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Updated: 6 hours 34 min ago
Some rabid, statist liberals in the Senate introduced one of the most unbelievably sly and insidious measures of centralized federal government power I’ve seen in a while. Of course, we all know how liberals and progressives always support more state power and more central planning and control whenever possible, even when they speak against oppression and even against local police power.
In fact, especially when they speak against local police power. They then covertly leverage the emotional support of conservatives for law enforcement and law and order in order to bind it to the strings of federal regulation and power.
We all know this back door tactic: highlight some particular social or political ill; pull on the emotional strings of the need for law and order; provide federal funds; give special federal protections; make federal promises; then before you know it, federal regulation is federal control.
This is exactly the pattern begun by this proposal in the Senate. It is called “Back the Blue,” and it is a dangerous step in a federal takeover of local police. Leveraging the emotional shock of attacks and murders of local policemen, these Senators proposed a bill to make it a federal crime to kill police officers in districts that receive federal funding (which is most of them).
Do you see the back door here? Do you see the opening? Do you see the emotional issue being leveraged? Do you see what such a step will lead to? In fact, we’re already deeply into federal strings attached with things like sharing of federal revenue from drug interdiction efforts and asset forfeiture. Local police are already deeply intertwined with all kinds of federal grants, programs, funds, and equipment. This bill adds yet another step—a significant one—of federal protection to local police, effectively bringing all covered agencies (most of them) under the wing of the federal government. It’s simply one more step toward the nationalization of police.
We’ve seen this movie before. What ObamaCare is to private insurance, and what Common Core is to education, “Back the Blue” is to local police. Indeed, what the Dick Act of 1903 was to the total nationalization of state militias (“national guards”), so this bill is to the nationalization of local police.
At least one state-level representative in Texas has spoken out against the dangers of this unnecessary bill, arguing that “Back the Blue” will “open the door to federal overreach.” He’s not only right, the danger of a police state is far greater than he states.
The worst part of all of this is what I said in the opening sentences above. The rabid statists trying to implement this federal takeover are not the liberal progressives you would normally have in mind. Yes, it was originally people like Obama and Rahm Emanuel who talked about having a nationalized civilian police force to rival the size and strength of the military. Scary, Soviet stuff, that!
But no, this is not the normal cast of open progressives. No. The people who introduced this Orwellian step toward Soviet-style police are:
John Cornyn (R-TX) and co-sponsor . . . wait for it. . . .
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Among several other Republicans who allegedly stand to fight against federal government overreach.
Indeed, my own Senator from Georgia, David Perdue, has spoken out against Common Core as “overreaching” and “should be abandoned,” yet he co-sponsors this bill which would strengthen the exact same type of overreach between the feds and local police. It doesn’t make sense.
Among this list, however, it is the alleged expert on the Constitution and champion of states’ rights (when it’s convenient) Ted Cruz that really takes the cake here. This guy just got done trotting all over the U.S. trying to become president while proclaiming himself a “passionate fighter for limited government.” I always suspected him, despite the fact that he deceived millions of Christians into believing it. I warned people that his rhetoric on taxes was misleading, his plan to help homeschoolers would lead to federal regulation for them, and that from day one, he was wed to the establishment. The co-sponsorship of a bill that would further federalize police fits the mold perfectly.
This does not mean the alternatives we’re presented are any better. Just this week, Trump called for the expansion of the “proactive” police measure called “stop-and-frisk,” was which was widely abused under the color of suspecting particular individuals looking “suspicious,” and resulted in the harassment of hundreds of thousands of innocent folk—mostly blacks—in his home city of New York before some federal judges were able to dig deep into the dustbin of their law school education to remember this thing called the Constitution. Of course, any officer allowing his personal judgment to fudge, even just a little bit, what he considers to be “suspicious” or “danger,” and by that standard stopping and frisking an individual, is actually committing and assault on that person. But the color of law, and the way it is left to individual officers’ discretion to justify it, makes it perfectly legal. This is a dangerous precedent, and Trump wants to expand it.
In the end we see that virtually no matter who the great Conservative candidate would have been (perhaps excepting Rand), we would still be facing the prospect of a growing police State. Except that one of those self-vaunted champions of limited government is still in the Senate, and is co-sponsoring a bill that will further nationalize police. Perhaps if the stars of statism align just right, we’ll see the Cruz-backed bill pass and President “Stop-and-Frisk” sign it into law. There will be peace and harmony in the GOP at last. Maybe Cruz would finally come out and fully endorse Trump after all.
The real problem is, of course, the constituencies of these power-drunk maniacs have such emotional support for law enforcement that they will set aside every principle of limited government, localism, and true federalism, and rush headlong into further centralized power and money to support their pet issue. They’ll build a police state while calling it America. They’ll enslave us all while singing the land of the free.
That’s why people like Cruz and Trump speak freedom and enact tyranny. They are the perfect representatives of their people. Supply and demand is dangerous when the demand side is immoral.
What to do? All I can say, again, is read Restoring America One County at a Time. Then stick to your principles, and kick out the politicians who don’t, no matter how Christian they talk.
You’ve heard it said, “Joel McDurmon hath left Theonomy,” but I say unto you. . . .
Well, you’ll just have to listen to this interview, won’t you? (see below!)
The smoking hot, hard-hitting, profound, deep, humble, vast, multi-faceted, experienced, and all-round great Reconstructionist Radio network is among the most pleasant surprises I’ve witnessed over the past several months. Beginning as a idea merely to provide audio versions of Reconstructionist books (of which they’ve done a bunch), the effort quickly grew quickly into a variety of awesome podcasts (I’m counting twelve (12) separate podcasts now, each of which adds content almost weekly), and seasoned Christian Reconstructionist and Theonomists leaders keep coming out of the woodwork to provide leadership, podcasts, interviews, content, etc. I expect many great things to come yet, and I strongly encourage AV readers to go check out what they’re doing.
A few nights ago, Bill Evans of the War Room podcast stopped by my house for a visit (Bill is a Road Scholar (let he who has ears hear), which often puts him in a unique position close to leaders in various places around the country, where he records interviews along life’s way. We must have sat and talked on my back porch for about 5 hours. About an hour and a half of that got recorded. Here’s his summary of the interview:
An Evening with Joel McDurmon, President of American Vision. Bill & Joel talk about Theonomy and the Westminster Confession of Faith, general vs particular equity, popular strawmen, the use of label vs. doing the work of reconstruction, Joel’s response to critics, the importance of definitions, and theological Pharisees.
Yes, yes. And much more, including abolitionism, name-dropping some friends of ours, and my answer to that opening question above. Listen here. . . .http://d1s6yijfrvmtp9.cloudfront.net/static/2016/09/22141606/JoelMcDurmon-War-Room-podcast.mp3 Then go check out the rest of the great work at Reconstructionist Radio, like their page, share it, subscribe, donate, and spread the news.
Guest post by Donald Soles, III
One of today’s most insidious idols is called “pluralism.” This great compromise besets various Christian organizations and efforts, especially in areas of law and legal reform. Among its various forms, pluralism has emerged from the crucible of American jurisprudence as the Christian Legal Society’s golden calf.
There is no neutrality in any area of life. When individuals will not give our Lord preeminence in all things, they will be bound to serve another god. Our Lord has ascended to heaven, and he sits at the right hand of the Father waiting to preside as the judge of the world. At an earlier time in history, God’s people were left waiting for a leader and judge whom they could not see. In Exodus 32, the Israelites became tired of waiting for Moses who had ascended to Mount Sinai. According to Aaron, a golden calf mysteriously emerged from a crucible in Moses’s absence, and people began to worship this golden calf idolatrously (Ex. 32:24). Now that the head of God’s people is out of sight, the same trend repeats itself. Perhaps through the influence of Christianity, however, idols in America do not necessarily manifest themselves in graven images. The pluralists of today do not genuflect to golden calves in the public square. Instead, idols become physical possessions, aspirations, and ideologies that compete with the way in which God has revealed himself, and the way in which Christians work in the world.
One can easily understand the lure of pluralism. Pluralism stands for the proposition that people of all faiths should live together in harmony and mutually respect different and opposing beliefs.1 For many Christians, this is appealing, especially in the world of academia in which Christians are scorned and their writings are expurgated. The Christian Legal Society (CLS) and many Christian lawyers have criticized universities for what they consider to be failure to honor a pluralistic axiom. Consider Kim Colby, Senior Counsel for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom, who writes in regard to Vanderbilt University’s disallowing the CLS to meet on campus (because the CLS constitution required CLS leaders to be Christian),
But equally importantly, our nation’s commitment to pluralism is lost. The university’s relentless secularization of the marketplace of ideas is fundamentally incompatible with both religious liberty and pluralism.2
According to Colby, all must live in harmony with one another, except for within the leadership of the Christian Legal Society.3 This is indeed a strange argument. Vanderbilt and other schools have “out-pluralisted” [pluralized?] the CLS pluralists by proscribing mutual respect, even within the leadership of the Christian Legal Society itself. Colby acknowledges that in a pluralist society, secularism begins to encroach on the desire of Christians. Isn’t that uncanny? This use of incoherent argumentation regarding pluralism led to the CLS’s defeat in CLS v. Martinez, a case in which Hastings College of Law in San Francisco denied the CLS its ability to meet on campus because the CLS excluded non-Christians from leadership.4 The Christian Legal Society cannot decide whether to bite the pluralistic hand that has fed them for so long. When this incoherent social ethic crumbles before them, they criticize schools for non-adherence to pluralism, even though it is completely harmonious with pluralism to allow mutual religious tolerance in all areas of life. Which is it, Christian Legal Society?
Additionally, do Christians have a duty to uphold pluralism in the first place? The answer most people would give, I suspect, is that this principle is a common axiom—an axiom that one can nonetheless choose to accept or reject. Many dilettantes have criticized the United States Constitution for fostering pluralism through the First Amendment. The text of the First Amendment, however, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”5 All states at the time of the Constitution’s ratification established state religions and prohibited certain religious practices. Why did the Mormons move from New York to Utah? Even if the First Amendment is incorporated against the states, how would an individual state honor the principle that “Congress shall make no law”? This proscription can only apply against the federal Congress, and not against the states.6 It would seem that a more likely explanation for the rise of pluralism is that American Christians want it.
