Public Square & Theology 101

Why America’s Freedom Depends on the Morality of America’s People

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In an often-told story, Benjamin Franklin, upon exiting the 1787 Constitutional Convention, was asked what sort of government the delegates had created. “A republic, if you can keep it,” quipped Franklin.

It is widely believed that the founding fathers recognized religion and morality were needed to form the foundation upon which this new republic would rest. For example, President George Washington said in his 1796 farewell address:

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 of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, prophetically wrote in 1798:

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 religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

Fast-forward two hundred years and it seems that the founding fathers’ worst fears have been realized. We live in a time where society appears “unbridled by morality and religion.” Can we keep our republic and the freedoms we so enjoy?

Keeping Our Republic

Jason Glas, in an essay entitled The Gospel, Human Flourishing, and the Foundation of Social Order, suggests that we can “keep it,” but only if we as Christians reestablish four specific pillars of truth within the public conscience—pillars that allowed us to enjoy success and freedom. Glas writes:

The shift in moral climate does affect freedom in all forms. Evangelicals must not compartmentalize church, state, and economy into independent spheres but understand that religious freedom, specifically Christianity, is foundational and concomitant to social, political, and economic freedom.

And ultimately,

…The moral, religious, and philosophical climate of a populace shapes political, civic, and economic conditions of a nation.

Glas’s essay first seeks to identify the truths that must be acknowledged broadly for our country to continue to enjoy freedom and success. Second, he urges Christians to broaden their perspective on the gospel, which should shape everything we do to glorify God and benefit the common good.

Four Essential Truths

Glas argues the following biblical core convictions are necessary for freedom:

1. Humans Are Valuable Because We Are Made in God’s Image

Even from a casual reading of Genesis 1, it is clear that God’s original intent was to create mankind in a certain way to fulfill a certain purpose. What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

We were made to be relational beings who have the ability to reason, understand the difference between right and wrong, and creatively solve problems. Being made in the image of God means we can operate in our own self-interest, with purpose, making decisions to improve our situations—all of which move us toward our biblically stated goals to glorify God and serve the common good.

2. Although Humans Bear God’s Image, We Are Broken, Sinful

We are made in God’s image, but because of man’s fall from grace we are broken images, and the brokenness extends throughout creation. Orestes Brownson observed the doctrine of the “fall asserted by Christian theology…is a fact too sadly confirmed by individual experience and universal history.”

Throughout history, examples of socialist and utopian ideologies have mistakenly denied man’s fallen nature with dire results. Yet, the framers of our constitution seemed keenly aware of this when they developed our current system of government, which has become the envy of the world.

3. Humans Must Acknowledge the Reality of Things Seen and Unseen

Historically, Glas suggests we have rejected the first two truths: inherent human dignity as image bearers of God and inherent human wickedness, which has invited anti-theism and secularism. Many today also reject Christian theology that encompasses creation, man’s fall, God’s sovereign power over creation, and judgment.

Glas argues this rejection has morphed us into a “consumerist, entertaining, and virtual world with no moral or transcendent vision.”

A Christian worldview must inform how we see and engage with the world. All other worldviews lead us in directions that ultimately chip away at our core freedoms.

4. Marriage and Family Are Foundational in a Free Society

“The redefinition of marriage and family is the poster child of human wickedness and social decline,” writes Glas. These are strong words, yet many outside the church would agree that the traditional view of marriage and the family have been a cornerstone of Western civilization for millennia.

For example, Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite, authors of The Case for Marriage, argue societies benefit from strong marriages and families:

…communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities that suffer from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.

Glas goes on to argue that the breakdown of marriage and family threatens freedom because “family is the primary institution of moral and character development, and society must protect the family as the smallest unit of political order.”

The Gospel’s Role

We agree with Glas that only through the power of the gospel in our lives can we individually and collectively experience flourishing.

Yet, we are not called to force the gospel on those around us. That is not what Christians have done over the last 2,000 years. Instead, they have lived out shared biblical convictions, being “salt and light” in ways that strongly influence the world—their work in every facet of their lives positively influencing those in the culture around them.

As believers, we must stop hiding our light under a bushel because society as a whole benefits when we share and live out what we know to be true from scripture. We need to demonstrate the truth of the gospel in both word and deed.

 

Editor’s note: Learn more about the biblical roots of freedom in Free Indeed: Living Life in Light of the Biblical View of Freedom.

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