My small group finally watched lesson 10 of The Truth Project, The American Experiment: Stepping Stones. In this lesson, Del Tackett claimed that Christians used biblical principles as the foundation for America’s republic and that believers today must carry on that experiment if America is to survive and succeed. I knew before watching the video that I disagree with Del Tackett’s claim that God has a divine design for government. I believe that in trying to “take America back for God” through political means, Christians have done great harm to Christianity and evangelism. Nevertheless, watching the lesson motivated me to dig deeper into God’s truths.
Religion and Morality
The video for Lesson 10 began with Dr. Tackett speaking outside the normal classroom setting. He said there were going to be three ground rules for the lesson: he would not seek to deify America, he would not try to deify the Founding Fathers, and he would not cast blame on non-Christians.
Tackett began by discussing the role that religion once played in childhood education and in well-respected higher educational institutions like Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton. He quoted Gouverneur Morris, a contributing author of the Constitution, who said that “religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.” He quoted Noah Webster: “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privilege of a free people.”
Before he spoke at length about the founding fathers, Tackett described how his own understanding of the nation’s religious and moral foundations evolved when he went to Washington, D.C. to work in the George H. W. Bush administration. He observed that there were many religious murals in the Capital rotunda. He found himself reflecting on Revelation 2:5. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
He said that he watched a reenactment of George Washington’s Farewell Address and it was then that he understood that as a child, he had been lied to about the nation’s religious history.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.George Washington
Tackett then presented quotes about religion and morality from several founding fathers or influential thinkers including John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Samuel Adams, Charles Carroll, and Patrick Henry. Several expressed the view that religion and morality are the foundation for an enduring republic and that liberty is not possible without morality.
the only foundation for…a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.Benjamin Rush
In his blog about The American Experiment, Elliot Ritzema notes that “Christianity was not the only influence in the founding of the United States, but one of many…” While Tackett demonstrated that many of the founding fathers believed that religion and morality were important for preserving liberty, he did not prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles.
In an ideal world, government would be based on a sound moral principles and all government officials would be virtuous. In reality, even our greatest heroes had feet of clay. I admire John Adams, but he was proud, hot-tempered, and envious of his peers. I admire Thomas Jefferson’s views on liberty and equality and yet he owned slaves and was very self-indulgent.
If we are to learn anything from history, it is imperative that Christians be truthful about our messy and contradictory history.
Can patriotism become idolatry? Patriotism is not a bad thing. We should be grateful for the blessings of liberty. But when patriotism combines with political ideology, it often supplants the gospel.
When this happens, debates begin to rage about caring for the poor, the sick and the immigrant, debates which would be incomprehensible in any other era of the Church. When patriotism becomes an idol, the poor can become our enemies, the alien among us can become someone to be feared and the outcast can become someone we actively seek to marginalize. When patriotism becomes an idol, the “other” whom we despise is the least of these.Zach Hunt, Relevant Magazine
Tackett pointedly said he would not deify America or the founding fathers. When he exalted America’s founding fathers for being religious and moral based on a few selected people and a few selective quotes, he engaged in the same sort of historical revisionism that he often complains about. He presented a glorified, false image.
Without providing any examples, Tackett said that there is a deep hatred of America in liberal educational institutions and that it is now in vogue to hate America. In his blog post, Elliot Ritzema quoted Tackett as he explained why he thinks there is a rise in hatred for America:
Darkness doesn’t overtake light; light overtakes darkness. Why this rise of hatred for America? Why is this historic revisionism going on? If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. If you do not have a heart for her, if you don’t have a passion for her, you can learn all you want about Christian worldview… but you won’t do diddly doo for her… If Jesus removes the lampstand, we will become a dark nation like many who have fallen before us.Del Tackett
Think about these words. If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. I would argue that if Satan can deceive people, especially Christians, about the true purpose and meaning of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can convince Christians to use the power of the sword instead of the power of the cross, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can take Christ out of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls.
In equating America to the Church in Revelations 2:5, Tackett idolizes America. While America has done many good things to help other nations, in comparing her to a light on the hill (Matthew 5:14-16), he exalts a nation that is far from righteous. Pew Research reports that only 39% of Americans are highly religious, and a small fraction of those attend church regularly or read the Bible.
Tackett also broke his own rule about casting blame on non-believers, blaming liberal educational institutions for somehow spreading hatred of America and blaming both Charles Darwin and Christopher Langdell, a Dean of Harvard Law School, for the evolution of law school teaching to a case study approach. In suggesting that anyone who criticizes America hates her, Tackett implied that America is above all criticism. This too is idolatrous.
Grief and Hope
According to Tackett, the founding fathers implemented an experimental form of government based on religion, specifically Christianity. Tackett grieves for America. “America has largely forgotten God and denied the validity of her biblically based Christian roots.” Tackett asked believers to consider how far we have fallen as a nation and to take deliberate steps to salvage it. Yes, do consider how far we have fallen. American Christians who believe that government’s role is to enforce morality overwhelmingly chose a godless, amoral man to lead this nation.
I also grieve for America but not in the same way as Tackett. I grieve not for the soul of the nation but for the souls of Americans and for Christians who have been led astray by false teachings. I grieve for those who come here thinking this country is a beacon of light only to have the door slammed shut in their faces. I grieve for Americans who will never hear the Good News because Christians have made Christianity so unappealing. I grieve because this nation is a mess of contradictions.
What did I get out of this lesson? The desire to seek a different kind of kingdom, where the King of kings and Lord of lords has the power to change people from the inside out. He will proclaim justice to the nations. In his name, the nations will put their hope. In his name, I put my hope.
Here is my servant whom I have chosen,Matthew 12:18-21
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.