There is certainly no ethical obligation for people to uphold pluralism, especially from within the Christian worldview. Gary North devoted over 700 pages tediously elucidating the historical origin, latent dangers, and anti-Christian nature of pluralism in Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. This book appears on Joel McDurmon’s reading list.7 I also suggest you read it. Returning to the immediate concern, however once a society rejects the CLS’s pluralist axiom (or even applies it more consistently), then where does the Christian retreat? Is pluralism the unchanging standard to which Christian lawyers should be urging the culture’s adherence?
One of Greg Bahnsen’s discoveries is that “non-discrimination” rights flow from “liberty” rights.8 Those who are not legally permitted to do something may not enjoy protection against discrimination. It is permissible to discriminate against thieves by requiring them to pay back what they have stolen because theft is a proscribed action. Conversely, those who enjoy a “liberty” right to act in a certain way may not be discriminated against on the basis of their permissible actions. This is largely why pluralism is so unhelpful to the CLS. When the CLS attempts to discriminate against prospective members on the basis of their preexisting adherence to Christianity, there is a conflict with the alleged right to religious freedom. If religious freedom is, in fact, a “liberty” right, then it is inconsistent with pluralism itself to discriminate against prospective members on the basis of religious affiliation. The objection that all religions are free to create their own organizations, just as the CLS has created, is artificial. Absent the CLS’s desire, non-Christian membership in the CLS is not logically precluded by the governing maxim of pluralism.
Absent a consensus among men to honor this commitment to pluralism, there would be no pluralism. The unfortunate thing about a consensus, however, is that it is subject to change. At this point in history, nothing logically prevents this paradigm shift. If popular thinking becomes antagonistic of Christianity to the point where Christians will not be allowed civil rights at all, where will the CLS turn? In contrast to pluralism, God’s word is fixed and not subject to change (Psalm 119:89). God’s Word—and not a commitment to the United States Constitution or the pluralism advanced by even the Constitution’s most adamant fanatics—must be the standard for political ethics.
Indeed God Himself has not exhibited a great amount of deference toward pluralism. He sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s alter, thus attesting to His might. Following this demonstration of God’s verity, the false prophets who supported Baal were executed per Deuteronomy 18. All this occurred the last time two religions tried to coexist peacefully in Israel (1 Kings 18). Is pluralism sleeping? Has pluralism gone on a journey? Call out with a loud voice. Maybe pluralism has gone inside. Maybe the CLS can answer these questions for us.
Moreover, religiously affiliated law schools are required to sacrifice Christian truth on the altar of pluralism. This is painful, given the intimidation that Christian law schools face, especially the prospect of losing ABA accreditation. To espouse Christian Reconstruction to the American Bar Association would spell certain death for any religiously affiliated law school today. That is why Christian lawyers and law professors will not publicly announce plans (or even attempt) to speak against unjust laws and in favor of explicitly Christian ethics. They attempt instead to appeal to a more popular and favorable authority to surreptitiously accomplish what they perceive to be the goals of Christianity. Among these popular mediums for “smuggling in” Christian ethics are Natural Law Theory, pluralism, and secular libertarianism.
Pluralism allows Christian lawyers to fit in. It allows Christian lawyers to say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, but I’m just as committed to fostering tolerance for homosexuals as everybody else. See? Look at how much we have in common!” Then, in the middle of the night, Christian lawyers can vie for pro-life legislation. Natural Law Theory, in turn, allows Christian lawyers to espouse Christian ethics without attributing them to the God who revealed them. This is why the pluralist, pro-life movement often appeals to neutral, scientific arguments to establish that life begins at conception. They know full well that non-Christians will reject biblical arguments for the sanctity of life in the womb, but Natural Law enables Christians to speak freely about their beliefs without the inconvenient and embarrassing attribution of those beliefs to the God of the Bible. Indeed these Natural Law arguments are accepted by the average person in the public square. Christian lawyers and political theorists do not stop to think that perhaps these Natural Law arguments are accepted for the very reason that they are specious, and do not acknowledge the Christian God.
Time and time again, many people will claim something to the effect of, “I really like this whole biblical law spiel that you Reconstructionists are after, but it’s not practical.” Not only do these people feign to have knowledge that they do not have regarding which political theories can take root in society, but they also accept a fraud as a substitute for the truth of the Bible. In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge deposited (Col. 2:3). This means that in an a maiore ad minus (greater to lesser) fashion, all truths for the foundation of law are deposited in Christ. By pretending as though non-believers possess the same wisdom and knowledge autonomously by rejecting God and His revealed will, Christians freely allow these treasures of wisdom and knowledge to be despoiled to the altar of pluralism. The world has nothing but the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of man (1 John 2:16). The Christian (and the CLS) who exchanges all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge for no treasure of wisdom and knowledge is the only one truly acting impractically, foolishly, and unfaithfully.
Donald Soles is a third-year law student, and a Senior Editor for the Journal of Global Justice & Public Policy.
- Kim Colby, The Assault on Pluralism http://clsnet.org/pages/religious-freedom/articles/the-assault-on-pluralism (last accessed Sept. 16, 2016) (citing Trish Harrison Warren, The Possibility of Pluralism – Faith and Diversity at Vanderbilt, The Vanderbilt Hustler, Oct. 2, 2011 (last accessed Nov. 17, 2011) ).
- See generally, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 561 U.S. 661 (2011).
- U.S. Const. amend. 1.
- But see, Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947). The Supreme Court held that states “shall make no law establishing” religion. The Supreme Court forgot the first word — “Congress.” One can hardly expect the pluralists to play fair.
- Joel McDurmon, A Christian Reconstructionist Reading List, The American Vision http://americanvision.org/10858/christian-reconstruction-reading-list/ (May 16, 2014).
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View 102 (1978).
Sara Arrington was a member of Apologia Church in Tempe, Arizona, our dear friends and fellow soldiers. She was a young wife and mother of seven children, including a newborn.
Sara died unexpectedly last Friday on the way to the hospital, apparently from complications of a blood clot in her lung. She was 35 years old.
As you can imagine, the church and family are in utter shock. Her husband, without question, is dealing with unimaginable trial at the loss of the love of his life, and at the prospect of raising seven children by himself while working to provide for them at the same time.
You can help by donating to the memorial fund here.
There is a tremendous lesson for us here—one which the Arrington family had actually learned and applied already. This case is a pointed lesson as to why every family—both husband and wife separately—should have life insurance policies, even if only a nominal sum. A good, 30-year term policy of around $500,000 for a healthy 35-year old woman will cost you hardly anything—perhaps $30/month at the most. Other policies can be obtained more cheaply if necessary. You never know when or if you will need it—but you very well could today.
For the Arrington family, there is good and bad news to report in this regard—mostly bad. They were prescient enough to have such a policy on Sara, but due to some unforeseen expenses with one of their children, they had lapsed in payment.
Mr. Arrington is now in a very tough position, one brought about by fortuitous circumstances. As friends of ours, part of American Vision’s virtual extended family at Apologia, I would like to encourage you to help make up for this unfortunate lapse. Please donate to the Sara Arrington memorial fund, and bless this father, who though forward-thinking, was forced by a temporary hardship into a much greater, longer-lasting one.
I know that a tremendous number among American Vision’s following is made up of young people and young couples. You need to get this lesson and learn it well. Ever wife needs to own a life insurance policy on her husband, and every husband needs to own a life insurance policy on his wife. Each needs to keep them paid up when at all possible.
Imagine losing your wife tomorrow. Imagine looking at three, five, or seven children in the midst of the grief, thinking how you would have to alter your lifestyle in order to care for them while keeping your current employment, job, income, etc.
Imagine having to make such a decision in the midst of grief with absolutely no financial help or alterative options whatsoever. Nothing more than your current full-time job and no other prospects, plans, or help. Nothing.
Now, imagine having to make the same decision after an insurance agent hands you a check, no questions asked, for $250,000, or $500,000, tax-free. Take a couple months off, pray, care for your children intimately, restructure your life, hire church-based child-care and education for your children, etc., etc., ad infinitum.
The contrast is night and day. The almost negligible cost of a few hundred bucks per year could make the difference between utter devastation and great peace of mind in the midst of grief.
When it comes to the future welfare of your family, such a decision is not only smart, it’s good Christian stewardship. It is, in fact, one aspect of dominion.
The Arrington family was smart enough to choose the right path. Unfortunately, one small setback in life cost them. While you make preparations for your own family in this area, please consider helping their peace of mind in this time of grief as well.Donate Here
[For UPDATE scroll to bottom of letter:]
Dr. Joel McDurmon
Dr. Peter A. Lillback, President,
Dr. Joel McDurmon
President, American Vision, Inc.
Dr. Peter A. Lillback, President,
Board of Trustees,
Faculty, Staff, and Students, et al
Westminster Theological Seminary
Times seem to be so bad for the Christian mind and the Christian pulpit that when The Christian Post reports on your upcoming “Faith in the Public Square” conference, it has to finesse its audience and ease its way into the topic with a gentle “now don’t get upset” approach: “Religion and politics are taboo topics for some Americans, but. . . .”
When the mainstream Christian public apparently suffers from such sensitivity, I applaud you for broaching the very topic which seems to be the flashpoint. I’m sure you will understand how American Vision can relate to the difficulties of such a venture—having upheld this very cause as central, and fought the battles of opposition (from friend and foe alike) since around 1979—and accept our endorsement of such bravery in attempting to meet a dire need.
Believe me, then, when I say that I believe you have a very unique opportunity here, given the prominence of your institution as an intellectual leader among conservative theologians, as well as your unique theological heritage.
Reviewing your event’s page, however, left me discouraged for what has become of the legacy of an institution that, at one time, held in its own hands such potential to advance the message of God’s law in society.
After all, yours is the institution of J. Gresham Machen, who himself testified before Congress against a Department of Education, saying this was not the State’s job and the government should stay out of it. Yours is the institution of Cornelius Van Til, whose “spirit of Reconstruction” (as his top pupil Greg L. Bahnsen put it) saw clearly that to refuse the guiding hand of modernity in every area of our lives and our children’s lives would make us Christians “dangerous to the state.”
Was it not your Van Til who taught us all that there is no neutrality? None. Not in any area of life. Our worldview will be either theonomy or autonomy (God’s law or self-law) in every square inch and every second of the universe.
