americans, we forget that the Liberty Bell is a manifestly Christian artifact and symbol. The name “Liberty Bell”—first employed, in 1835, by an anti-slavery publication—comes from the biblical inscription that runs around the bronze exterior: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereto” (Leviticus 25:10). During the nineteenth century, the bell’s inscription became a rallying cry for abolitionists. After the Civil War, the bell traveled across the country for displays and commemorations, helping to remind the fractured nation that the colonies once fought together for liberty from British tyranny. If there was anything that could bring the country back together after four years of conflict and 600,000 deaths it was an appeal to the nation’s past—a shared history that believed in freedom and believed in the Bible, even if both of these beliefs were sometimes held to with tragic inconsistency.
A Narrow Purpose
Mark David Hall’s new book Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land: How Christianity Has Advanced Freedom and Equality for All Americans (Fidelis Books, 2023) seeks to remind us of this shared history. Hall, a Professor of Politics at George Fox University and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program, is no stranger to his subject matter, having written or edited books on America’s Christian founding, on faith and the founders, and on religion and public life in the founding era. The best way to read this new work is to understand that Hall is making an argument. That is to say, Hall does not attempt anything like a comprehensive analysis of freedom and equality in American life, nor does he seek to provide an exhaustive evaluation of Christianity’s contribution to public life in America.
No doubt, the biggest criticism of the book will be along these lines: that Hall has given a truncated, one-sided, overly rosy picture of Christian influence in America. Such criticisms, however, miss the point of what Hall is trying to accomplish. If Hall pushes hard in one direction—defending the salutary effects of Christianity in America and defending the American experiment more generally—it is because so many have pushed hard in the other direction. From academics claiming that the Enlightenment triumphed over Christianity in the American Founding, to the 1619 Project asserting that the American Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery, to Christianity Today’s former editor insisting that America was positively not founded on Christian principles, it has become commonplace for many Americans, even religious ones, to assume that the American founding was negligibly Christian and that Christianity has had an overwhelmingly negative influence when it comes to freedom and equality in this country. Hall disagrees:
This book…focuses on the ways in which Christians have advanced liberty and equality in the American context. Contrary to many academics and popular authors, I show that Christians have regularly been motivated by their faith to create fair and just institutions, fight for political freedom, oppose slavery, and secure religious liberty for all. Of course, some Christians have appealed to the Bible and Christian theology to oppose such reforms or to justify evil practices. Americans of other faiths and no faith have also worked to advance liberty and equality for all. Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land cannot tell all of these stories; its more modest goal is to put to rest the myth that Christianity has been a regressive force with respect to positive political, legal, and societal reform in the United States. (2)
In this “modest goal,” Hall is successful.
By Jim Fitzgerald — 2 weeks ago
With this in mind, it’s hard to believe the numbers are exaggerated. In fact, the situation could be much more dire.
The question Evangelicals must answer is this, “Can Christians continue to support Israel’s wholesale slaughter of civilians without losing their soul?” The question should be answered with all haste because a genocide is taking place right before our evangelical eyes. Evangelicals need to come to terms with the reality that the modern nation state of Israel in not biblical Israel. Zionist Israel is a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.
The October 7 attack on Israel was brutal, barbaric, and criminal. On that tragic day, world opinion was squarely behind Israel. That Israel had the right to defend itself after Hamas’s appalling attack was scarcely challenged by anyone. However, it has become increasingly difficult to characterize Israel’s actions since October 7 as self-defense. Over 13,300 civilians have been killed. And alarmingly, 5,600 of those fatalities are children, 3,550 are women, with another 6,000 people listed as missing.
Some Christians want to argue that you can’t trust these figures since they come from the Hamas Ministry of Health. However, by Israel’s own admission they’ve dropped almost 30,000 tons of bombs on Gaza which is one of the most densely populated urban areas on earth. That’s equivalent to two atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima.
