I had a thought today while I was out running. Why do we keep trying to make the State, a.k.a. the government, our church? We expect it to do what the Bible says. We only want people in office who will represent God’s values.
Is that realistic? Is that even fair? After all, they don’t come to my church to enact laws. Should I reject summarily everyone who doesn’t behave in the way I interpret to be in God’s best interests?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t uphold righteousness and vote our consciences. But let’s be honest. Our nation was founded by men who believed in God. But not all were card-carrying Christians. Look at Benjamin Franklin, second only to Washington himself in the Continental Congress. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Franklin formulated a presentation of his beliefs and published it in 1728. It did not mention many of the Puritan ideas as regards belief in salvation, the divinity of Jesus, and indeed most religious dogma. He clarified himself as a deist in his 1771 autobiography, although he still considered himself a Christian. He retained a strong faith in a God as the wellspring of morality and goodness in man, and as a Providential actor in history responsible for American independence.
And yet, he wanted prayer in the daily running of the government:
“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. – Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. … And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: … I therefore beg leave to move – that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”
Then, the motion met with opposition but was never voted upon.
Do we negate the contributions of Ben Franklin simply because his beliefs don’t totally match up with ours? And what of Thomas Jefferson? Those beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence came from his mind, he who (allegedly) fathered illegitimate children by his slaves and edited the teachings of Jesus to exclude his miracles and anything supernatural.
Dare I say the Founding Fathers were filled with “ringers”? Both Jefferson and Franklin were polymaths, people who excelled in several different disciplines. Jefferson himself spoke 5 different languages.
So…where does that leave us? Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? These men helped to spawn a new nation. They were two of some score who took part in creating something totally new. Yes, God was very much on their minds. But they made specific laws so that the church and state would not be the same thing.
But can you imagine our nation without the likes of Benjamin Franklin? He discovered electricity. He championed the colonial America from its earliest beginnings. He formed our culture of thrift, education, community spirit – all the things that make the United States one of the places refugees and dreamers can find safe harbor. And would part of our nation still belong to France without the influence of Thomas Jefferson?
Are we perfect? No. Do we pick up offenses of other nations that perhaps we should stay out of? Yes. Do we sometimes wait too long to intervene in conflicts? Yes, again. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot as election day looms. Can we look at our politicians and leaders and see what God has put in them and trust them to lead, whether all their affiliations match ours? We aren’t a theocracy. And I’m not advocating compromising our beliefs. We can’t expect the government to legislate morality for us, folks. That’s the job of our conscience. But our elected leaders are made in the image of God; all of us are, Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, Libertarians. Let’s treat them with respect and be alert for their important contributions. Let’s believe the best about them. They will appear if we only look for them. Our job is to pray and to trust.