Was it not Van Til who taught us so clearly that “natural law” is a farce? Was it not Van Til who demonstrated, in Christianity in Conflict, that it was this very natural law tradition that has beset the Church from her earliest times as her intellectual leaders repeatedly diluted biblical worldview, mission, and law by unequally yoking them with the humanisms of Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Stoicism, Kant, Darwin, Marx, modernism, etc., etc.?
Was it not Van Til who made us understand that all these humanisms are but variations of the humanism of the Serpent? And that compromises with them are compromises with the devil?
Yet, we look at your conference and see not only not a whiff of Van Til, but we see Westminster Seminary spotlighting a Thomist, natural law philosopher from Princeton.
Can you imagine Luther inviting Eck to be his keynote speaker? Calvin inviting Aquinas (eras notwithstanding)? Machen inviting Harry Emerson Fosdick?
Yet you are crossing the same lines as these men would have been. And why? It is not exactly clear.
It is disheartening enough to see compromise with pagan thought among ancient thinkers like Justin, Augustine, and Aquinas, but at least these had the excuse of working with fewer resources than anyone privileged with Van Til’s legacy. The same capitulation is absolutely heartbreaking to watch when done by the very institution to which Van Til bequeathed his inspired revolution.
Was the way not clear when your own one-time librarian, John Muether, spotted the issue in his biography of Van Til, acknowledging that Van Til’s Reconstructionist followers “deserved credit for carrying the torch for Van Til when others seemed less willing,” and that “few quarters in the church beyond the Reconstructionist camp unabashedly championed the Reformed faith as Van Til expressed it”?
Perhaps Muether’s acknowledgment was not merely a historical curiosity, but prophetic. Perhaps Dr. North was far more prescient that even he knew when he wrote of The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy at your institution. From the likes of this conference, no one would know that the most important theologian of the 20th century even once existed—not in name, not in doctrine, not in word, not in rumor, not in the slightest morsel of intellectual thought.
Instead, we see a great reversal: not just as it was before the contributions of Van Til, but all the way back to the Natural Law nonsense that allowed the “rotten wood” liberals to take over Princeton Seminary—the very reason Machen left and founded your institution to begin with.
What is this, then?
It is the dog returning to its vomit, and the sow returning to the mire (2 Pet. 2:22).
And just look at the rest of your program: here, at a conference dedicated to “Faith in the Public Square,” we have Kevin DeYoung, who recently demeaned emphases on social justice out of preference for some kind of limited four-walls-of-the-church Christianity. The same gentleman not so long ago embraced “two kingdoms” dualism as a way of preventing the advance of God’s law in society.
Likewise, the conference features Dr. Carl Trueman. Trueman’s relationship with First Things budded a couple years with a manifesto of defeat, entitled “A Church for Exiles,” in which he made it clear that he thought Christianity was defeated in the public square, that Christians should look to the church as a place to cower in shelter from further defeat to come, and that his Reformed tradition was uniquely suited for such purposes. Here we have an event which ought to hold forth biblical solutions and blueprints for social reform, and out of all the available speakers for such a cause, someone decided to have a champion of the White Flag as its anchor.
I wrote at the time to explain how men like B. B. Warfield, and fearless Westminster professors before Trueman, like Lorraine Boettner and J. Marcelus Kik, had a more biblical, and much stouter, view of things.
Considering WTS faculty brings up one of the saddest facts associated with this sad development. Even today, when Van Til’s legacy has all but disappeared, this program is totally unnecessary. You have among your faculty one of the finest minds available, who long ago published a thorough, Van Tillian review of biblical law and its application in society. That book, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses contains more direction for “Faith in the Public Square” from a biblical perspective than the entire rest of your program, and their extended friends’ lists combined probably even knows exists. Yet where is Vern Poythress’s name on your program?
It is as absent as Van Til’s legacy.
I’ll offer some unsolicited advice. While there still remain a few weeks before this event, go ahead and make the tough call of canceling everything associated natural law, dualism, double-kingdom doublespeak, white-flag exile theology, and anything else close to any of this. Instead, reorganize the scheduled speakers to include a substantial teaching of biblical law for the public square, and consider using someone like Poythress to provide the substance.
I realize that in doing so, you probably won’t be able to sell $250/plate dinners at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, but for the sake of the name, “Westminster Theological Seminary,” the legacy of Van Til, and most of all, the high honor and very cause of Christ Himself, please consider the sacrifice.
With lineups like this current one, however, aligning yourselves as friends of mainstream conservatism despite the compromises involved, Westminster Seminary may succeed in making itself look like the next Liberty University. Will we next see Mormons or unrepentant adulterers on campus soliciting votes? Where else do the high-profile handshakes stop?
As I read Poythress’s book last year, upon writing The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty, I was struck with the question of why his clearly uncontroversial, orthodox, and Reformed views nevertheless have never been adopted, taught, or practiced by anyone I could see within any of today’s conservative Reformed churches or seminaries—for decades now.
Maybe you gentlemen could break this awful silence, and fill this awful void in our society with something besides the very poison that has slowly killed us so far. The short-term sacrifices will be well worth the health that follows. Else, when you say, “Faith in the Public Square,” your actions will render it forever unclear as to whether “the public square” is meant as the object or subject of your faith.
Dr. Joel McDurmon
UPDATE: Several people have asked me if there has been any response from WTS. Dr. Poythress contacted me to say that he was, in fact, invited to speak at this conference, but had to decline due to a previously scheduled mission. This being the case, I extent my hearty apologies to the addressees for assuming otherwise on this particular point.
Dr. Poythress further expressed that while he was honored to be singled out in my discussion above, he informs me that “there are other faculty here who care about Van Til’s views and their social, cultural, and political implications.” I am obviously thrilled to hear this, and would love to hear more from them. The fact that such a pool of Van Tillian social thinkers exists does, however, further call into question the current lineup for this scheduled conference.
The sons of Issachar are referenced at a crucial point in the national life of Israel—the coronation of King David over all of Israel—as men who “understood the times” and had “knowledge of what to do” (1 Chron. 13:32). Yet Scripture does not seem to say why they are given such an honor or what exactly it means.
In this lecture from this year’s Providential History Conference in Omaha, I explain the background to this description and why the sons of Issachar in particular earned it. Then, I discuss how this standard and method stands as a challenge to Christians today, particularly in the work of understanding, judging, discerning, and communicating history.
In the course of this lecture, I give some examples of how Christians especially botch our portrayals of history, and how we can correct it. In the two lectures which will follow, I provide much more application, specifically in regard to the historical writing on Southern slavery (Dabney) and the history of racism in our nation.
Chapter 5: Taxation
5.1 Taxation in a Free America
We have now laid out the fundamental shape of decentralized government as it ought to be. The county should be fundamental, and people should have to deal with no government official other that their county officials, with perhaps limited exceptions for State elections, etc. This is nowhere more true than with that most hated of all ancient evils—taxation.
What we have been trying to demonstrate—based on biblical and historically Christian ideas, as well as their implementation in much of western history—is the power that true federalism has for restoring and protecting freedom. In theory, in a truly federal system, the National government should only govern States, State governments should only govern counties, and county governments only should govern the people (and where there are smaller units below counties, such as townships, towns, cities, etc., then the principle of federalism should extend that much further).
In regard to taxation, true federalism means the National government should have no power to tax individuals. The only agency—if any—that should have any authority to tax individuals is the smallest, most local, nearest jurisdiction to that individual. No jurisdiction above that should be able to touch the individual directly unless through that individual’s consent. Instead, if higher governments desired to raise revenue through taxation, they should be forced to deal only with the next level of government below them. In other words, the Feds could only tax States, States could only tax counties, and counties only could tax citizen (or municipalities where applicable).
None of this, however, is to justify taxation in general. Ideally, there would be none, and public services would be much more like private services, if not in fact private services. Police and fire services are essentially insurance services for the protection of property, and could be paid for in a very similar way, privately. Public water and sewer services are often already paid in this way, so are some ambulance and EMT services (at least in part); there is no reason police and fire could not be as well. Even the court system could be improved through greater proliferation and even dominance of private courts. There is very little reason that most currently public services should require taxation in order to exist and function effectively.1 We can discuss this in more detail later.
But if taxes must exist, they should be as decentralized as possible. Only the most local municipality should have power to tax the individual. Counties must do the duty of protecting their people from the reach of State taxes. They should act in concert, represented at the State level as counties, to create a government and tax barrier between individuals and the State. Then, if the State absolutely needs revenue, it must work with the counties in concert in order to arrive at an acceptable level. Thus, county representative will be negotiating how much of their budgets they shall agree to provide to the State for its services. To the degree that local citizens have control in their counties and are adequately represented in the State assembly, you can be sure that they will not want much of their county’s budget at all to be handed over to the State—nothing beyond necessity. This will mean a strictly limited State power.
The same delicate negotiating balance should also occur between the National government and the States represented in concert (this is one reason the 17th Amendment should be repealed, as I discussed recently). States, being squeezed by the local interests and bargaining power of their counties, will naturally (and rightly) wish to guard their scarce revenue for themselves. This will create strong pressure against the taxing desires of the National government, and will thus keep its powers limited to that degree—preferably funding only the bare necessities of government, whatever those should be.
Constitutionally speaking—and I will discuss in the next installment why the Constitution is way more tyrannical on taxation than we should want—the States have an added bargaining chip. The Feds are allowed—and the States forbidden—to collect duties on exports and imports. Thus the National government already has a unique and exclusive source of revenue, and should not need much if any taxation upon member States. States can point to this as one more reason to deny further taxation upon them by the Feds.
Taxation in the Bible
What type of tax is best? There is no biblical law regarding any taxation for civil government. This leads me to believe there should be none. Nevertheless, we are given the ecclesiastical precedents of the tithes as a model for which type of taxation is best in the event that a sinful society demands one. There were only two types specified by law: a tithe on increase of produce, and a small flat head tax. The particular flat tax, however, specified in Exodus 30:11–16, was explicitly priestly in nature, and was only paid by males over 20 years old who were numbered in the army. It was specifically called “ransom money” to protect the lives of God’s holy soldiers. It was specifically for atonement. It was only collected when a army was raised for a battle. It was thus not meant to be pattern for a general stream of revenue. It should thus not be looked to as a good measure for civil revenue either.2
The other type seems more suited for the purpose of general revenue: this was the general tithe on increase of produce. The tithe was ten percent and was payable after harvest at a central location during the appropriate semi-annual festival. It could be paid in produce itself or in monetary form, depending on the taxpayer’s convenience (Lev. 27:30–33; Deut. 14:22–29). In a modern monetary economy, we would simply call this an income tax. In Deuteronomy, the ten percent was God’s requirement for the ecclesiastical institution—not the civil State. The funds were to be used for feasting and making merry, as well as taking care of the widows and fatherless, and the priests and Levites. (Thus, welfare was an ecclesiastical function as well).