Dr Ahmed Sabra, A British cardiologist stuck in Gaza right now while waiting to exit via the Rafah border crossing said in an interview with The Gaurdian, “How can anyone be so heartless as to say the number dead is not accurate. I think the number is understated.” Dr. Sabra, is not alone in his assessment. Many humanitarian workers are making the same claim.
With this in mind, it’s hard to believe the numbers are exaggerated. In fact, the situation could be much more dire.
The question Evangelicals must answer is this, “Can Christians continue to support Israel’s wholesale slaughter of civilians without losing their soul?” The question should be answered with all haste because a genocide is taking place right before our evangelical eyes.
Evangelicals need to come to terms with the reality that the modern nation state of Israel in not biblical Israel. Zionist Israel is a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.
Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, was a 19th century Jew of Eastern European descent who was fully entrenched in the rationalistic philosophy of the Enlightenment. While political Zionists often cloak their nationalistic ideas in religious and biblical language, their own writings demonstrate that they were uninterested in the religious aspects of Judaism. Herzl, along with the other early Zionists who helped to found the nation of Israel, were wholly committed to political Zionism over against Judaism.
As James Gelvin observes, in the minds of the Zionists, one of the greatest achievements of the Enlightenment was that it freed Judaism from the grip of rabbinic dominance. So, Zionism was not primarily a form of religious nationalism. Rather, it was part and parcel of the secular nationalistic fervor that was sweeping across the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Those who think of Zionism as primarily a religious movement in which the Jews believed it was their right and duty to return to their biblical lands are misinformed. In actuality, the early Zionists considered many places in addition to Palestine to form their new homeland including: Argentina, Uganda, and the Mid-Western United States.
Palestine, was not chosen because the Zionists believed that Jews had a biblical right to resettle the land. Rather, it was chosen because the Jewish history in the land would make it easier to recruit other Jews to the Zionist cause. Recruitment was the most formidable challenge that early Zionists had to confront. And that challenge was substantial.
The Ashkenazi (European) Jews had to resort to deception and violence to convince the Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal, and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa to immigrate to Palestine. They used bribery, forgery of documents, and even terrorism to accomplish their ends.
Most of these Jews actually desired to stay in their own countries rather than immigrate to Palestine. However, the Zionists put tremendous political pressure on them to immigrate even using the Israeli Underground to destabilize their communities, and create a climate of fear in their own countries. The Zionists did this knowing that many of these Jews would ultimately lose all their wealth, and all of their assets once they immigrated.
These tactics were deemed necessary by the Zionists so they could establish a critical population mass in Palestine in order for the project to succeed. However, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews were severely discriminated against by the supremacist European Ashkenazi Jews. Even to this day Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are treated as second and third class citizens in Israel. As a result, they are also more likely to identify and sympathize with the Palestinian people.
It should be obvious that, on the whole, most Jews at that time were not at all persuaded of the necessity of a Jewish state, and many ardently opposed the Zionist project.
In fact, in the early days of Zionism, a group of Rabbis in Munich rejected the idea of a Jewish state altogether on biblical and religious grounds stating that, “The efforts of the so-called Zionists to create a Jewish National State in Palestine are antagonistic to the messianic promises of Judaism as contained in Holy Writ and in later religious sources. Judaism obliges its followers to serve the country to which they belong with the utmost devotion, and to further its interest with their whole heart and all their strength.” Similar statements were made by many Orthodox Jews from all around the world. Indeed, this was the sentiment, not only of Orthodox Jews, but of most Jews at that time.
While not widely reported, Orthodox or Torah Jews still oppose Zionism and call for the peaceful dismantling of the state of Israel. So, it’s important to realize that Zionism, as originally conceived, and as currently practiced, is not primarily a religious project, but a secular nationalistic program. Moreover, it is a militant project.
During the 1930s and 1940s Zionists had three “Hamas-type” terrorists groups: the Haganah group, Irun, and the Lehi group (also known as the Stern gang). These groups committed serial acts of terrorism against the British occupiers, and the indigenous Arab population. They razed villages, bombed markets, hotels, and government buildings killing innocent civilians.
