A Note From David Barton
The alleged scandals surrounding the Presidency over recent weeks have again raised the question of whether character matters in a leader. For a Christian, the only answer to this question must be an emphatic “Yes! Character does matter.” Scriptural passages setting forth the characteristics of leadership for civil and for religious leaders makes it clear that sound character and a pure moral life are essential prerequisites for leadership (see Exodus 18:21; 1 Timothy 3:2-4, 7; Titus 1:6-8; Acts 6:3; and others). The reason for these requirements was identified by Jesus: bad roots will always produce bad fruits (see Matthew 7:16-20 and Luke 6:43-44). Samuel Adams expounded on this Biblical principle when he explained:
He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections. . . . [P]rivate and public vices are in reality . . . connected. . . . Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.
While many other Founders made similarly succinct declarations on the necessity of private morality in public officials (to read more of these quotes, see our book Original Intent), in recent weeks I discovered an especially interesting essay on this topic written in 1801 by Noah Webster. In that work, Webster explained why a high level of morality was necessary in the Presidency:
[A]ll history is a witness of the truth of the principle that good morals are essential to the faithful and upright discharge of public functions. The moral character of a man is an entire and indivisible thing-it cannot be pure in one part and defiled in another. A man may indeed be addicted, for a time, to one vice and not to another; but it is a solemn truth that any considerable breach in the moral sense facilitates the admission of every species of vice. The love of virtue first yields to the strongest temptation; but when the rampart [resistance] is broken down, it is rendered more accessible to every successive assailant. . . . Corruption of morals is rapid enough in any country without a bounty [an encouragement] from government. And . . . the Chief Magistrate of the United States [the President] should be the last man to accelerate its progress.
America long understood what the Bible taught: that the quality of government in any country depends more upon the quality and character of leaders than laws. Signer of the Constitution and Supreme Court Justice William Paterson was one of the many Founders who reminded citizens of this truth by citing Proverbs 29:2, that “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
For a Christian, there can be no other position: character does count, and morality-both private and public-is essential in our leaders.
The 1998 Legislative Agenda
Over the past three election cycles, a large body of conservative, pro-family members has been sent to the U. S. Congress (Rep. J. C. Watts-OK, Sen. John Ashcroft-MO, Rep. Linda Smith-WA, Sen. Sam Brownback-KS, Rep. Steve Largent-OK, and scores of others). Despite the growing numbers, there are not yet enough of these members to direct the legislative agenda in a strong pro-family direction. Even though the Republicans have a majority in the House (227-205), there are approximately 40 Republicans who rarely support pro-family or moral measures. And even when the pro-family conservative Democrats vote with the 190 or so conservative Republicans, there often still are not enough for a majority-evidenced by the failure of the Congress to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, to end funding for abortion counseling in other nations, to end funding for the Legal Services Corporation (the government-funded equivalent of the ACLU), etc.
However, it now appears that due to the efforts of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX), a change may be in store. Rep. Armey recently sent me a copy of a memo to his fellow House members which outlined his proposed legislative agenda for 1998. With his permission, I want to share with you some portions from that memo. Rep. Armey begins:
“Every so often, there are powerful currents in society that have the ability to reshape the cultural landscape. The overwhelming evidence suggests we are experiencing one such current now. There is a strong desire across America for a resurgence of basic morality and a clearer focus on the truly important things in life. . . . I believe America wants leadership on these issues, and we should be prepared to provide that leadership in this next session of Congress. . . . In short, we must recover our moral emphasis.”
Majority Leader Armey then cited several sources to support his position:
In a recent poll, . . . 71% of respondents said there is a ‘moral crisis’ in this country, but only 16% thought there was an ‘economic crisis.’ A recent Pew Research Center poll showed the ‘decline in moral values’ was by far the top concern, drawing a response three times higher than ‘economic insecurity.’ In poll after poll where open-ended questions are asked, the issues of morality and culture top all other concerns. . . .
In a recent CNN/USA Today survey, the percentage of Americans who consider
themselves ‘pro-life’ has risen from 33% to 44% in the last two years, while ‘pro-choice’ has gone from 56% to 47%.”
In a segment entitled the “Evidence of Cultural /Spiritual Resurgence,” Rep. Armey presented a number of additional revealing and compelling indicators, including the fact that:
- Annual sales of religious books are topping $1 billion.
- Over the past four years, sales of books on spirituality or religion have jumped 94%.
- The number of Bibles sold each year in America is so great that an exact count is impossible. Distributors estimate that Bibles represent about $200 million a year in sales, equal to roughly 30 million books (these figures do not include Bibles given away).
- Religious sites abound on the Internet. Religious Internet sites currently available through just one search engine, Alta Vista: Christian-338,970; Catholic-99,678; Baptist-58,350; Methodist-38,487. Christianity Online is named one of the most popular sites on Americ Online by a Forbes Magazine rating.
- A comparison of sales of Gospel/Contemporary Christian music and mainstream pop music reveals a trend toward spiritual music. . . . [L]ast year . . . [Gospel] sales . . . increased an average of 38% compared with rock, pop, urban country and rap, which have had annual growth rates of 5% or below.