The Bible gives no such ten-percent requirement for the civil government. It in fact gives no percentage at all for civil government. Yet when Samuel warns the Israelites against the adoption of a king “like other nations” (1 Sam. 8), he spells out the tyranny that would follow. Among the list of confiscations and enslavements to come, Samuel warns that such a king will “take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards . . . the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Sam. 8:15–17). In other words, when the civil government assumed the right to a ten percent income tax, it was absolute, unimaginable tyranny equivalent to outright slavery. For when the civil ruler assumes the right to extract as much as God Himself demands, then the civil government is exalting itself above God. The civil ruler is then essentially saying that his work is more important than the work of God Himself. Thus, while there is no explicit number in Scripture for civil taxes, Samuel certainly indicates that 10% has far exceeded the maximum for a free society. At this point, don’t call it taxation, call it slavery to the State.
Hardly any western nation on earth today has a total tax burden below 30% (a couple are slightly below, several are over 40%).3 This means that nearly every western nation today needs to slash its tax burden by at least 66% in order to return to Samuel’s standard of tyrannical slavery.
One problem with allowing an income tax, however, is the need for accurately reporting income. This is not an issue with the ecclesiastical tithe, for God allowed no legal enforcement of the tithe. Thus the Church must depend on the free giving and honesty of her members.4 The State, however, will use legal coercion to extract its duties. Thus, if taxation is based on a percentage of income, it will require reporting of income to make sure it’s getting its demanded percentage accurately. To eliminate this requirement, several measures could be taken—all of them undesirable to someone. First, the State could rely on honesty and non-reporting like the Church does. In this case, revenues would certainly plummet, just as the Church sees nowhere near the ten percent it is due today. Voluntary reporting or only payer-reporting would have similar results. Fraud would be rampant. The civil government could require an accurate income statement as qualification to vote. This would disenfranchise many people, especially those who are generally honest and upstanding, but place a high value on person privacy. (It’s also unconstitutional at this point.) There seems to be no good way around this problem, if an income tax is desired.
A property tax is not only problematic, but is not permitted in Scripture, and should in fact be considered unbiblical. Only God has absolute ownership of property; He delegated this to individuals, and gave us a commandment against property theft in all forms (Ex. 20:15; Lev. 19:11, 13; Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Prov. 22:28; 23:10). God did not give the civil State any claim of ownership in individuals’ land. It has none, and for it to claim such a right is to defy God. And what is a property tax except a claim of partial ownership in the land? It is a system of feudal tenure in which the State claims a percentage of the value of your property, yearly, for the sole privilege of living on land under the particular jurisdiction. While this type of tax has deep historical roots, it is also deeply unbiblical. And though this tax has historically been collected and spent at the county level—thus demonstrating how the County historically was the fundamental unit of governmental authority in this country—it is nevertheless an unbiblical form of taxation and should be replaced with a better form in every place in which it is practiced.
A sales tax seems to be the least intrusive on the surface of it. It is enacted not on ownership or income, but only on exchange. Thus it is extracted piecemeal. This means there is never a large tax surprise at the end of the year. As a tax only on voluntary purchases, it gives people an incentive to save as much of their money as possible if they wish to avoid taxation. One problem, however, is that to the extent we have to buy a certain amount of basic necessities, a sales tax places a greater necessary burden on lower classes than upper. Of course, it is assumes that wealthier people will indeed spend more and thus pay more in sales tax; but they are not required to do so by the basic needs of life. If it is a valid consideration that there is a basic set of human needs most people must purchase of necessity, then a sales tax does indeed hit the poor harder. For this reason, many States and municipalities do not assess sales tax on basic food stuffs and certain other groceries. Secondly, while it seems fairly unobtrusive from the shopper’s perspective, the sales tax requires the business to keep records of all sales and submit accurate reports along with the collective sales tax payment. This additional bookkeeping and reporting creates the same problems for businesses that an income tax creates for individuals. It is also additional and unnecessary expense added to the cost of doing business.
There seems to be no good form of taxation compatible with preserving the privacy of person, income, or property. Taxation seems to be an inherent compromise of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why, I believe, the Bible prescribed no method for civil taxation: because taxation for support of civil government is inherently at odds with the type of freedom God desires us to attain. The very idea of empowering the coercive arm of society to fund itself by means of its own coercive arm seems at best a recipe for corruption, if not enslavement. If it is fundamental folly to put the power of the purse and the power of the sword in the same hands, then our means of funding the administration of justice in society needs to be radically rethought.
Taxation will always require some degree of servitude. To the extent that it does—and it will vary from time to time, place to place—it means we are not free people, not a free society. To the extent that we must tolerate taxation as Christians—as our inspired writers have told us to (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17)—it is an admission that sin has a grip on society, both among the people and the officials. We must strive to reach a society in which the protections of person and property and ensured through voluntary means. I believe the silence of the Bible on the method and form of civil taxation was deliberate because no method could be prescribed in accordance with God’s design for society—even in a sinful world—which would not itself involve some amount of sin.
What principles, then, can we glean from Scripture in order best to rein-in taxation? First, it should be based on a fixed percentage. The tithe was ten percent for everyone. A graduated percentage is unbiblical and thus unjust—the rich should not pay a greater percentage than the poor as they are forced to do now. Second, the fixed percentage should be nowhere near as much as ten percent total. Ten percent should be an indicator to us all that we are squarely in the midst of tyranny. Social repentance and a return to individual responsibility are in order. Third, the only biblical model for a method of taxation is on income. Other forms of taxation either have no biblical precedent at all, or run against biblical principles of property.
The Right Form of Taxation
Based on these criteria and what else we have said above: if we are to suffer the evil of taxation for civil government, it should take only the following form: 1) local governments and local governments only should tax individuals, 2) only on net income, and 3) well under a total of ten percent, and 4) only for bare necessities of the administration of justice. The same principles should apply at each level in the federal system: the taxes collected by counties should be viewed as income, and taxed well under ten percent by States. The fullness of revenue collected this way from all counties by the State should be considered the State’s income. The Federal government should tax the income of the States for its services, but only well under ten percent.
This system would mean: 1) no individual would ever suffer greater taxation than what occurred at their local county level, and 2) at least ninety percent of your tax dollars would stay in your local community (only a maximum of nine percent would stay at the State level, and one percent to the National level).
For example, average household income in the U.S. is about $45,000 annually. In today’s mad system of taxation, a couple filing jointly will pay roughly 13% in federal income tax (25% if not married), and (in my state of Georgia) 6% in state income tax. They will also pay their half of Social Security and Medicare (the employer pays the other half), 6.2% for social security and 1.45% for Medicare. (If the earner is self-employed, he or she is liable to both halves, and thus 12.4% and 2.9% respectively.) When the order of taxes and all the brackets are considered, the total tax burden here is 22.13%.
This does not include the sales taxes we pay, taxes on imported items, increased prices due to government regulations, the hidden tax of inflation, so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol, and possible luxury taxes. Plus, an average American pays roughly 1% to 2% of assessed property value in property taxes. With average home prices around $175,000 in the U.S., just a low 1% property tax rate would mean an additional bill of $1,750. That an additional 3.88% of yearly income. Including this conservative property tax number raises our former total to 26.01%—a loss of $11,700 in income annually to the average couple.
Consider, in contrast, my proposed “biblical” federal model. Let’s assume an almost worse-case of 9%—almost to the 10% tyranny threshold— at each level of government. In such a case, the same household would surrender 9% of its earnings to the local government—that’s $4,050. He would pay nothing else in taxes. The State would then extract 9% from the county level—$364.50 from this case. The Feds, extracting 9% of State revenue, would get only $32.81 of this one person’s contribution.
In the current scenario, people are taxed directly by every level of government, and the money is often spent in ways they disagree with, for purposes that conflict with their values, and in ways in which they are not truly represented. In a free society, people are accountable to only one agency, only at the local level where they can be most accurately represented (or can move), and their money is spent mostly in that particular public square. And even in the worst-case scenario, it costs them way less than half of what the current scheme does.
Taxes in Colonial America
Decentralization and low taxes are not only good theory, they’re more originally American, too. It’s closer to the way America used to be. In colonial days, before the Constitution, there was no taxation from a central National government. When the central government (Britain) attempted to impose centralized taxation, it set in motion a series of tax revolts that culminated in the Declaration of Independence—a document which condemned King George III and Parliament among many other grievances “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”
This is a very general truth, however. This is not to say that the colonies were a tax haven, although taxes were generally lower than anywhere else throughout the British Empire at the time. Nevertheless, there were very many taxes of various types, and they were implemented variously in every colony throughout the period from colonization to the Declaration. There were poll taxes, land taxes, “collective mass of property” taxes, all-livestock taxes, specific taxes on horses and cattle, taxes on stocks, taxes on cash investments, house taxes, slave taxes, and carriage taxes.5 Only one colony, North Carolina, implemented as few as three of these ten types during this time; most used between four and six. So the colonies were not shy about implementing taxes.
Taxes, though various in type, were generally very low. For example, Virginia instituted a poll tax as early as 1619. The tax was one pound of tobacco per male person over sixteen years old. This was about one day’s wages for a common laborer.6 (Compare this to the full 26% described above for today, which means the government gets over three months worth of the average family’s wages.) In the midst of a financial strain, Virginia took on debt. In a few years, the tax was 10 pounds of tobacco. By 1644, it was as high as 18 pounds per male head.7 Even at this extreme point the 18-pound tax represented less that 7% of yearly income for a common laborer—the lower classes. It would thus have been much less for a professional of any sort. For a schoolmaster in 1651 making £30 per year, 18 pounds of tobacco would have equaled only 4.5% tax on his income.8
Again, this is only one of various taxes to which different people at different times were liable. But these rarely overlapped, and when they did, they still did not amount to a great collective burden. Overall, the burden to which any person and any given time was subject was very low, especially by today’s standards. It was also low in comparison to the tax burdens of the rest of the British Empire at the time. This is why George III chose the American colonies as the place to raise taxes to begin with.
