Logicians say it is impossible to hold two conflicting thoughts simultaneously. But I do when it comes to the Ten Commandments case in Alabama and the ongoing debate about the relationship between church and state.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a statement Aug. 14, challenging an order by federal U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. Thompson ordered the removal of a stone depiction of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore refused to obey the order and appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which late Wednesday (Aug. 20) rejected the appeal, allowing the order to stand.
Moore is right about the history of the country and the religious language that runs through the public pronouncements and documents of the Founders (though not all who used it believed in a personal God). He is also right when he says, "The entire justice system (of Alabama) is established in the Alabama Constitution,' .invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.'" And Moore is correct again when he says, "Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, federal courts have absolutely no power, authority or jurisdiction to tell the state of Alabama that we cannot acknowledge God as the source of our justice system."
In recent years, the federal courts - egged on by groups like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State - have regularly targeted religious expression for removal from public life. Two of the more outrageous rulings have come from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the "under God " clause in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, and the 4th Circuit Court, which ordered an end to a 20-second ecumenical dinner blessing that has been recited at Virginia Military Institute throughout its 162-year history.
The building blocks of our nation and culture are being dismantled by judges who are unaccountable to "we the people." Can a nation expect the kind of moral purpose it requires of its soldiers if they are sent into battle to defend the stock market or earthly philosophies?
I am offended many times a day by what I see on the streets, in the media and by the rulings of some courts. But I am told that in a pluralistic society I must tolerate those who hold other views. Why, then, must others not similarly accommodate my views?
The conflicting thought is that nowhere in Scripture is the secular state expected to acknowledge God. The state is an instrument of God, which Paul tells us we are to obey for our own good (Romans 13:1-5). There are verses about nations being "blessed whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12). But there is no expectation or command for the state to be an instrument in spreading God's message to humankind. That is clearly the job of those who follow Him. In fact, when the state takes upon itself the work of spreading God's message (or is asked to do so by God's followers), it often does a poor job.
Does the presence of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, or a creche on public property in December, or a cross on state property, advance or detract from the message these symbols are supposed to communicate? Will an irreligious people who worship their personal golden calves of pleasure and affluence be more likely to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) if they see such displays, or be lulled into a false security that God is somehow pleased or tolerant of the increasingly secular outlook of His creation?
If the ultimate question is how best for God's followers to interest more people in Him and His message, then the ultimate answer ought to come from internal, not external, things. Loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and caring for widows and orphans make up the "strategy" laid down by the Founding Father of the Christian faith. Could it be that too many have forsaken the harder but more effective work in favor of exterior symbols that, like crosses worn as jewelry, tell the observer nothing about one's heart?
It's a conflict, not only between church and state, but between God and man.