Some reporter should have asked today's Alabama protesters how many of the Commandments they could recite. Probably not many. The protesters say American law is based on the Commandments. A reporter should have asked, "All of them?" There are only two commandments that relate to secular law (not counting the one about adultery, for which you cannot legally be deprived of life or liberty, property being a matter for divorce courts). One prohibits murder, the other outlaws stealing. The rest are about relationships between God and man and between humans. Do the protesters want laws that force people to honor their mothers and fathers, or not "covet" their neighbor's property, or "honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy," or worship only their God? Isn't state religion what we're fighting against in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Another question a biblically literate reporter might have asked is, "Why are you proclaiming the Ten Commandments when you believe no one can live up to all of them?"
The street theater in Alabama was really less about the Commandments than about fund-raising and the continued public visibility of certain organizations. Conservatives worry that their contributors will think all is well with George W. Bush in the White House and people might stop sending them money. So, they create new controversies and send out alarmist direct-mail solicitations to help them fight the spread of "godlessness." It is phony and it is injurious to the greater and more life-changing (to say nothing of culture-changing) message Christians are called to proclaim.
In the old AP story, Sen. Harold Hughes (D-Iowa), who was preparing to leave the Senate and become a lay Christian worker, said, "There is a great need to repent, to seek God's guidance. We have come to rely more on bitterness and hatred than on love for our fellow man .."
Hughes, who had fought and won battles against alcohol and depression, realized after a successful political career that government has the lesser power. He once told me: "I'm not leaving the political structure because of a lack of faith in the political system. I'm leaving because of faith in a greater system."
In spending moral capital on symbols like the Ten Commandments, the Alabama protesters settle for a lesser power and squander the life-changing power that is uniquely theirs to proclaim.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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