And again, when Britain tried to impose a tax from the central government in addition to these colonial (State) governments, the colonists resisted and ultimately revolted. The Boston Tea Party was thrown as a result of Britain’s “Townshend Acts” of 1767 and Tea Act of 1773 which had levied a tax on several imports, including tea, and created a government-enforced monopoly on tea. The tax on tea was uncomfortable but not exorbitant by today’s standards—at 8.33% (3 pence per pound when tea was selling at 3 shillings (36 pence) per pound). Consider that this was only on a tax on single product which was used mostly by the upper and upper-middle classes, and not a universal sales or import tax. Today, several States allow sales taxes on most goods at rates higher than the 8.33% on only tea for which our ancestors rebelled and shed their blood. Meanwhile, the total per capita tax burden in the colonies was significantly less—only two to four percent—of what was being levied in Britain.9 And the colonists said, “We would rather die.”
Of course, consider the wisdom the British bureaucrats—imposing taxes on the most outspoken and able of people in the colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765 levied taxes on all printed materials, thereby enraging every minister, lawyer, publisher, and politician in the hemisphere. Then the Townshend Acts hit their tea—a commodity indulged in mostly by the wives of the aforesaid classes. Now you’ve got disgruntled lawyers with the added aggravation of their wives nagging them! Then, to add insult of intelligence to the original insult, the British imposed a monopoly on the tea with the Tea Act. So the British succeeded in enraging the classes of people most self-interested and most able to rouse the masses against the British: the preachers, the lawyers, and their wives. That would be about as smart as, today, levying a tax on lobbyists, liquor, and prostitution in Washington, D.C. You would see an immediate tax revolt from the vast majority before you could say “Washington Monument”!
Well, enough has been said so far to demonstrate the point: a biblical view of taxation is greatly decentralized, based on only a fixed percentage, and only assessed on an increase in income. Even this is not fully biblical in the sense of God’s ideal of only voluntary services, and taxation can only be described as a very questionable, necessary evil. And taxation to pay for civil government should always be well less than ten percent of net income annually. And it should only go to local government. Higher levels must wrangle and negotiate with the more fundamental, local units for their services. Beyond this is to prescribe tyranny, which is to say we live in a tyranny now.
I say, it’s time for another tea party. Throw off the taxes. Assert fundamental rights and local sovereignty. In the next section, I’ll show you how it got so bad.
Next section: Taxation: how freedom was lost
- See Gary DeMar, “Financing the Responsibilities of the State,” Chapter 16 of God and Government: A Biblical, Historical, and Constitutional Perspective (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, Inc., 2011), 307–329.
- Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1997), 903–912.
- Also, this is generalized as revenues as a percentage of GPD. Results for individuals can range from around ten percent total to well over 50 in the U.S.
- Proof of paying tithes ought to be considered, however, as a qualification to vote in church elections, especially for financial decisions.
- Robert M. Kozub, “Antecedents to the Income Tax in Colonial America,” The Accounting Historians Journal 10/2 (Fall 1983): 101.
- Based on stats collected by William B. Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, 1620–1789, 2 vol. (New York: Hillary House Publishers, 1963), 880.
- Kozub, 103.
- Weeden, 881.
- Ben Baack, “The Economics of the American Revolutionary War,” February 5, 2010, EH.net (accessed Sept. 22, 2011).
Kevin DeYoung’s brave piece “Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders” gained considerable attention last week, but not nearly as much discerning pushback from Reformed folk as it should have. I need to say a few words about it, especially because it concerns a very hackneyed fallacy that destroys the true meaning and mission of this thing called “the church.”
Bojidar Marinov has already eviscerated the propaganda pitch in DeYoung’s piece. He is right. I don’t need to build on that. I want to draw your attention to a particular fallacy that surfaces multiple times in the piece. There are multiple fallacies that more discerning Reformed folk should be howling about across social media—straw men, epithets, equivocations, poisoning the well—but worst of all are the repeated examples of false dichotomy. These are worst not only for their content, but also for their presupposition. They arise from the entrenched two-kingdoms dichotomy that men like DeYoung depend upon to keep the evangelical industrial complex going.
Remember, it was not so long ago that DeYoung got candid as to why he likes “two kingdoms” theology: it provides, in his words, “a bulwark against theonomy and reconstructionism.” And how does it do this? DeYoung doesn’t tell us so much as show us in this latest piece. Just witness the fallacies:
It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church.
Notice how the two choices are structured here: either “real Christ-followers living in real community” or “the confines of the church.”
Problem: A group of “real Christ followers living in community” IS the church. In order for DeYoung’s statement to remain coherent, the implication would have to be true: anyone engaged in a more flexible ecclesiology that DeYoung’s four walls on Sunday model is by definition not “the church.” Next:
What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.
Notice the choices he presents: emphasize either “social justice” or “the church.”
Problem: social justice is a mission of the church. It is not either-or, it is both. If the church isn’t speaking to issues of social justice, then only pagans will be, and you’ll have a pagan-raped society, which is exactly what he have thanks to denuded, bifurcated pulpits DeYoung represents.
The church’s failure in this area is precisely why church and society are both in such a mess, precisely why the young people leave the church in droves, and precisely why the Christians like Bono end up being the ones who have to carry the message of social change.
If, tomorrow, God gave me a choice to spend the rest of my life serving the ministry of either Bono or Kevin DeYoung, there is no question whom I would choose. Bono, at least, has shown himself capable of learning the biblical teaching on some social issues. I’d go with Bono (and I can’t even stand his music).
Social justice is a calling of the body of Christ as a community of faithful believers. If your church is not preaching, teaching, and its members are not engaged, in some work for justice, you ought to question as to whether that church even still has its lampstand.
Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church.
Notice the dichotomy: either “nameless faceless” or “globe-trotting rock star.” Only the former can be part of the church (which implies the latter are damned to hell?).
Problem: the church includes all people of all walks of life, all social classes, and many callings of varied sizes, shapes, and scopes. Setting one against the other is irresponsible, especially when membership within the body of Christ is attached to the criteria. Nameless, faceless people can still be engaged in all kinds of social issues based upon biblical law and a spiritual, God-given, “Gospel saturated” calling. DeYoung’s fallacy hides this option from his readers, and labels all such would-be Christians as egomaniacal, wannabe rock stars who are outside “the church.” Shameful.
The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration.
Likewise, “The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders.”
Notice the dichotomy: either “the church” (as DeYoung envisions it) or you must be “anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration.” Either “visible church” (DeYoung’s brand) or else you’re a boneheaded, clueless liberal in a “Che Guevara t-shirt.”
That’s the greatest problem in all of this: DeYoung’s view of “the church” is not just “visible” and “institutional,” it is a very limited, gelded, bound version of it. For him it seems that “church” in all its traditional “confines” means “church building” and “what we do between 11 and 12:30 on Sundays.” Everything else—work, government, social justice, charity, art, and apparently even Bono—is outside the church.
This is a message I have been combatting for a long time now. I even just gave two lectures in Australia and Tasmania on this very topic. I need to write more on it as well as make those lectures available soon. Let this suffice for now:
We use the word “church” in multiple ways, but more often than not we (as DeYoung here personifies) use it to mean “church building,” “church meeting on Sunday,” or possibly “church government (i.e., her officers and their decisions; i.e. the church establishment.” But these are not only highly limited views, they have grown complacent, truncated, and in some cases, corrupt. In the Bible, the most important view of “church” is that of the body of Christ made up of all believers in all times and places.
When I say that social justice is a mission of the church, I do not mean that we replace corporate worship with rallies for some social cause—although the pulpits ought to address such issues far more than they do. What I mean, however, is that the members of the body of Christ (“the church” in its fullest and most important sense) should be building and exercising their faith in such a way as to apply God’s word to every area of life. This would include business, education, social justice, criminal defense, criminal justice reform, racism, and on and on—issues that are central to God’s law and often in the early church’s mission in the book of Acts.
When DeYoung keeps bifurcating between “the church” and all these other things, he is severing the legs from the body of Christ and limiting its mission to sitting for sermons and corporate worship on Sundays (and Sunday school, “VBS,” and the other trappings of American churchianity, administered by the establishment). DeYoung says he wants plodders, but he really wants sitters. Anything else he labels a revolutionary with Che t-shirt.
It’s simply time for Christians to explode this myth. If you are a Christian, you are part of “the church” no matter where you are or what you are doing, at all times and in all places. You ought to be carrying out the great commission in obedience and teaching (where appropriate and applicable) at all times. Whenever any leader in “the church” speaks as if we must neglect all those things in order to make “the church” what it ought to be—four walls and corporate worship on Sundays—a chorus of rebuke ought to arise against that person from a million knowledgeable members of the body of Christ. Or, if you are the type who does not like the confrontation, simply ignore such a leader and get on with the 99 percent of the rest of the work of the church which they have so far neglected and destroyed.[Photo by Jamie Carter, courtesy of Flickr]
Chapter 4: States’ Rights
4.3 How to get freedom back
If we are to discuss how to restore freedom in regard to States’ rights, we have to make some acknowledgments and qualifications up front. Nevertheless, there is work we can do and which needs to be done.
Remember that this project focuses mainly on things average individuals can do to restore freedom in this country. We have already addressed those areas where we can have to most impact by far. These are education, welfare, and local government. Taking control to the maximum extent possible in these areas has got to be main priority. And much of what needs to take place in these three areas will keep the average family busy for years to come. If we can’t start here, we shouldn’t expect to do so where the treading will be more difficult. Trying to concentrate on issues above and beyond these—in both scope and governmental power—will only detract from the primary tasks for most people. As we shall quickly see, most of the steps that need to be taken in regard to States’ rights will have to come at the level of State representatives, State assemblies, and above. There simply is no key we can turn, hand we can shake, organization we can join, or person we can vote-in (should we even be so lucky as to have such a “perfect” candidate), that will magically transform the nation into a States’ rights paradise (should such a thing exist) over-night. With that said, however, there are still things average people can do toward restoring freedom in States’ rights.
