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We, the People

Applying the Bible and the Constitution after Charlottesville

We, the People

White supremacists clash with counter-demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday. (Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber)

The United States is not the new Israel, but the Charlottesville tragedy should remind us of one way Biblical and American history follow a similar pattern.

The Bible tells us of God creating Adam, and Eve out of Adam, thus choosing one first couple. Later, God chooses one family, Noah’s. Later, God chooses one people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Later, as Exodus 12 notes, a “mixed multitude” joins them, as does the Canaanite Rahab (Joshua 6) and the Moabite Ruth. In the New Testament, God chooses people from many nations, ethnicities, and He continues doing so today.

Native Americans and Hispanics lived within the current borders of the United States before white people from one nation, Britain, and one religion, nominal Anglicanism, settled Jamestown in 1607. It’s hot this August and it was hot in August 1619, when people from Africa arrived in Virginia as slaves. It was cold in December 1620, when dissenters from Anglicanism settled at Plymouth, Mass.

Soon, within God’s sovereignty, people from Holland, Germany, and other European countries arrived. Soon, within God’s sovereignty, people of other religions, including Catholics and Jews, arrived. In the 19th century, within God’s sovereignty, people from China and other Asian countries arrived, bringing with them Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.

The New Testament declares that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. The U.S. Constitution declares that in America before federal law there is neither Christian nor non-Christian. The first three words are “We, the People,” not “We, the [fill in the blank].” The 15th Amendment makes it clear that regarding the right to vote there is neither black nor white. By extension, colorblindness is the American way, although many politicians disregarded that amendment for nearly a century, and many churches were complicit in that denial.

Just as some churches did not follow Biblical principles regarding race, so the failure to follow constitutional principles is a sad part of American history.

The New Testament declares that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. The U.S. Constitution declares that in America before federal law there is neither Christian nor non-Christian.

My favorite name for a think tank is the Center of the American Experiment, based in Minneapolis. The experiment, it seems to me, is whether our classic motto, “e pluribus unum,” can work. In almost every place at almost every time people have thought e pluribus impossible. A country had to be of one religion and one ethnic group. But the United States has regularly extended the “We.”

The big 19th-century experiment was whether the “We” could include different religions. The United States was almost entirely Protestant until millions of Catholic immigrants arrived from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and other countries. Later in the century, millions of Jews arrived from Eastern Europe. Some ugly nativist groups sprung up, but by the end of the century the consensus was clear: “We” could include Catholics and Jews, and soon a smattering of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims as well.

The big 20th-century experiment was whether the “We” could include different racial and ethnic groups. The Civil War hadn’t settled that, since African-Americans largely moved from slavery to sharecropping, which did not leave many much better off. The civil rights movement brought great victories in the 1950s and 1960s, with some churches standing up for Biblical and American principles and some in opposition.

By the end of the 20th century, although big problems remained, the consensus was clear: “We, the People,” includes African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and others. The battle of the 21st century is whether unborn children and other powerless humans are part of “We.” We should be emphasizing their needs, but the white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va.—and ensuing violence—have sidetracked that. Some, even some who call themselves Christians, want to shrink the Bible and the Constitution by mandating racial and ethnic preferences—but their god and their constitution are too small.

The president of the United States is not just an executive. He’s also a presider over and protector of the American experiment. He should advocate constitutional understandings and vigorously call out racists, particularly those who use violence to frighten opponents. Pastors are protectors of the sheep God has given them. They should proclaim Biblical understandings and vigorously criticize racism. And, realizing that we are like sheep, the rest of us should not be content with bleating. We should pray for Biblical peace and justice, and help by welcoming other children of God into our families and churches.

Comments

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Wed, 08/16/2017 11:11 pm

    It's really remarkable that this even needs to be said.  You'd think facts like this would be self-evident by this point.

