Some Christians, based upon a misunderstanding of history and Christian social philosophy, call for a return to a “Christian America” that they imagine existed in the past. For them, the only solution to the moral and cultural disintegration they see taking place is the imposition of quasi Christian theocracy based on the legal codes of the Old Testament. While there is no question that historically America has been uniquely influenced by the Christian faith (and to a certain degree those same legal codes); nevertheless, America has never been a “Christian nation” in the legal sense of that term.
That said, many in America now live in two distinct realms, church and state, wherein contemporary society strives to create a definitive line of demarcation between the orbits of the church and of the state. The political government being concerned primarily with the affairs of the existential world, and churches primarily committed to the realm of the spirit. However, if they’re both functioning properly in a healthy society, they should respectfully intersect whenever and wherever there are issues of right and wrong, issues about the nature of man, what his place is in the scheme of things and what is his destiny, as evidenced by the teachings of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. In this sense, both the state and the church have their place in these types decisions; and, the precise demarcation of their respective spheres of influence cannot be as clearly defined.
So, while the separation of the powers of the churches and of the state is essential to the right relationship between them, the negative rule is not the principal of their right relationship. Church and state need to be autonomous and secure. But they must also meet on issues inherent in a viable public philosophy, as intended by our Founders.
This intersection is notably exemplified by the sentiments expressed in Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation issued not long after the Battle of Gettysburg in the midst of the Civil War:
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
Another more recent, but equally poignant example, is Franklin Roosevelt’s famous D-Day Prayer:
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
“The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution may be the cornerstones of our form of government, but they, in turn, owe a great deal to the principles expressed in some of our earliest political writings.”ANONYMOUS
“The best of our traditions provide the additional knowledge that things which have had a good reputation over the course of time are more trustworthy than untried and untested theories.”Larry P Arnn
“Put another way, most of the documents at the center of American political theory – and the values, concerns, and preferences they embody – emerge out of the experiences and circumstances of the American people at different times and places. As such, these documents are integral to coherently explicating the American political tradition; indeed, they constitute its essence.”George W Carey
“America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”Alexis de Tocqueville
“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”Ronald Reagan, Epitaph