The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in the history of the United States. Writing and signing the Declaration of Independence took courage and was an important step in the founding of our Government.
One of the most recognized passages from the Declaration is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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 inspiring words of the Declaration were revolutionary then and remain so today. A topic of debate that often comes up is the Founding Fathers' view on religion and whether our country was founded on Christian morals. Scholars trained in research universities have generally argued that the majority of the Founders were religious rationalists or Unitarians. Pastors and other writers who identify as Evangelicals often claim not only that most of the Founders held orthodox beliefs but also that some were born-again Christians.
The Bible influenced the founding fathers in many ways and left its mark on political culture. Here are four Bible verses that shaped our country’s foundation.
The founders were drawn to texts like Leviticus 26 which lay out the covenant relationship between the children of Israel and God. This could be because they thought there was something to be learned from this in the development of a new nation. Leviticus 26 has three major divisions, the first being a description of the blessings which God will pour out on His people for keeping His covenant. The next, a description of the consequences of disobedience of the Mosaic covenant. Lastly, there is the concluding section in which God reassures His people of His unfailing love.
Doctor Benjamin Rush was a physician, social reformers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rush was respected by the leading political figures of the day. In a conversation about the “perfectibility of man” and religion’s role in making “men and nations happy,” both Rush and John Adams lamented the moral decay they witnessed in the world around them. “By renouncing the Bible,” Rush said, “philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral Subjects. . . . It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published. It contains a faithful representation of all its follies, Vices & Crimes.” He then concluded: “All Systems of Religion, morals, and Government not founded upon it, must perish, and how consoling the tho[ugh]t! — it will not only survive the wreck of those Systems, but the World itself. ‘The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).’”
Adams replied, “The Bible contains the most profound Philosophy, the most perfect Morality, and the most refined Policy, that ever was conceived upon Earth. It is the most Republican Book in the World, and therefore I will still revere it. . . . Without national morality, a Republican Government cannot be maintained.”
The Book of Deuteronomy
Daniel Dreisbach, professor at American University, School of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, the book of Deuteronomy alone was the most frequently cited work, followed by Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws in America’s founding. In fact, Deuteronomy was referenced nearly twice as often as John Locke’s writings, and the apostle Paul was mentioned about as frequently as Montesquieu and Blackstone, who would have been the most-cited secular theorists. Dreisbach believes that one of the reasons Deuteronomy looms so large in this literature is because it is in a sense a digest of the books of Moses. From history, we know that the books of Moses had a tremendous influence on colonists, going all the way back to the Pilgrims and the Puritans. The verses in Deuteronomy is Scripture that Americans would be familiar with.
America’s Founding Fathers were drawn to tests that spoke to liberty, such as Galatians 5:1 which says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” According to Dreisbach, this was a very attractive text to Americans of the founding era. To Founding Fathers often spoke and wrote openly on liberty and freedom – how to keep it strong, how liberty could be taken away, how freedoms could be lost. Benjamin Franklin said, “We have all one common cause; let it, therefore, be our onluy contest, who shall most contribute to the security of the liberties of America.” Thomas Jefferson also said, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.” What the Patriots voiced over 240 years ago is just as valid today.
As Christians, we are called to put on the “whole armor of God,” and contend “against the principalities, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:11-12). We can’t simply step aside. We owe our neighbors, Christian or not, a faithful witness to the truth, even if it provokes controversy. We follow a Lord who said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). This is all true! But the armor of God includes “the equipment of the Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Christians are called not to win debates and elections but to build a civilization of love, which is not an easy task, especially in our nation today, but a necessary one. There is no greater One we can turn to if we want to reflect love than God because He is love.
There is no denying that Christianity has been unseated as America’s moral center and that we’ve paid a terrible price for it. Despite this, a Christian society is not only possible, but also desirable and we have the power to change this. In order for a Christianity society to be possible, it requires a restoration of Christian values in the private and public sphere. We must ask ourselves: to what is God calling each of us? How well are we responding to His call?
It also requires us to make an important decision: Will we seek to live in accord with the idea of a Christian society, or will we accept the instruction of a pagan society? We should not underestimate the dangers we face. In this time and in this place, a relatively small number of Christians can inspire and reinvigorate the public imaginations of the disoriented majority. We can renew our society by restoring our voices as Christian citizens. We have an active God, and we are called to show His love actively to those around us as we go out as Disciples of Christ. When light stands next to darkness, light always wins. While we may live in dark times, we have hope, because God, who is the Light, always wins.