From the 2004 commencement speech by Congressman Jim Ryun, R-Kan., at Patrick Henry College.

There is a flow to history, and as time advances, and generations come and go, if we take the time to look behind us into the pages of history, we can see this flow. As scripture says, "That which has been is what will be; that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." If we look back in history, we can find lessons that will give us guidance for the future.

Today I speak to you as a Christian and a Republican Congressman who is honored to be serving the people of the 2nd District of Kansas. My time in Washington, DC has allowed for many wonderful opportunities, but it has also given me a chance to become intimately acquainted with the political scene in our nation's capital. Because of what I have observed, I have grown concerned over the issue that I believe will in the end, if we are not circumspect, cause the downfall of the Republican Party and ultimately the nation as well. It is the issue of moral strength, the idea of having the moral character necessary to make difficult decisions under tremendous pressure.

To give perspective to my concerns, and to speak of what I know best, I need to delve into the history of the Republican Party and why it initially came to be. To do that, we must first take one more step back into the pages of history. Almost exactly 170 years ago, the Whig Party came onto the American political scene. Initially formed in 1833 as an alliance between the Northern and border state National Republican Parties, the Whig Party was led by such political icons as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

But something happened, known as the Compromise of 1850. The fundamental issue was in regard to the admission of slavery into, or the exclusion of slavery from, the region of Texas and the western states such as California, Nevada and Utah. In the Compromise, the North and South were each given concessions. Instead of satisfying anyone, the Compromise of 1850 instead fractured the Whigs along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and in 1852, the anti-slavery faction within the Whig Party, furious at Fillmore's compromising, had enough power to deny Fillmore the party's nomination.

Out of the Whigs' ruin came the Republican Party, based on ideals, and driven by the belief that all men, black or white, are created equal. The Republican Party took the high ground on the slavery issue, and because of this, men quickly rallied around it. In the 1860 Presidential election, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President.

But I tell you this history to illustrate a point. Because of human nature, history inevitably repeats itself, and now the Republican Party finds itself facing a crisis similar to what the Whigs faced 150 years ago. Based on political pragmatism, the Whig Party signed the Compromise of 1850, taking the middle ground on a moral issue. It was a decision based solely on pragmatism, and even then, it was a poor political decision. In reality, the Compromise essentially postponed the Civil War for 10 years.

Today the Republican Party is faced with its slavery issue, and that is the issues of abortion and same sex marriage. Written into the Republican Party platform is the belief that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," that "Republicans support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."

The platform also speaks to the issue of marriage: "We support the traditional definition of 'marriage' as the legal union of one man and one woman, and we believe that federal judges and bureaucrats should not force states to recognize other living arrangements as marriages." The reason we as Republicans believe so strongly in traditional marriage is because we know that the family is the cornerstone for our civilization, and like the Founders of this great nation, we believe the home is the most important institution for instilling the values that will sustain our democratic republic. As we face the issue of defending marriage today, we must realize that if we allow traditional marriage to be destroyed by not fighting same sex marriages and civil unions, it will be the beginning of the end of the American story. But with so much at stake, the Republican Party seems to have lost its moral compass.

To clearly illustrate the dilemma, recently in the Republican Senate Primary race in Pennsylvania, the pro-choice Republican, Arlen Specter, who refuses to defend traditional marriage, faced a formidable challenge by the pro-life, pro-family candidate, Pat Toomey.

I believe the race is a microcosm of the challenges facing the Republican Party. A pro-life President and pro-life Senator, Rick Santorum, actively campaigned for Arlen Specter, aggressively pushing his re-election based on political pragmatism; principle was checked at the door. The President's reasoning was that Specter's winning of the Republican nomination for Senate would help the President win the state this fall. Santorum's reasoning was that Specter would help Republicans maintain the majority in the Senate. In both of those equations, principle and the party platform were ignored in the face of political expediency.

Like the Whigs of 150 years ago, I believe that today's Republicans are faced with a choice: Will political pragmatism win out in their decision making, or will principle? Will the party exist for party's sake and a continuation of itself for itself, or will it exist to advance the ideals it supposedly stands for?

