There is a movement gathering momentum in America to take the traditional concept of God out of our national life. If this movement succeeds, "In God We Trust" will be taken from our coins, the Bible will be removed from our courtrooms, future Presidents will be sworn into office with their hand on a copy of the Constitution instead of the Bible, and chaplains will be removed from the Armed Forces.
The issue of prayers in public schools is now before the Supreme Court and, if the Court decrees negatively, another victory will be gained by those forces which conspire to remove faith in God from the public conscience.
Those who are trying to remove God from our culture are rewriting history and distorting the truth. But those who advocate drastic change in our traditional faith are only a tiny minority. Most Americans not only believe in God themselves but want their leaders to have faith in God.
Guizot, the French historian, once asked James Russell Lowell, "How long do you think that the American republic will endure?" Lowell replied, "So long as the ideas of its founding fathers continue to be dominant."
It would be impossible to understand the system upon which this nation was founded without understanding the religious faith, fervor and zeal of those early Americans. It is no accident that the President of the United States takes his oath upon the Bible; it is no fluke of history that "In God We Trust" appears upon our coins and paper money. The motto was first used in 1864, at the order of Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, who asked that a phrase be found that would indicate the direction of God in the affairs of American life.
It is true that our forefathers meant this nation to be free from religious domination. The men who built American were primarily victims of oppression. They felt that the terrors of the wilderness were as nothing to that of government oppression of religious faith.
But the founding fathers, in their determination to have freedom "of" religion, never meant to have freedom "from" religion. Separation of church and state in no way implies separation of religion and state affairs. They are spiritually inseparable.
These ideals were written into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and into the constitutions of the several states. The Preamble of our national Constitution speaks of "the blessings of liberty." The men at Philadelphia could never written that document if they had not had faith in God.
"I have lived a long time", Franklin told the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, "and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. 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 it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed no better in this political building than the builders of Babel."
The tremendous prosperity, power and blessing which America has enjoyed through the years came because we as a nation have honored God. It is, I believe, a direct fulfillment of the promise, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."
Abraham Lincoln said during the Civil War, "I have so many evidences of God's direction that I cannot doubt His power comes from above." This was the faith of our fathers. The Great Seal of the United States is our complete acknowledgment that we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Our national emblems, testify to the fact that we are a people "under God." A Bible-reading shepherd in the desert of Mesopotamia who had never heard of the United States would say on seeing our national emblems, "Surely these are God's people."
American democracy rests on the belief in the reality of God and His respect for the individual. Ours is a freedom under law, but it is also a freedom that will evaporate if the religious foundations upon which it has been built are taken away. I'm not sure that atheists and agnostics would be quite so zealous to preserve the Bill of Rights or the writ of habeas corpus or the two- party system or the right to trial by jury or the legal innocence of a man before he is proved guilty.
A dictator convinced that destiny lies in his own hands is bound to be proud, ruthless and ultimately destructive. If a political leader fears God and believes that God is in control of the universe, that certain moral laws are operating, then his faith will be reflected in this conduct. Our beliefs make us what we are. This faith in God is the source of our liberty.
The kind of moral conduct American life has historically demanded has grown on a religious soil which recognizes the moral laws of God. The morality of justice, the claims of honesty, the regard for and respect of the rights of others have grown on Judeo-Christian soil.
For a generation we have been emphasizing material things. We have been "living it up," reaching for that extra status symbol, milking an affluent society for all we can get. Now we are discovering what Haggai, the prophet, wrote: "Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes,...Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it."
When Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French student of democracy, returned to France after a visit to American, he said to his peers, "Sirs, I went at your bidding. I ascended their mountains. I went down into their valleys. I visited their commercial markets and their emporiums of trade. I entered their legislative halls and their judicial courts. I searched everywhere in vain until I entered a church. It was there, sirs, as I listened to the soul-elevating and soul-equalizing gospel as it fell from sabbath to sabbath upon the waiting multitudes, that I learned why America is great and free."
Again and again the destiny of nations has been determined by acts of God. Yes, American political leaders owe it to our history, owe it to the people, owe it to a possible solution to the present crisis to have faith in God.
I'm not advocating that faith in God is necessary merely for the holding of public office. I believe every American should have faith in God. This should be a deep, personal faith. Christ said, "Ye must be born again." We all must have this transforming experience if we are to enter God's kingdom and produce the type of society that our forefathers fought and prayed for. In a democracy, the office holder is only as strong as the people who support him.
Jesus continually condemned the Pharisees of His day who served God with their lips when their hearts were far from Him. Acknowledgment of a belief in God will not turn an officeholder into a saint. There have been plenty of rascals who nodded to the Almighty. Yet there is a restraining influence in belief in God. Belief in God makes men more likely to be truthful under oath. America cannot afford to lose this kind of genuine faith.
As I travel throughout the country, I find that people are suffering from neurosis of fear. A leading psychiatrist told me recently, "Seventy percent of the people that come into my office are afraid, and they don't know what they are afraid of. There is a jaded, banal, and empty feeling on the part of millions. People are searching for a creed to believe, a song to sing and a flag to follow."
It is clear and evident that American needs a renewal of faith in God. But this renewal will have to start with the individual. The Bible teaches that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We must confess our spiritual failure. There must be deep, genuine repentance. In our faith we must turn to Christ, Who died for our sins and arose again for our justification. If we are humble enough to make this deep and honest confession and commitment, God will forgive our sins and lead us to greater national heights.
In my travels around the world I am convinced that people everywhere are looking to America for moral leadership. Moses was able to lead a nation of slaves to freedom because he had a faith in God. We cannot survive the present crisis with anything less. Faith is not something we stumble upon by accident. It is the projection of reason beyond the limits of present knowledge.
When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, he unwittingly outlined prophetically the course of history. For the Bible became not only the book of the English people of his day; it became the foundation of freedom for a nation unborn that would be called America.