First, self-education is always in order. Just as with local government, most people have no idea even of the names of their State legislators. Learn who they are and everything about them. Learn their beliefs, platforms, and everything about their voting history. Learn about your State governmental system in all of its branches, departments, procedures. Why not learn some of its history while you’re at it. (Do your State and local historical societies or museums? Check them out.)1 You’ll probably find out some interesting connections and wealthy families stretching from way back all the way to the seats of power today. Special interests tend to be homebrewed and inbred. At any rate, knowledge of who representatives are, how the system works, what various laws are, and what issues are on the floor or in queue are all part of this learning process.
Second, individuals should start websites monitoring State officials just as we described for local governments. This site should be dedicated only to State matters, and not mixed with either local or national political campaigns, etc.—except inasmuch as local or national political matters directly relate to State sovereignty, etc. The goal here is ultimate transparency. This is the ultimate form of education: revealing to people things they would not normally know and understand. It is also a great service to your fellow citizens: since most people have no clue about such things, don’t even think beyond the normal media, and wouldn’t know where and how to find important information even if they did consider it, you can provide an invaluable service with a State-politics clearing-house website or blog. Since so few people will take the initiative on something like this, it could be the greatest contribution you could make to the cause of liberty. Especially if you have the skills (not a whole lot required!) and time available to do it, and are looking for a way to contribute, it is almost imperative that you begin now.
Part of your own educational process will include learning the vast array of issues where States’ rights can restore freedom. One of the best places to observe some of these, currently, is in the work being done by the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC). Now, this acknowledgement is by no means a blanket endorsement of that organization, although it is also not to say otherwise either. I simply don’t know that organization inside-and-out enough to say at this point. But the work they are doing is in fact admirable in both scope and detail. They have drawn up model legislation for a host of issues which States can apply in their own jurisdictions. Consider just a few of the areas in which they are currently working:
Nullification of Federal Health Care
State control of State National Guards
Freedom from federal firearm registration and regulations
Protection of intrastate commerce
Protection of local food and food commerce
Protection from national ID (REAL ID, etc.)
Protection from TSA offenses, etc.
Nullification of unconstitutional legal tender laws
Nullification of “Cap and Trade” and other EPA regulations
regulation of federal tax collection and revenue
Sheriffs First” laws against unwarranted federal policing activities
Industrial hemp freedom acts
This is an impressive list, but the potential is even greater than this. As I will discuss in a moment, a move to practically nullify Roe v. Wade could be effected at the State level, and indeed has already been attempted at least once (it failed by an 11% margin, almost certainly due to a refusal to allow any exceptions at all, such as mother’s life in danger, etc.). It can probably go beyond this as well. At any rate, it will be helpful to find your local chapter of TAC, and ask how you can help get the word out in your community.
TAC also works for issues which may sound uncomfortable to some Christians—such as State control over marijuana laws. In defense, the issue here is not about personal stances on marijuana—medicinal or otherwise—but rather jurisdiction. How does the U.S. Constitution apply to this issue? Many would argue it does not, and that acquiescing on this one Constitutional issue legitimizes Federal usurpations in all other areas not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution as well. After all, if we submit to the idea that the Constitutional interstate commerce clause applies to the regulation of marijuana inside the State, then that can be used as a precedent when the Feds move to regulate other commerce within the State as well. But whatever your position on this particular issue (and certainly we must account for our emotions in regard to “drug abuse” and like epithets), it should not take away from the whole range of other issues TAC is addressing in favor of the Tenth Amendment and States’ rights. It is vital that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater (should there be any bathwater to throw out at all). We will return to nullification, etc., momentarily.
Also, having learned about your State reps, you may discover that they themselves have little knowledge or ambition in regard to States’ rights. And they will likely know nothing about the potential State power offers for reclaiming freedom in the many areas just discussed. You could aid your fellow citizens by informing your State reps of these things, and providing them information to pursue these avenues. This is still part of the educational process, and it is something an average person can do toward advocating States’ rights well within the Constitutional bounds of the Tenth Amendment.
From this point, then, we move from “What can I do now,” to “The way things ought to be.” Beyond the immediate practical steps, in other words, there are larger goals—but these are definite if lofty goals at which to aim. Educating your reps is one thing, getting them actually to develop, introduce, and promote States’ rights issues in Assembly are quite another. And it is here that individual efforts will be limited. But this should not stop us from discussing them.
Nullification and Interposition
The doctrine of “Nullification” was expressed in the Kentucky Resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson in 1798. It was a reaction against John Adams’ atrocious Alien and Sedition Acts which enhanced federal deportation powers at the President’s whim, and made criticism of the administration a criminal act. Jefferson and many others deemed these Acts unconstitutional, and argued that when the federal government passes unconstitutional acts, the States have a right to declare them null and void within their own jurisdictions. Jefferson wrote, “whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”2 For this State power, the Resolutions appealed explicitly to the Tenth Amendment. Nullification, therefore, is a States’ declaration that a federal law exceeds Constitutional powers, and is thereby considered null and void within that State.
At the same time, Madison penned the Virginia Resolution (singular), which posited the similar notion now called “Interposition.” The Virginia version exposited the same view of States’ rights, although Madison did refer to it as not only a States’ right but its “duty”; in times of federal tyranny, States are “in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil.” Some view this as going beyond mere nullification to active resistance. This does not seem to me to be a necessary implication of “arresting the progress of evil.” A subsequent review by the Virginia legislature asserted that a State declaration could have no legal force upon the federal government, but was only an expression of opinion, but even this leaves open the possibility that a State may decide in some way actively to resist—either alone, or in concert with other states.
At any rate, the idea of States resisting tyranny from legal lords above comes directly from the history of Reformation theological social theory. Calvin (although to a lesser and less systematic extent, Luther as well) and his disciples developed the idea of the intervening “lesser magistrate” who resists impositions of tyranny from above.3 It is a biblical and historically Christian concept in which a representative civil ruler acts representatively on behalf of the good of civil liberty against the evil of tyranny—the civil magistrate’s job, after all (Rom. 13).
This is what, historically, the American Declaration of Independence was—an interposition of the colonies in concert against King George III. In this sense, we can speak of “interposition” in a more general way without having to accept all of the technical terminology that comes along with Madison’s Resolution. We can also speak generally of nullification in the same way. We can even celebrate Jefferson’s fabulous rhetoric in this regard without adopting every jot and tittle of the Kentucky Resolves. Therefore, “let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution,” by which “man” Jefferson meant our civil rulers, and by which constitutional “chains” he meant the Tenth Amendment.
Ending Abortion Now
What are some of those lofty goals at which State officials could aim? Aside from TAC’s long and important list already referred to above, perhaps the most important and powerful issue for Christians that can be addressed by State power is the abomination protected under Roe v. Wade. This was the subject of an informative lecture by Constitutional Lawyer Herb Titus, given at American Vision’s annual conference in 2009: “Restoring the Sanctity of Human Life State by State.” Without going too far in depth into the arguments, suffice it to say that the Supreme Court decision contains holes that can be exploited, and more importantly rests on factual assumptions that are today disproven by more advanced knowledge. Therefore, a State could set a precedent with a well-designed, thoughtfully constructed statute which would effectively displace the ruling of Roe v. Wade—even if it remains on the books!
Most Christians don’t realize that the legal decision of Roe v. Wade had nothing to do with determining when life begins. This aspect of the situation was explicitly not decided in the case. As the writer of the opinion, Justice Blackmun, states in it:
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
He went on to discuss different theories, but all this was superfluous to the overall decision. What this allowed the court to do, however, was subsequently to forbid the States—on the same facts only, by the way—to impose any single view of the beginning of life upon citizens.
The decision was made based on that genius piece of Lincoln’s legacy: the 14th Amendment, period. To whom do the Constitutional protections of life and privacy apply? The State of Texas (Wade) argued that a fetus is a “person” within the language of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court acknowledged, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” The problem was, that Texas’ application of that Amendment to the unborn was a novelty—there was nothing explicit in the Constitution saying as much, there was absolutely no legal precedent for interpreting it that way, and there was no historical precedent from the time of the Amendment for such an understanding. As such, the Court ruled this application of “person” to be unconstitutional. For the 14th Amendment itself clearly defines exactly who exactly are “citizens” and thus whose rights are protected: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States. . . .” There you have it: the Constitution protects only those who are born, not the unborn.4 This, coupled with the other observations led the Court to conclude, “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” Yet since the mother was in fact “born,” she was protected: and thus the mother’s right to life and privacy is all that was deemed to be left standing.5 Thus the famous decision hinged upon a technical argument over a definition, and the application of wording completely unheard-of and unforeseen by the people who wrote the Amendment.
Yet, as I said, the ruling is not airtight and not insurmountable. Even beyond what we have said already, yet another powerful approach is available to States. While the word “person” does not apply to the unborn according to the U.S. Constitution, there is nothing to prevent States from adopting Amendments to their State Constitutions which provide greater protection of life than that of the U.S. And the beauty of this approach is that the Supreme Court consistently defers to the State Constitution or State Court rulings in order to determine the definitions of State laws. Thus, in short, a State could define “person” to include the unborn, and for any laws passed in regard to that definition, the Supreme Court would abide by the State’s definition for that case because it afforded a higher protection of life than the U.S. Constitution. Since the State of Texas did not have this in place at the time, its appeal to the 14th Amendment was judged by Federal precedents and the definitions derived from the U.S. Constitution, and thus, it lost.
But in a future case, if a State did amend its Constitution, decide a case, or even perhaps pass a statute that properly expanded the protections of life to unborn persons, then any Supreme Court challenge would have to deal with the State definition as a higher protection and sustain it. For this reason, today, there are groups advocating “Personhood Initiatives” and working for “Personhood Amendments.” These are at both the State and national levels.
Christians in the right-to-life world simply have to learn that a decentralized solution is best and most likely to succeed. The strategy of a “once-for-all” reversal of Roe has been ineffective for almost forty years now. This is not to say it’s an impossibility; but had the time and money been focused on local solutions for this whole time, you would today very likely see life more properly protected in a vast array of States already, and the forces of infanticide pushed to the blue fringes of the nation. Those who will accept only a single, national solution to abortion are saying that if they cannot outlaw abortion everywhere then they don’t want it outlawed anywhere. The corollary to this is even more startling: if they cannot outlaw abortion everywhere, then they’d prefer it to be legal everywhere. So the power and potential of a decentralized, States’ rights approach should be evident to everyone. Indeed, it should immediately become imperative to everyone who cares about the right to life.