To answer that question, we must ask ourselves, "Why does a political party exist?" If the end of good government is the enactment of good laws for the happiness of society, then it would stand to reason that political parties exist because men and women of like mind join together to pursue those ideals which they believe will lead to good government. That is the essence of a party: the ideals upon which it is based. But if a party shows the inability to be decisive in the face of moral questions, and cannot adhere to the ideals upon which it is based, I believe its days as a party are numbered. To allow pragmatism to be the guiding light will direct the Republican Party into the ash heap of history's discarded political parties.

We cannot allow politics to be our principle. In the late 1700s, a young man by the name of William Wilberforce, who though only in his twenties was considered one of the preeminent politicians in England, took up the highly controversial issue of the abolition of the slave trade. In today's climate of political expediency, if Wilberforce had had any sense, pragmatism and ambition should have deterred him: slavery was a mainstay of the British economy at the time, and it has been said by historians that had Wilberforce not taken up the slave issue, he would have been prime minister.

But the day Wilberforce first announced on the floor of the House of Commons his intent to take up the issue of abolition, he said, "Policy is not my principle and I am not ashamed to say it. There is a principle above everything that is political; and when I reflect on the command which says 'Thou shalt do no murder,' believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare set up reasonings of my own against it? And when we think of eternity and the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principle of justice, and the laws of religion and of God?"

Wilberforce was ridiculed for his stand, called a fool, a hypocrite, threatened with physical violence, yet he remained firm in his convictions. Time is too short to tell you his entire story, but after nearly twenty years of labor, Wilberforce's measure to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire passed the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and received the Royal Seal of Approval, effectively ending the slave trade in the Empire.

Wilberforce's life shows us the way in which we should go. He chose principle as his moral compass, not political pragmatism, and though it may sound ironic as Wilberforce was slight and small of stature, he stands out as a moral giant in the span of history. When he died, he was called "good among the great, and great among the good."

As I said when I began my talk, history can be our guide. As we saw by the Whigs, an inability to make the tough choices when faced with moral dilemmas will only lead into political oblivion. Like Wilberforce, our decision making should be based on what is right, not on what we think is right or what is politically expedient for the moment.

But to have the ability to make the challenging moral decisions, in the face of tremendous pressure, you must first be anchored on a firm foundation and you must have settled in your heart what you believe and why you believe it. The Bible says that God's Word is a lamp, and a light unto our feet, showing the path before us. The image is of one walking in the darkness, but who has been given a light to show the way, and so it is with God's Word. His word gives clarity in the midst of the moral darkness. But for God's Word to give light, you have to know it. I have no doubt that many of you have a daily personal time in scripture. I would challenge you, as your lives get busy and new challenges come, and time becomes a precious commodity, that your time in Scripture will not be pushed aside.

Many of you graduating today are government majors. You will, I hope, find your way into the political arena because now more than ever men and women of principle are needed if America is to remain the greatest nation on the face of the earth. But as you go out into the world, I must strongly encourage you: have your beliefs and principles intact. Do not give lip service to a principle if you do not truly believe it. Know it, believe it, and then put it into action. As George Washington Doane wrote over two hundred years ago, "The men to make a state must be honest men, who have it in their hearts as well as on their brows." Know what you believe, and decide that where your core principles are concerned, there is no compromise.

Let principle be your guide. It says in Scripture that He has shown us what to do: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. To do justice is to protect and cherish life. It is not a topic open for debate. All life from conception to the grave is a gift from God that man has no right to destroy. Marriage is a union ordained by God to promote the family and is the very bedrock of society. The essence of marriage is the joining of one man and one woman before God, not what the shifting morality of a nation might say it is.

Show courage when facing the giants of the day; there are battles yet to be fought and won over the issue of abortion, same sex marriage, and a myriad of other moral issues. Show courage in your decision making. As it has always been since the Garden of Eden, you will have placed before you many tantalizing apples in an effort to make you compromise--reject the apples of compromise.

As you take up the challenges before you, be faithful and diligent in the small things. It is in doing the small things well that we achieve greatness. And in due time, if you are faithful in the tasks given to you, you will reap a reward. Be unwavering in your convictions, and you will achieve great things. I firmly believe that the general apathy of the many here in America will allow the few, if they are determined, to quickly rise to the very upper levels of American politics. And we need men and women of character in the highest levels of our government.

It was said when Wilberforce died that "ages to come shall glory in his memory." I firmly believe that you, as part of the rising generation of Christian youth, anchored in a firm reliance in God' s word, armed and ready for the battles before you, could very well give us a reason to glory in your memory.

Go with God. Thank you.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad