Whether looking at the founding or the future of our country, faith matters. As millions of Americans rose on Easter Sunday to attend services on the most holy day in the Christian calendar, the Good News of God's love and the triumph we share in the resurrection of Jesus stands regardless of the challenges that we face every morning in our news. As believers, we believe that God has a plan, and, by His grace, God has included us in that plan.
For many of our founding fathers, America was part of God's plan--a country based on God-given rights, founded in liberty, and sustained by a free people using their gifts and resolve to live out and sustain a dream. Kirk Cameron's newest film, "Monumental," documents the price paid and the inspiring journey of faith that the Pilgrims took to find and secure religious freedom in the new world.
Certainly, some of our Founding Fathers were deists, some may not have believed at all, and not all Christian patriots would have agreed on the principles of their faith, but faith still mattered. It was clearly a force for liberty and strength for the people who fought for and shaped our republic. Our founders also knew that good government requires good, ethical people. "We the people" were not just any people; most were people grounded by their Christian faith.
John Adams claimed: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Washington’s Farewell Address affirmed the importance of faith: “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.... 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…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Benjamin Franklin proposed that the Constitutional Convention begin each day with prayer. He said to the Continental Congress in 1778: "Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness . . . it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several States to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof.”
In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America: "I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion, for who can read the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."
The Christian faith still matters in America. The number of professing believers may have declined, but it remains the dominant religious faith. Unfortunately, though there are Biblical calls for unity, we have over 2,000 different Christian denominations that often don't agree on theology or politics.
Of course, Jesus never called for unity in politics. Deciding what Jesus would think or do with government or for whom he would vote for remains a divisive subject. Jesus didn’t come to change governments in Rome, Jerusalem, or Washington. He came to change people’s lives. C.S. Lewis wrote, "He who converts his neighbor has performed the most practical Christian-political act of all." Why? Faith changes people's hearts, minds and actions.
The church through the centuries may have had a spotted history, but Christian believers have put their personal faith into action over and over again. On this Easter, as we came together as one to worship and proclaim a risen Lord, we might now want to rally around the two commandments Jesus called the most important--Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul...and your neighbor as yourself.
As we look to the future of America, may we never forget that good people make good government. Faith matters in providing a moral compass and in motivating citizens to support justice and sustain their commitment to the common good, to service, to duty and to charity.
Let me close with George Washington's benediction that he asked governors to share with their states: "I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."
No matter what your faith, I pray that you each find strength, moral guidance, and the support of a caring faith community. May together, we help keep our nation strong, compassionate, free and prosperous.