    EDIT: Read this on Monday and thought, "Well, he *has* called them out now, but they must've written this before that."  Just as well, as it turns out.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Mon, 08/14/2017 07:23 pm

    Excellent, Mr. Olasky!  Godly people should indeed shun racism, and teach against racism from the pulpit. I was really encouraged a couple of years ago when Pastor Ronnie Floyd, at that time President of the Southern Baptist Convention, emphatically said much the same thing. I believe it is quite a deliberate misrepresentation that so many on the left wish to say "Christians are racist."

    But I also wish to point out, in regards to events like Charlottesville, there is a great misrepresentation by the left and the "mainstream" media, that all of the counterdemonstrators were there to espouse tolerance. There is a huge gulf between the traditional definition of "tolerance" and the definition that is intended by the left, much of the media, and even many so-called moderates. 

    Their "tolerance" in many cases absolutely does not extend to those of us who believe in traditional marriage,  chastity outside of marriage, the sanctity of life, even the necessity for sinful Man to accept Christ as Mediator between ourselves and our Creator. 

    I do not think we do any disservice by reminding the world of this hypocrisy of the left. 

  • careyrowland
    Posted: Mon, 08/14/2017 07:28 pm

    Amen.

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Mon, 08/14/2017 07:38 pm

    This is an extraordinarily good column!

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Mon, 08/14/2017 10:19 pm

    Christians need not be anxious about being called racist; just consider the source(s). Too often we accept the label or become defensive when attacked. Christians are the last ones to claim sinlessness but that shouldn't lead us to faint in claiming God's grace and power through Christ (either for ourselves or those who attack us).

  • E Cole
    Posted: Mon, 08/14/2017 11:49 pm

    Thank you for a thoughtful and well-written article. It has been very disturbing to hear Christians who can’t condemn racism without a lot of “well, but…” statements that try to deny or justify the hate of the alt-right.  That prevarication is what enables members of white supremacy groups to get away with posing as Christians.

  • TIM YATES
    Posted: Tue, 08/15/2017 04:55 am

    I think this article does point out some valuable comparisons with anti-discrimination parallels in Christianity and in American constitutional law and the Bill of Rights. However, further nuancing would be helpful.

    First, I believe it is better to agree with Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis literature that according to the Bible, there is only one human race, and all human variants are ethnic, religious, national, international, socio-political, etc., not racial differences. Current dictionary use and media dialog uses "racial" differences and "racism" as its common language, but biblical truth should lead us to resist that label. Evolutional theory believes there are different races, some more evolved and superior to other races. 

    Second, the Biblical ethics verses, cited by Olasky "that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek," forbid intra-church fellowship discrimination based on national, ethnic OR religious background identity prior to faith-union and Spirit-communion with Christ (Gal 3:27-29; see Paul's rebuke of Peter and the Jewish believers from Jerusalem discriminating against the Gentile believers in Antioch 2:10-14). In other words, no matter what any person's former national, ethnic or religious background before being drawn to faith in Christ, now that he or she is in Christ through faith and has received the Spirit as proof of that union/inclusion into the promise of Abraham (Gal 3:1-5, 14), each person so included by God in his household should accept and welcome to the communion table all those who have so received and share in that same Spirit, because God's gift of the Spirit to us is his sign of welcome to inclusion in the body of Christ (Acts 15:8-11; Rom 15:7). For a good book on how the sovereign Gospel of salvation levels prejudicial ethnic pride within the church, see John Piper's Bloodlines: Race, the Cross and the Christian. 

