We Must Protect and Preserve the Precious
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described His followers as the “salt of the earth.” Salt protects and preserves the precious. Let me clearly describe several irrefutable precious truths we must vigorously protect or, as He warned, the very things entrusted to our watch-care will be trampled under the feet of people who disregard sacred truths.
I. Marriage and the family are the fundamental social institutions.
Conjugal marriage and the family are the two most basic human institutions. They exist in every time and place, and they precede the state. The state and other institutions don‘t define or determine what marriage and family are, but they must recognize them. That‘s why political attempts to redefine marriage and family are not tolerant but totalitarian. They are wars against the creation itself. We must oppose the trends in our culture and in our politics with all our might.
At the same time we must support policies that encourage healthy families. This requires discernment, since every half-baked bill proposed in Congress claims to be pro-family. As we‘ve seen, however, many policies create incentives that harm the family. Remember what the welfare state did to marriage and family in poor communities in the United States? Divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, and fatherless homes have risen in every class in the United States in the last fifty years, but the decay has been catastrophic in poor communities, where the welfare state has mostly replaced the traditional roles of the father and the Church. This tragic unintended consequence suggests a rule of thumb: If a policy surrenders territory to the state that ought to be part of civil society, that policy will harm rather than help families in the long run.
II. We can know God and moral truth.
Contrary to today‘s fashion, the American Founders understood that everyone has a general knowledge of the natural moral law and the Lawgiver. From the starry heavens above to the moral law within, the world points to its Creator. That‘s why even atheists know that murder is wrong, experience feelings of gratitude and guilt, bristle at injustice, and get mad at the God they don‘t believe in when unjust things happen around them. We can discern enough of the law “from the things that have been made” so that we can be held accountable for what we do (Romans 1).
The existence of a Creator and a natural law are public truths. This is why the Founders appealed to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” though they still took pains not to establish a specific religion. Even the Supreme Court, which hasn’t always respected this part of our history, reiterated these points as recently as 1984, stating, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
Secularism and progressivism, however, deny that we can know God and morality. They seek to quarantine both to a ghetto of private religious faith. This has created a secular and relativistic public square, which is exactly the opposite of what the Founders intended. We must reverse this trend and defend the truth that man has real moral knowledge, which is the foundation of just government.
III. Judeo-Christian religious faith guards our freedom.
Though everyone has some knowledge of God and morality, that knowledge is darkened by sin. It tends to wither away without vibrant faith to reinforce it. We should stand with the Founders, who both opposed the establishment of a specific religion and supported robust expressions of religious faith in the public square. That‘s not a contradiction. It is, quite simply, the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Contrary to secularist myth, faith in the public square need not imperil our freedom. It‘s true that, in the past, Christians have persecuted others, including fellow Christians. But they were violating the spirit and content of their faith in doing so. While not every religious belief is friendly to freedom, the basic tenets of Christianity reinforce political, economic, and religious freedom. As we’ve seen, we owe our freedoms, in large part, to the Judeo-Christian tradition. It‘s where we get our belief that individuals have equal value. It’s also where we get the idea of sin, which inspired the Founders to establish a limited government and a separation of powers.
Faith encourages the virtues that help sustain the free society. It gives us hope in the future, which is under the providence of God, while preventing us from falling for utopian fantasies like the communist illusions that killed scores of millions of people in the twentieth century.
We must do our best to correct the false stereotype that faith feeds theocracy and defend the freedom of believers to apply their faith to the concerns of the day.
IV. We’re all sinners.
Evil is not just in our imaginations. We can‘t eradicate it with the right amount of social engineering or positive thinking. We sin. Though we can know God exists, some forget. Though we can know the truth, we may fail to uphold it. We do the very things we don‘t want to do. We are tempted by wealth, power, prestige, lust, gluttony, and greed, and often give in to those temptations.
We not only fail to do what we know we ought to do, but we also get confused about what we ought to do. Politically, this puts us in an awkward position. On the one hand, we need a government to punish evil and bear the sword. On the other hand, the very sin that needs to be restrained can only be restrained by other sinners. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, once told his son, “The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
The solution is a government limited in scope but strong enough to restrain sin that harms others.