State officials who are interested in advancing these measures can seek them out and get involved. Individuals who wish to do what they can—“county rights” style—could get involved with their local and State-wide groups, ask for direction, volunteer their time, and inform any and all of their State representatives, Senators, and other officials of these causes.
This applies directly here to the right-to-life issues, but really applies to any of the Tenth Amendment issues listed above. Contact your officials’ offices. Ask around. Search the web for groups or local committees involved in whatever States’ rights issue you feel most strongly about. Find out what’s already being done, and if you find the work worth joining, then get to it. At the very least, you should find such a cause and such a group and support them with donations. If you don’t think you have any time to spare, or nothing else to contribute (which is almost certainly false), then give money. The causes of life and liberty can employ your $25/mo. better than the movie channels or dinner at Applebee’s this week. But volunteering help, skill, and time is even better yet.
Next section: Taxation and a free society
- In my experience, State and local history (as well as State and local government) are not well-emphasized in public school curricula. Most students will graduate with little or no knowledge in these areas—to an even worse degree than in other areas. This means that such education is up to you.
- Kentucky Resolution 1.
- See Douglas F. Kelley, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th Through the 18th Centuries (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992); and David W. Hall, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights, and Civil Liberties (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009).
- A good argument could be made the other way, I think, but the language of the Amendment is in fact terribly unhelpful. On the surface of it, the idea that the Constitution only protects the rights of the “born” in the word person is like arguing that Jefferson’s Declaration that “all men are created equal” and have the natural rights of “life, liberty, etc.” only technically applies to men and not women. After all, it says “men.”
- Although the Court did go on to allow for some State regulation in regard to the mother’s health, etc.
Have you ever heard a parent tell a child, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out”? We hear it many times, but probably don’t stop to think of the spirit of such a comment and what it means for our society.
Even though we usually consider such a statement as hyperbole and let it go in passing, it ought at least to register with us once in a while that such a parent is implicitly justifying murder for what in reality is nothing more than a child needing an attitude adjustment. Sometimes children do need a hard rebuke, as they are to honor their father and mother. The problem we have here, however, is that the parent is using language that elevates their status from a representative of God to God Himself. We must understand the delegated authority that was given to parents and their limitations of discipline.
Children are called to respect and obey their parents in everything as long as they are not leading them to reject God (Deut. 5:15; Col. 3:20; Eph. 6:1). This does not mean, however, that the parent has been given the authority to rule over their child in any way they please, including threats of putting them to death. Even though this threatening statement is accepted as a norm in our culture, it is blasphemous. Yet parents are sometimes seen as good parents when they make such threats and are applauded for instilling the fear of man in their children. Now, we know that the majority of the time, because of the restraining grace from God, the parent is not actually going to execute this threat. Even if the child does not really believe they will either, the parent has now implicitly declared that they have such a charge over the child’s life. They have declared that they have the authority to take their breath away because they (allegedly) gave them breath. They have now overshadowed the fact that God is the giver and taker of life.
Some may respond to this by saying, “Does not the law of God command that rebellious children received capital punishment?” However, we are not speaking of a small child who is still in the rearing stage of life, or a child who got into some trouble with some kids in the neighborhood a few times. The law was referring to a son persistently rebellious to the point where the parents have no control over them. This child is so rebellious that even with the discipline of the parents they are continuing in sin. The child is most likely a danger to the family and is unwilling to submit not only to the rules of the household but the law of God. This not only makes them a thorn to the family but to the whole society.
Deuteronomy 21:18–21 says,
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
We even see here in these scriptures that it was not the parents’ duty to administer this punishment on their own, but they were to take the son or daughter out to the elders (v. 19). We also see that this punishment is not executed based on the parents’ anger, but from righteousness and to purge the evil from the midst of the whole congregation. This son is being punished not only for disobeying the parents but because their life is in complete, incorrigible rebellion to the laws of God.
Likewise, consider a couple other relevant passages from the law:
“For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him” (Lev. 20:9).
“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Ex. 20:17).
This dishonoring of the parent deserves capital punishment because it shows the high honor that is to be given to the parent, but it still does not grant the parent ultimate authority over their lives. Parents are never given such authority, but rather their authority is limited and the child’s life is ultimately in the hands of God. Therefore the child has a right to life outside of their parents’ permission, including other unalienable rights.
Parental abuses by the parental State
A nation comprised of parents who speak as if they’re gods to their children will be a citizenry that speaks as if it is God. This means a State that acts, thinks, and speaks like a God who determines all—from cradle to grave—by its own word. Just as parents abuse their authority in this manner, the government has blatantly done the same thing—except its threats are not just talk.
Our fight for our rights in this country are not just personal offences, it is theological. Tyranny echoes the same attitude of the rebellious son who deserves capital punishment: one that rejects God. If we truly believe that the rights we have are not owed to us based on any document by the founders of this country, but because they are endowed to us by our Creator, then any overextension of authority is ultimately an attack on God. For the government to infringe upon our rights is ultimately to blaspheme God. God says he has given us these rights which are unchangeable in this life and the government says they have given them and can take them away.
The certain unalienable rights we have are not decided upon by votes or governing authorities, but they are inseparable because they come from God. This means they are guaranteed, they are owed, they are due to all mankind without permission from any other man or institution. When the State elevates itself to such authority, it is saying God is not holy. It is saying God is not just and his ways are not perfect. It is to say that man knows better than God. This, again, is blasphemy.
This does not mean that everything that some people call “rights” are always in fact rights. Those who are fighting for the right for certain jobs, or the right for mandatory wages, or the right to health care, or the right to education funded by the government, or housing are not the same rights that I am speaking of. Rather I am speaking of rights that can be defended from Scripture and do not force others into bondage, such as the right to life (including for the preborn), the right to protect and preserve life, the right to own property, the right to work and enjoy the fruit of our labor etc. Statists who require alleged rights that actually infringe upon other people’s real rights fall into the same category as the tyrannical government or the abusive parent: trying to play God and replace His Word with their own.
Colossians 1:15–18 is relevant here as well: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
We see clearly that Jesus is preeminent over all things in heaven and on earth because all things were made through him and for him. Thus, when the government violates God’s gift of liberties to man, it is not just rejecting patriotism, it is saying the State is preeminent and everyone exist for the State. Government schools (public schools) are a perfect example of this usurpation since the government declares education belongs to the State for the State’s benefit. Man has been gifted with sovereignty over their own lives under His authority and it is not in the authority of the government to take it away. The government thus attempts to display itself as the image of the invisible God. Its violation of our inherent rights is thus blasphemous to God.
We all say we treasure our rights, but often we get confused as to what rights are, where they come from, and how to defend them as Christians. Anyone who fights for rights simply out of personal pride or patriotism does not recognize he has no foundation from which to argue unless he has a Christian worldview that declares inherent rights given by God Himself. We must learn to uphold our rights and the rights of all people not only for ourselves and our children but so God’s name may be hallowed. His holiness and glory must be first, for He is the true head of all families, churches, and States.
Trevaris J. Tutt is the Pastor/Church Planter of Truth and Grace Bible Church in the inner city of Jacksonville, Florida. He is married with four children: two boys and two girls. He is an entrepreneur and is currently working on writing books to educate and edify the body of Christ on doctrine, apologetics, history, and biblical worldview.
Chapter 4: State’s Rights
4.2b Washington’s New Deal
While little discussed in today’s textbooks, George Washington held a virtually identical view of government as Hamilton—he was just less outspoken and more elegant about it. Some historians have considered Washington a mere front for Hamilton’s agenda—the public executive counterpart to Marshall’s later judicial back-door. But Washington often expressed views about “strong and energetic” government to rival the best of Hamilton’s in substance.1
Washington had brought the young man under his wing, making him his aide-de-camp. It was here that Hamilton reapplied his administrative abilities (first discovered as a bookkeeper in those warehouses when he was 12), and he realized he could actually have more control from behind the throne, so to speak, that from the spotlight. This was noticed by prominent historian Forrest McDonald (hardly a sympathizer with the antifederalists or State’s rights). He writes of Hamilton: “Much as he yearned to prove his worth on the battlefield, he was forced to realize that he could contribute far more as an administrator—for he was a man who could run things.”2 And this was just the beginning.
After ratification, Hamilton was ready to run with legislative papers and proposals. Despite a lethargic start (it took almost a month before enough members showed up to reach a quorum), on April 1, 1789, the first session of the first Congress opened. In a week, Madison was proposing new taxes on imports. Thus began the history of the federal government: let the taxing begin! The first actual statute enacted by Congress was the establishment of oaths for the members. The second was the Tariff of July 4, 1789. It was Hamilton’s plan, even though he was not yet even a member of the President’s cabinet. Nevertheless, the “Hamilton Tariff” went through, taxing imports, thus strengthening American manufacturing and weakening southern farmers by increasing the prices of the manufactured goods they needed. This was a grievance that remained for decades, and became a major cause of the Civil War.
Hamilton was thus already exercising significant control in Congress before his promotion to office. Of course, it had always been his plan. McDonald relates, “Hamilton contemplated an American adaptation of the British scheme of things—with Washington as George II and himself as Robert Walpole. But, like Washington, he had to await the event.”3 Hamilton retained this self-important and monarchical view of things for the duration, referring in 1792 to “my administration,” and to himself in the third person as “The Minister” in 1795.4
On September 11, 1789, Washington made the fateful appointment. It was confirmed the same day. Hamilton would be Secretary of the Treasury. But this is only part of that story. Washington had informed Hamilton he would get the job months before—only a few days after his inauguration.5 This gave Hamilton important time to influence Congress so as to create the position of Secretary of the Treasury with all the powers to his liking. And this he did. McDonald helps us here:
His hesitancy to make a final commitment, despite his preparations and his dreams, derived from a determination that the conditions of his appointment must be compatible with the success of his grand plan. From his point of view three conditions were vital. One he took for granted: that he would have the support of his friend and erstwhile collaborator James Madison, the ablest and most powerful man in the House of Representatives. The second, of which he was less confident, was that the treasury must be under the control of a single person with ample powers—unlike, for example, the impotent three-man Treasury Board that had attempted to administer the Confederation’s meager finances in 1784. The third, most important, and least certain condition was that the office must have some measure of independence from the executive and permit direct dealings with Congress.6
It would be the new creation by a centralized Congress of a position of power far beyond anything dreamed of in the Constitution, but nevertheless allowed by that fabric under the guise of all things necessary and proper. Hamilton created the blueprint for bureaucracy of finance which sits somewhere between the executive branch (to which it properly belonged), and the legislative branch in that it had direct influence on legislation and direct oversight of the Congressional purse, and Hamilton would be able to exercise some control outside of Washington’s leash. In short, Hamilton could write his own laws, and then call up military enforcement for them—both from the same seat.
