(Guest post by Cory Cox)
It is not a question of knowing who offends more the Supreme Being, whether it be he who denies Him, or he who distorts Him. It is impossible to know otherwise than by revelation, if God is offended by the empty things men say of Him.- Voltaire
Arkansas News Bureau columnist John Brummett, in a column today, responds to recent criticism lobbed at President Obama over the role of religion in our government and whether or not we are a “Christian nation.” I think my evangelical bona fides are enough to allow me to reply to Brummett, and I’ll try to do so without the name-calling he prefers.
Let’s get the admission out of the way first: no, we are not a Christian nation. We are a nation of laws. While we are a nation of laws, these laws are passed by our elected representatives. We elect them. In just about any poll or census you check, we (meaning the citizens of the United States) are overwhelmingly Christian by our own definition. It makes sense that we would want lawmakers that reflect our values. As Voltaire put it, “it seems to me that one must distinguish between the nation properly so called, and a society of philosophers above the nation.”
We are Christian by our own definition, but the definition of “Christian” can vary as wildly as the definition of “American.” Honestly, most people consider themselves Christian because their culture is based on European custom and tradition. When a person says they are Christian in the U.S., they are essentially confirming their acceptance of western culture.
When people talk about a “Christian nation,” they are talking about a nation that adheres to the traditional norms of European culture and morals. Our nation was born out of the Enlightenment, which was born in the Christian cultures of Europe. Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke and Hume were the products of society, even if they did strive valiantly to change that society. Judeo-Christian ideas of the individual, free choice and the rights of man were the underpinnings of our revolution. Whether or not all the founders were Christians does not matter; their revolutionary ideas of liberty could not have found purchase without the fertilizer of Christianity sown into the soil of the new world.
What Brummett and his ilk fail to realize is that the discussion of religion in the body politic is one that most evangelicals would rather not have. It is hoisted upon us by an ever-intrusive government that seeks to regulate more and more of our daily lives.
For example, I, for one, am tired of the arguments over same sex marriage. Marriage is neither a right and it shouldn’t be a privilege given by the government. It is a sacrament, a blessing conveyed by the church. When the government became involved, it was only a matter of time until our changing society demanded changes to marriage as well.
In my mind, the question of whether there should be gay marriage is the wrong one to ask. Instead, we should be asking why government is still involved in marriage at all? Should this not be left to the churches to ordain? Did our ancestors not function well enough in the hills and hollers beyond the reach of government in ages past?
But government is involved in marriage and as long as marriage is in the mart of public policy there will be Christians that stand up for the traditional view of marriage, which is their constitutionally protected right. The math is simple; the more government involvement in daily lives, the more people will be pushing their world view on others. As statism grows, so does the “religious right.”
In my view, Christian activist involvement in politics can be as harmful as it is helpful. While I am grateful that people are standing up for traditional values in our culture, those same people automatically make enemies of a good size of the population simply based on political allegiance. There will be a certain portion of the population that will close their hearts to the message of our message when it forms the basis of the arguments of their political enemies. The only way to avoid this Catch-22 is by limiting the intrusion of government into our lives. There is no need to stake out sides if there is no battle.
In our increasingly secular world, there are those that need to hear the message of hope that our faith projects. The very people that we have alienated by our political stances are often the ones that we need to reach out to the most. Our politics have put a stumbling block before them, and a nation of the people, by the people and for the people can only be a Christian nation if the people are Christian. That cannot be achieved through any piece of legislation.
Cory Allen Cox is an attorney practicing law in Little Rock. He was previously legal counsel for Gov. Mike Huckabee and director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Arkansas Insurance Department. He was choosen as one of Arkansas Business’ Forty Under Forty in 2008. His legal practice focuses on insurance defense, government regulation and commercial transactions.