    Third, biblical ethics does teach believers to do intra/inter-church faith content & ethics "discrimination" (I use the term to provoke comparison, but I'm not using it in the typical negative connotation of the word): we are to conduct church discipline against  false beliefs and life-style choices that oppose the Ten Commandments among the professed members WITHIN our Spirit-united fellowships, to preserve the unity of the true faith (Eph 4:11-16; 1-2 Timothy; Gal 4:29-5:4; 1:6-9; 2 John 1:9-11) and the holiness of God's people, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14; 1 Cor 5:1-6:20; 11:27-30). Those who refuse to repent after several levels of admonition, are to be "cast out," or excommunicated from the communion table of the Lord's Supper and from the rights and privileges of membership (voting for officers of the church, having church leadership roles) by the decision of the godly, nominated, elected-appointed representative elder-leaders entrusted to guard the flock (Gal 4:30; Matt 18:15-20; Acts 20:28-32; Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5-9). But again note that the biblically endorsed "discrimination" is based on comparison between rudimentary biblical confession of faith (such as Romans 10:9-10; 1 Tim 3:16; the Apostles Creed) and Ten Commandment ethics and the individual's stubborn resistance to correction. This  comparison, in its final stage, should be determined by the examining body with greatest authority in the church (usually elders), who, after several admonitions and providing correct instruction, excommunicate the individual who refuses to confess true faith and/or live according to a biblical code of ethics. And this separation from communion and membership is intended to signify spiritual realities, that God holds this same view of the unrepentant stubborn sinner (Matt 18:18). The discipline of the church is primarily spiritual, as its form of "discrimination," since the church carries the power of the keys of the kingdom (Matt 18:18). 

    Fourth, we should note that all American laws limit some human freedoms and punish or imprison any group of people who seek to resist or violate those laws. We could play with existing vocabulary and propose calling this a form of social "segregation", or legal "discrimination" (not based on ethnic origin or religious background, but on rebellion against American legal ethics) such that any groups or individuals resisting and breaking the ethics of American law would not be accepted into the American experiment, but restricted, fined, imprisoned, executed or deported. These forms of segregation and discrimination are physical, since the government carries the power of the sword (Rom 13:3-4). In that sense, "We, the people" consent to be governed by those laws as a nation or we likely will face segregating, discriminatory consequences. Any large scale immigration that came to this country in the past generally accepted those laws as offering better freedom and rights than the countries they came from, or they might have soon experienced some forms of social rejection and legal punishments. The American experiment was not only whether homeland Americans would accept immigrants from diverse ethnic, national or religious groups, but whether those emigrating groups would accept the existing national diverse-unity under the existing laws or attempt to destabilize that diverse-unity.   

    Fifth, biblical ethics also give us general guidelines about how Christians should engage the non-Christian socio-political realm and live in a country where we have laws and a Bill of Rights. We do not endorse hatred or discrimination against any person, but pray for our all neighbors of various ethnic, cultural, national, international, religious, sexual orientations and our leaders while we seek to live peaceably, without dissention (1 Tim 2:1-2). We demonstrate physical mercy to all people in need (Gal 6:9-10; medical, emergency, provision for physical life and sustenance) by various jobs (paid or volunteer) and by donations to organizations offering such help to all peoples. We sell products or do labor for people of diverse religious, ethnic or sexual orientations. We will exemplify good citizenship by protecting the rule of law and the right of government to tax, human life in all stages of life from conception to death from unjust forms of murder or deprivation of life, marriage, private property and reputations among our neighbors (5th-9th commandments, see Westminster Larger Catechism in various free online versions for a nice explanation of the duties and prohibitions of each commandment, and Q&A 99 for principles for interpreting and applying the Ten Commandments). Where laws, judicial rulings and accepted social freedoms impinge on our conscience to obey these commandments, (Christians might call these bad laws), we will seek to persuade individuals to change their views (biblical apologetics, evangelism), influence legal means of change (right of assembly and protest, voting, instructing the civil rulers on the biblical meaning of rewarding good and punishing evil, seeking legal representation in courts of law), or refuse to obey and prepare for persecution in various ways. Thus the current media hot spots of Christian ethical conflict with the society at large are abortion, abortifacient contraception (vs. 6th commandment), and gay marriage (vs. 7th commandment). Further, Christian ethics would distinguish between a non-Christian society allowing others to break these commandments (in this we seek to persuade about truth and prevent evil according to our positions of authority) and requiring Christians to directly participate in, or endorse the breaking of these commandments by creative or artistic services (forcing wedding officiants and cake bakers, photographers to participate in gay wedding; in this, we refuse, seek legal freedom of religion/conscience protections, if possible, and prepare for persecution). Even more removed, but a valid ethical consideration, is the option of boycotting products or companies that promote unethical activities, though it is nearly impossible to be consistent in these choices, or we would need to leave the world to keep our sense of purity. Essentially Christians only seek to enforce biblical ethics and separation from violators within places of their own specifically designated Christian assemblies: family, business, para-church organizations and schools and the organized church. If the society's laws permit violations of biblical ethics, we generally attempt persuasion and legal forms of law modification. In some cases, we may see no other alternative than to give the society up to its lusts and unbelief, a modern application of the "wiping the dust off our feet" against those who reject our witness (Matt 10:14-15), in reflection of God's wrath giving men up to their various lusts (Gentile lawlessness Rom 1:18-32; Jewish legalism Rom 2:1-27). 