- Churches around the country are seeing rapid growth. . . . First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, has grown from 200 members to over 8,500 in ten years. Willow Creek Church in Chicago has grown from 100 to over 15,000 in twenty years. Growth in church attendance is occurring in all parts of the nation.
- In 1996, six in ten Americans considered religion a “very important” part of their life. In a recent Gallup Poll, 69% say they belong to a church, and 72% of those say they are either “very active” or “moderately active” in their church.
Rep. Armey urged each member personally to stand up and be counted in the culture war:
We should use our own bully pulpits to quicken the cultural currents helping us to recover our moral emphasis. . . . We should give the virtues higher prominence in our speeches and writings. . . . [W]e should not hesitate to point out the corrupting influences in our society and put pressure on those who pursue conduct and products that debase our culture, pollute our children’s minds, and glorify the most base human activities. . . . [and exert] a concerted effort to re-stigmatize anti-social behavior.”
Rep. Armey then set forth five areas which would be targets for legislative action in 1998:
- Strengthen families. . . . It is in everyone’s interest-especially women and children-that we reduce the rate of divorce. Louisiana now offers engaged couples the option of ‘covenant marriage’ which eliminates no-fault divorce and mandates a longer separation time before divorce is allowed. Simply making it an option will spur millions of couples to think more seriously about their wedding vows. We should encourage this.
- Improve education. . . . We must reform public schools. . . . We should continue our efforts to pass education choice and education IRA’s at all levels. We must also encourage innovations at every level, shifting more power to the states and localities but giving them more freedom to respond to the desires of parents in the community. We should encourage a national debate on the issues of teacher testing, merit pay for teachers, and the abolition of tenure.
- Provide safe and secure communities. Crime must be stopped, but we must also pursue prevention. . . . In particular, we must recognize the successes of faith-based programs in drug rehabilitation and other areas. We need to address the spread of vices that are encroaching deeper and deeper into our lives. The spread of gambling, pornography (particularly on the internet) and drugs needs particular attention.
- Protect the sanctity of life. This subject goes beyond abortion, although that remains the most pressing component of it. Let’s walk through this carefully. Almost all of us-and I have great hopes for those whom this does not yet apply-want to ban partial-birth abortions. Our motive is simple: We should protect children if we can. But isn’t that the same motive most of us have for being pro-life at all? Perhaps we should say so more often. If we did, we might advance more quickly toward our goal of saving every child, helping every woman facing a problem pregnancy, and making abortion a relic of the past. . . . We must also use our influence and our leverage to limit the number of abortions overseas. And we must be prepared . . . to uphold the sanctity of life against the threat of assisted suicide and human cloning.
- Protect religious expression. At a time when most of the world is experiencing greater freedom of religion, there are places where the opposite is happening. . . . [W]e should make ending religious persecution a high priority of our foreign policy. . . . We must also be diligent here at home. We must talk about the moral basis of our government. When the Ten Commandments can’t be placed in court rooms (even though a relief of Moses adorns the House Chamber), and school children are harassed by school officials for privately practicing their faith, something is wrong. We must renew our efforts to protect religious freedom. . . . Even though we are promised religious freedom in the Bill of Rights, activist courts and regulations have encroached on those rights, and we must restore them.
In conclusion, Rep. Armey explained:
Families and individuals are bombarded daily with messages and values that run counter to their beliefs. With the entertainment industry glorifying violence, pornography, and drugs, and governments pushing lotteries and legalized gambling, and peer pressure promoting promiscuity and alcohol abuse, it’s no wonder families are concerned about morality in our culture. Our society values freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility. As leaders, we need to spur the debate to reconnect these two. . . . Through legislation, good oversight, and proper use of our bully pulpit, we can refocus on these issues.”
Act and Pray
While prayer is an essential part of the Christian faith, the Bible teaches that there are times when action is also necessary. And the reverse is also true. John Hancock was one of the many Founders who recognized the need for both prayer and action when he declared: “I [urge] you, by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that ye pray but that ye act.”
An example where both venues are needed is in the arena of abortion. Many of our political leaders recognize that this issue will not be settled just by judicial or political action but also by “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man” (James 5:16). Consequently, many of our pro-life Governors (including those in Mississippi, Louisiana, Iowa, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas) designated January as an entire month of prayer, urging their citizens to fast and pray for an end to abortion in America. Typical of the others was this proclamation from Governor Foster of Louisiana:
WHEREAS, January 22, 1998, marks the 25th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade-the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States: and
WHEREAS, legalized abortion has resulted in the deaths of more than 25 million unborn children; and
WHEREAS, abortion has been denounced throughout the history of the Christian Church; and
WHEREAS, many churches and organizations offer alternatives to abortion for women in crisis; and
WHEREAS, many citizens across the nation will mark the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade by observing 25 days of prayer and fasting to end abortion.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, M.J. “Mike” Foster, Jr. Governor of the state of Louisiana do hereby proclaim the month of January, 1998 as
Month of Prayer to End Abortion in the state of Louisiana.
