Politics and the Church – God, Jesus, the Church, Religion & Society [Part 13]

For the next three weeks I will concentrate on politics and the interface with the Bible and religion during the foundation years of this nation.

From the seventeenth until the early twentieth centuries, state legislative sessions often began with the civil leaders gathering in a joint assembly with religious leaders from across the state and having a minister address the lawmakers in what was called the annual “Election Sermon”.  The clergy were generally consulted by the civil authorities and n! ot infrequently the suggestions from the pulpit, on election days and other special occasions, were enacted into laws [“The Pulpit of the American Revolution: Or the Political Sermons of the Period”, Boston; Gould and Lincoln, 1860, xxii-xxiii].

In the judicial branch hundreds of court rulings can be invoked to demonstrate that the influence of Christianity and the Bible was keenly felt. If a defendant was sentenced to death by a jury, it was common for the judge, whether at the federal or state level, to deliver a salvation message to the defendant in the courtroom [The Trial of Samuel Tulley and John Dalton, on…Piracy, ..January 21, 1812…Circuit Court of the United States at Boston…Judge Story…; Boston 1814; The Slave Trade; sentence of Capt. Gordon, New York Times, December 2, 1861;  “Sentence of Horn, the Murderer”, The Boston Globe, December 6, 1843;  plus many more]

The political rhetoric of our national leaders was abundantly populated with scriptural quotations.  In Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, he quoted directly from eight different Bible phrases [ During a speech given March 23, 1775…Deut 32:4, 2 Chron 32:8, Josh 24:15, Psalm 75:7, Eccl 9:11, Jer 6:14, 8:11, 50:22, Dan 4:17, Matt 20:6 and 2 Thes 1:6…Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, James Webster, 1817, pg. 123].  In Benjamin Franklin’s (remember he was the least religious) address to the Constitutional Convention, he quoted eight different Bible phrases in only nine sentences [ Speech on June 28, 1787…Gen 11:1-9, Deut 28:37, 2 Chron 7:20, 1 Kings 9:7, Job 12:25, Psalm 44:14, 75:7, 127! :1, Dan 4:17, Matt 10:29, Luke 12:6, and James 1:5,17].  In a letter from George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette he quoted seven different verses in only four sentences [Letter dated July 25, 1785…Gen 1:28, Exod 3:8, 12:25, Deut 24:14, Is 40:3, Matt 11:28, 22:38].  And in a letter from Washington to a Hebrew congregation, in only two sentences he quoted nine Bible phrases [Congregation of Newport, RI of August 18, 1790…Deut 12:10, 1 Kings 4:25, Psalm 119:105, Prov 4:18, Eccl 3:11, Isa 35:10, Mic 4:4, Acts 13:26, 2 Cor 1:3, Eph 4:1].

When modern political scientists examined 15,000 representative Founding Era writings from the realms of politics, government, journalism, sermons, literature and education, they found that the single most cited source throughout those diverse works was the Bible, with 34% of the quotes taken from the Bible.  [“American Political Science Review 78”, no.1 (March 1894)pgs.191-193;  “The Origins of American Constitutionalism”, Louisiana State University Press, 1988, pgs. 141-142].

The values and beliefs of the much more Biblically informed culture of previous generations stand in stark contrast to those of today’s largely Biblically illiterate culture.  One obvious difference is their widespread and publicly expressed conviction that God hated sin and that it was therefore the duty of all citizens to flee wickedness and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  During the American Revolution, Congress publicly called on Americans to “confess and bewail their manifold sins and transgressions and by sincere repentance and amendment of life …obtain His pardon and forgiveness” [ Journals of Continental Congress 1774-1789, vol. 4, 1906, pg 209].  Such public calls to recognize God, forsake sin, and pursue personal holiness were such a regular emphasis in early America that by 1815, some 1,020 calls to public days of humiliation, fasting, and repentance had been issued – 792 by government bodies and leaders, with an additional 238 by church leaders [ The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, Boston, 1895, pgs. 464-514; John Hancock call for a day of prayer 15 April 1775; Jonathan Trumbull, governor of Conn., call for day of prayer 9 March 1774; Massachusetts Council call for day of prayer, 5 April 1777; John Langdon, governor of New Hampshire, call for day of fasting, 21 Feb 1786; Samuel Adams, governor of Massachusetts, call for day of prayer, 28 Feb 1795; John Adams, president of the US, call for day of prayer and fasting, 23 March 1798; plus many more].

Next week we will look at our Founders’ beliefs in the values of responsibility toward God.

– Bob Munsey

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