    Sixth, Christians need wise, reasoned, thoughtful debate on socio-political issues from a biblical perspective more than we need plaques mounted on statues or sound-bytes from the latest 24 hours "breaking" news clip or Facebook like or Twitter post. Thankfully, World magazine has continued to contribute these needed wise and reasoned biblical perspectives. We need discernment about what forms of social influence may be the best use of our time and talents. Not all public assembly for protest is either wise or useful, since the agenda can be easily hijacked by immature, contentious people giving provocations to anger and violence. How do we recognize the contribution of a personally godly statesman like General Robert E. Lee, who stood for the right of states to secede from the union in American history, but also acknowledge that he accepted the wide spread southern institution of slavery that did irreparable harm to blacks and prevented the enactment of the Bill of Rights for all people's living in those United States?  What do we do with General Lee's long southern-honored statue in a public place representing his contribution, while publicly noting the evils of slavery he was willing to defend by war? (personally, I think it wiser to add other offsetting statues representing social and legal corrections than to remove a long honored one) How do we engage in reasonable public dialog to resist those who would co-opt Lee as a figurehead for modern white supremacist's prejudices? OR How do we present a more fairly balanced picture of Abraham Lincoln, and the monument of honor given to him in Washington DC, who freed slaves by a terrible civil war that devastated the South? Though Lincoln was not alive to bear responsibility for it, (who can predict the future effects of endorsing such a large-scale upheaval as civil war to preserve the union and free slaves?) his assassination just after the defeat of the Southern States led quickly to a new type of economic re-enslavement of blacks by southern share-cropping and segregation laws for another 100 years, and paved the way for federal encroachment on States rights ever since. Not all political issues have simple Republican or Democrat answers, such as immigration: illegals, less skilled manual labor needs on massive farms at harvest time, how to handle children born to illegal immigrants, which country's immigrants are most likely to contribute to the thriving of the American experiment, or the threat of terrorist infiltration by enemies of our country. By no means a final answer to these complex issues, but for a useful introduction to developing a biblical perspective on some of these issues, see Wayne Grudem, Politics-According to the Bible.     

    In sum, American society is not equivalent to the assembly of God's people, thus different principles apply to peaceable tolerance and godly separation. "We, the people" mean rather different things when referring to the American experiment or referring to the assembly of God's people, until the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and Christ (Rev 11:15).   

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Tue, 08/15/2017 02:26 am

    Wow. Mr. Olasky's article was quite good, and this "comment"  by Anonymous (really more like an entire article in and of itself) was also quite good. I have been edified. Thank you both.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Fri, 08/18/2017 12:26 am

    This comment is a touch lengthy.

  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Tue, 08/15/2017 01:16 am

    Thank you, Mr. Olasky.  Articles such as this are the reason we subscribe to World.

  • PATRICIA RUIZ
    Posted: Tue, 08/15/2017 11:10 am

    While it's true that Godly people should shun racism, what is the best way to confront racism among the ungodly.  Do we really think the confronting them on the public square will change anything?  A protest and counter-protest at the same site seems to be and was a recipe for disaster.  There should be a better way, and maybe it is "love your enemies...."

  • Jeff's picture
    Jeff
    Posted: Sat, 08/26/2017 06:14 pm

    The more perfect union established by We the People has its foundation in the Creator. And to which Creator does this refer? You must fill in the blank if you are to understand why the USA can be e pluribus unum.