Let us pray that the hearts of mothers and fathers will be turned to their children, born and unborn; that churches in Louisiana will continue to respond appropriately to those considering abortion by offering loving alternatives to women in crisis: that government officials will continue to do all possible to protect the lives of the unborn; and, that those to whom God has given the gift of healing will use their gift not to destroy lives, but to save them.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand officially and caused to be offered the Great Seal of the State of Louisiana at the Capitol in the City of Baton Rouge, on this the 10th day of October, 1997.
M. J. Foster, Governor of Louisiana
In the Illinois House of Representatives, as in other State legislatures across the nation, the daily session often begins with prayer by a local minister, or by a House member’s pastor. However, unlike other States, the Speaker of the House in Illinois required pastors to sign a pledge that they would not use certain words in their prayer. Notice these despicable requirements:
The following guidelines must be followed when delivering the daily prayer for the Illinois House of Representatives:
The House of Representatives is a body made up of 118 persons from different regions of the state and from varying backgrounds. It is a multi-religious assembly comprised of several beliefs and faiths including; Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Atheist, Methodist, Baptist, and Protestant. With this in mind, it is important that our Chaplains show courtesy to all religions. The prayer must be non-denominational. A general invocation must be given.
Prayer shall not include any philosophical and theological views.
Prayer shall not make any reference to the name of Christ. This includes references made in the Holy Trinity or in reference to the crucifixion.
This practice continued for months until a Methodist minister who was scheduled to pray, courageously raised the roof, so to speak, and not only refused to sign the pledge but publicly exposed the practice. Facing public outrage, the Speaker of the House quickly rescinded his guidelines. State Rep. Bob Biggins has introduced a resolution to permanently bar this practice, but unfortunately his resolution has not ever made it out of committee. Yet, the session is not over and there is still hope of banning the censorship of Christian prayers. It is ironic that among opponents to Christianity, the show of “tolerance” and “respect” among “religions” means that Christianity must be singled out, demoted, and silenced.
New Debates Over Old Laws
The Ten Commandments, delivered by God to man well over 3,000 years ago, has become the focus of controversy across the nation. It seems strange that the legal code which has served as the basis of civil law in the Western World for over 2,000 years should now be the center of legal controversy.
In fact, previous generations never questioned the use, display of, and reliance on the Ten Commandments, but heartily endorsed their use. For example:
If “Thou shalt not covet,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free. JOHN ADAMS
The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code . . . laws essential to the existence of men in society and most of which have been enacted by every nation which ever professed any code of laws. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
In an even broader vein, several Founders declared that not only the Ten Commandments, but that Biblical principles in general were inseparable from law and society. For example:
All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible. NOAH WEBSTER
[L]aw, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same Divine source: it is the law of God. . . . Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine. . . . Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. JAMES WILSON, SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION; U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
Numerous others echoed similarly strong sentiments (see the section on the Ten Commandments in Original Intent), and significantly, so important have been the Ten Commandments to civil society that today an individual is more likely to find a copy of the Ten Commandments hanging in a government building than in a church building!
The display of the Ten Commandments in public was never questioned until the Supreme Court ruling in Stone v. Graham that students could not even be permitted-even voluntarily-to see a display of the Ten Commandments. Since that proverbial “crack in the dike,” activist legal groups, in a systematic series of cases, have successfully challenged and caused the removal of the Ten Commandments in public locations across the nation. Although we have lost many of these cases, we have also won many.
For example, our readers will be aware of the plight of Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, who, despite a legal order, refused to removed the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. That widely publicized case has now reached a successful termination. The State Supreme Court, in a remarkable and admirable display of judicial restraint, refused to rule on anything other than those specific and narrow issues which had reached the Court. The Court then dismissed those issues as having no merit and vacated all proceedings against Judge Moore. The result is that Judge Moore is once again free to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and to permit ministers to pray over the jury pools.
A similar suit against Judge John Devine of Texas has also been dismissed.
Not only are cases now being won on the legal front, but efforts to protect displays of the Ten Commandments have progressed on other fronts as well. For example, in the U. S. Congress, Rep. Cliff Sterns (FL) has introduced H. Con. Res. 35, a very simple and succinct bill declaring:
The Ten Commandments shall be prominently posted for display in the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States.
The Indiana legislature has passed a similar resolution declaring:
Whereas, The Ten Commandments are a declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstone of a fair and just society:
Therefore, Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, the Senate concurring:
Section 1. It is the sense of the General Assembly that the public display of the Ten Commandments, including display in government offices and courthouses, should be permitted.
Also in Indiana, George Hall of the Christian Family Association of Indiana and Ohio has been successful in encouraging individual counties to pass a resolution to post the Ten Commandments in each county’s government offices building. (For more information on this work, to help support their efforts, or to find out how you can do the same in your area, contact George Hall, PO Box 261, Auburn, IN 46706, 219-927-1364.)
As you can see, there are many good things occurring across the nation, both at the federal and the State levels. Be encouraged-and stay involved!
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