Immediately after receiving its legitimacy from the United Nations in 1947, and after declaring its independence in 1948, Zionist Israel forcibly removed 750,000 indigenous people from their homes and lands. This event is called the Nakba or catastrophe in Arabic.
Forget, for a moment, whether these people are Palestinians or Arabs. We don’t have to go back to biblical times to judge who originally dwelt in this land to determine who has a legitimate right to it by way of inheritance. The people that lived there prior to 1948 were the legal residents of the land under both the Ottoman Empire, and British Mandate Palestine, and they had been the legal residents of that land for multiple generations.
With this in mind, you don’t have to be a biblical or legal scholar to understand that a great injustice occurred in 1948 against the people of Palestine. This process was again repeated in 1967 when 350,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes and land. It seems that nearly every decade since 1948 has had its own Nakba for the Palestinian people, and today 2.5 million Palestinians are confined in an open air prison called the Gaza Strip. Only now, Israel is turning Gaza into a “death camp.”
It’s easy, if not lazy, to accept the official Israeli narrative which says that because Hamas has governed Gaza since 2005 then all Palestinians are responsible for the events on October 7. But upon further inspection, this line of reasoning simply doesn’t add up.
Hamas does not control the ports, the airspace, the fishing rights off the coast, the imports and exports, permitting, small business applications, the influx of food and potable water, the utilities, the boarders, or the checkpoints in Gaza. Israel controls all of these things. Indeed, Israel even controls the collection of rain water in many rural Palestinian territories. So, Hamas cannot be said to govern Gaza in any meaningful way? Gaza, and the Westbank for that matter, are in reality governed by Israel.
Moreover, the civilians in these territories are not only governed by Israel, they are being destroyed by Israel, and Evangelicals in America should be mindful that Christians are dying in Palestine, too.
So, to paraphrase Jesus, “For what shall it profit Evangelicals, if they shall gain the whole of Israel, and lose their own souls?
Jim Fitzgerald is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary in the Middle East and North Africa. His articles have appeared in American Greatness, American Thinker, Antiwar.com, and The Aquila Report.
By Rob Golding — 7 months ago
Moses stands as a gleaming example in the dark storms of modern self-aggrandizement, reminding us that to sit at the feet of the Lord—even when spiritual tragedy surrounds us—is good and proper. It is a reminder that the spiritual disasters around us are not, properly speaking, our problem. The battle belongs to the Lord. He may send us down the mountain to be a spiritual leader in critical times (Exodus 32:7), but never before filling us with His grace, peace, and Word. The events or tasks causing that tension in your chest and anxiety in your heart cannot be solved by you. If those things are to be done well, they must be according to the Lord’s plan.
Christians and non-Christians alike constantly talk about the need for “self-care” these days. I wonder if farmers, working 80 hours a week in 1950s America, thought about “self-care.” That is a rhetorical question. Of course, they did not. The reason, I suspect, is not that hard-working farmers did not need to take care of themselves. Instead, we talk about it today because of new demands in how we live.
We talk so much about it (there are books, YouTube videos, and even people dedicated to this topic), and people of yesteryear did not because times have changed for us. We are in a new place that makes divine demands on all people. Society expects us to be “on” all the time. We must respond to instant messages instantly. We must be aware of tragedy in our city, state, nation, and world. We must keep up with the news, the latest book, the newest post, the latest show, the best restaurant, and what everyone we know is thinking as they stream it live onto social media.
In other words, society expected 1950s farmers to grow crops. Today, on the other hand, society expects us to be God. We have the world’s information in our pockets—we must be omniscient. We can respond to everything everywhere—we must be omnipresent. We have incredible technology that can solve “all” our problems—we must be omnipotent. For an example of the latter point, consider a billboard I recently saw hawking services to people with cancer: “Take control of your cancer! Call us today.” As if dealing with cancer is a matter of “taking control.”
Moses begs to differ. In Exodus 24, Moses went up the mountain of the Lord. When on the mountain, God conversed with Moses from Exodus chapter 25 to 31. In chapter 32, we read that the people begin to commit idolatry—the infamous golden calf “incident.”