This was just the type of Constitutional creativity Hamilton had always envisioned. He cared little for what final form the Convention would produce, as long as he could carve himself out a position such as this. Indeed, as he would later refer to the Constitution as a “frail and worthless fabric” propped up by his own powers,7it was his own ingenuity and prowess which he trusted to force his agenda ahead. Thus,
it was almost a matter of indifference to him how the national government was organized: what was important was to organize one and to endow it with as much power in relation to the powers of the states as possible. . . .
[For,] if a strong national government could be established on almost any plan at all, and if he could become minister of finance, he could personally activate the government to “provide for the happiness of our country.”8
By September 11, the position was created as he desired, Hamilton did become minister of finance, and two days later he was at work. He was soon immersed in financial arrangements with Holland and France, and sometimes with no oversight or knowledge of others. But the great gift came as Congress recessed for the fall: it demanded of Hamilton a report on how to improve public credit. The report was provided when Congress returned in January, and it put in play one of Hamilton’s long-term goals: federal assumption of State debts.
The measure was essentially socialistic in that it would cause unequal burden of repayment of these debts upon wealthier states. Indeed, in states that had already paid off large amounts of their debts, to be saddled with the arrears of their neighbors was criminal. But the poorer and the delinquent states were quite cheerful at the prospect; and it is no irony that this very scenario had been part of the Federalists’ bill of sale for the Constitution to those states. For just one example, Federalist William R. Davie tipped his socialist hand during the ratification debates in North Carolina, arguing,
The whole proportion, of this state of the public debts . . . must be raised from the people by direct and immediate taxation. But the fact is, sir, it cannot be raised, because it cannot be paid; and without sharing in the general impost, we shall never discharge our quota of the federal debt.9
Hamilton’s plan was strongly opposed by Madison and Jefferson. Nevertheless, in what must be the greatest political sellout of all time—in which is seen the shallowness, vanity, self-interest, and giddy exchange of principle for convenience—Hamilton was able to gain their vote in exchange for moving the U. S. Capitol to the Potomac River. Thus, in exchange for a guaranteed local influx of prestige and wealth from the capitol city, these men allowed the Federalist faction further to centralize power over national finance. This was classic “taking the cheese” if there ever was, and Hamilton was springing the trap.
After this came a systematic stream of reports and state papers from Hamilton to Congress. An increase in the Tariffs came in April, 1790. In December, Hamilton provided a second report on public credit, this time calling for a national bank—a proto-federal reserve. He finally won consent for it and it arrived in February, 1791. Hamilton had argued for the necessity of a national bank as early as April 30, 1781, in a letter to Robert Morris,10 so he had be waiting, planning, striving for this moment for a decade. In March of 1791 followed his call for a direct tax on liquors, which passed. This precipitated the tax-revolt known as the Whisky Rebellion which Hamilton and Washington personally helped squash at the head of their newly centralized 13,000-man army. But before they could do this, they had to pass two Militia Acts of 1792, in order empower the behemoth to conscript every able bodied male from 18 to 45, and then call them up at the President’s will.11 When not threatening otherwise innocent farmers from horseback, Hamilton and Washington furthered their collusion for protectionism and corporate welfare. The effort would eventuate Hamilton’s Report on the Subject of Manufactures calling for regulation of trade via more tariffs, and direct subsidies to favored industries, corporations, and projects.12
This idea of a corporate welfare world had been in mind for both Hamilton and Washington for some time. During that very first Congress, Washington addressed a joint session on January 8, 1790. His vision for America was in scope—by comparison to the old decentralized Puritan ideals—a New Deal and War State wrapped into one. He urged the need “To be prepared for war,” as “one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” Toward this end, he encouraged the Congress to “promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies.” This call was answered by Hamilton’s Report on the subject. Note that it was a call not only to provide a government-funded stimulus plan for manufacturing, but especially to provide for it in regard to military supplies. Thus, Washington created the original military-industrial complex—in peacetime.
Not often recognized as a big-government big spender, in that first-ever State of the Union address Washington called for greater federal control and spending on nearly everything you can imagine: manufacturing, military supplies, defense (particularly the “comfortable support of officers and soldiers”), Indian suppression, agriculture, commerce, transportation, post office, and science and education, including a national university. And perhaps just in case the actual funds weren’t there, he expressed strong “support for public credit.” All this, he added, was for “the welfare of our country.” It was the nation’s first cutting of it’s teeth on Welfare-Warfare Statism, and those teeth just happened to be, by legend, wooden. In reality, they were rotten.
Now don’t get me wrong! I am not trying just to bash Washington. I mean, I love the fact that he went to church sometimes, and I love the pictures of him kneeling openly in prayer at Valley Forge—even though it’s probably a piece of historical fiction. I just have to point out how much centralized, subsidized, nationalized everything contradicts the basic freedoms espoused in the Declaration of Independence, and, well, the Bible. For, however sincerely he may have championed his faith, he did not extend it into all areas of life. As a result, he ended up with a form of tyranny. And the precedents of subsidy and regulation set by him and Hamilton, while different in degree, differ not at all in principle from the socialistic schemes we have today—and just the same, in the name of “welfare”!
It should not surprise us, then, when we see Marshall legislating Hamilton’s State papers from the bench, that the view we get is one of gradual national tyranny over state and local freedoms. It was designed to impinge upon us from every branch of the national government until all of American life was ruled by a Hamilton-propped “worthless fabric.”
In the light of Washington’s New Deal, it also should not surprise us to see that control especially extended over business, commerce, and finance. Indeed, power over both the purse and the means of filling it were perhaps the most central aims of many of the Federalists. The Judiciary was the security blanket for these. Thus, more limitation on State powers came in 1824 when Marshall ruled against the State of New York in Gibbons v. Ogden. He struck down a shipping monopoly granted to a New York company operating between New York and New Jersey; this he did on grounds that federal licensing statutes took precedence over state laws, and thus a state could not license monopolies for companies engaging in interstate commerce—an area expressly enumerated for the federal government in the Constitution.
Of course this had been a design of the nationalists all along, despite their denials to the contrary during ratification. In 1821, a Washington D.C. printer and politician named Joseph Gales printed extracts from Robert Yates’ notes upon the Constitutional Convention. Upon receiving a copy, Madison wrote a letter to Gales in which he dismissed Yates as partisan and prejudiced. In the letter, however, Madison notably confided one of his true purposes at the Convention, “which was among other things to take from that State the important power over its commerce.”13 Perhaps Madison felt safe in admitting his true designs some thirty-two years after the fact.
Madison was thus quite open about his anti-State agenda. Even though he later broke vociferously with Hamilton and helped author the Virginia Resolution of 1798 advocating the doctrine of interposition of States against intrusive federal laws. But this, helpful as it may be conceptually, was little-too-late on Madison’s part, especially when you consider the ambition with which he had earlier destroyed State’s rights during the Constitutional settlement.
While containing many nuances, qualifications and explanations—all ingenious in a way Madison, in that era, seems gifted above others—he gives a simple enough explanation of the new government: it was designed as a means to bypass State laws and act directly upon individuals within the States: “Hence was embraced the alternative of a Government which instead of operating, on the States, should operate without their intervention on the individuals composing them.”14
What these men—indeed this Triumvirate of Washington, Hamilton, and Madison—accomplished was a “revolution in government” conceived of early by some men, including Hamilton, and designed for the express cause of assuming every power of the States (except local taxation and local property disputes) by means of centralizing power in a type of coup. In an early letter to James Duane, Hamilton expressed his regret that “an excess of the spirit of liberty” left the States with too much freedom, and this must be remedied either by taking direct control of Congress and assuming authority over the States (which Hamilton believed Congress already had anyway), or by calling a Convention for the purpose of circumventing them.15
So, we have seen quite a bit now—probably more than you ever wanted to see—of how the original freedom of States’ rights was lost. Couple this with the lessons of lost localism covered in the last chapter and the picture is pretty gruesome. But this is not where it has to end. We can recover a vision of decentralized government, even at the State level—one which is devoid of all the nineteenth century baggage of slavery, etc. We can recover the vision, and we can think of some practical steps toward restoring State freedom today. We’ll discuss that in the next section.
Next section: Restoring States’ Rights
- See Richard B. Morris, “Washington and Hamilton: A Great Collaboration,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 102/2 (Apr. 30, 1958), 107–116.
- Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1979), 15.
- McDonald, 126.
- McDonald, 392n18.
- See McDonald, 128; Nathan Schachner, “Alexander Hamilton Viewed by His Friends: The Narratives of Robert Troup and Hercules Mulligan,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 4/2 (Apr. 1947), 220.
- McDonald, 128.
- to Goveurnour Morris, Feb. 27, 1802.
- McDonald, 96.
- Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 5 vol. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1907), 4:238–9.
- Hamilton to R. Morris, April 30, 1781, PAH, Syrett, ed., 2:620.
- By comparison, when Shays’ Rebellion erupted over a truly corrupt taxation scheme, the governor was unable to muster more than a few hundred to fight for his corrupt cause. This, because the Constitution was not yet around and the national government could not could not commandeer the other state militias; and, the state militia was only voluntary; thus, as in a biblical system, when the would-be soldier perceive a cause to be corrupt, they can refuse to fight. Not so much under Hamilton and Washington.
- See. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 258.
- James Madison to Joseph Gales, August 26, 1821, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 vol., ed. by Max Farrand (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), 3:447.
- Madison to Jefferson, October 24, 1787.
- Hamilton to Duane, September 3, 1780, PAH, Syrett, ed., 2:401.
Chapter 4: State’s Rights
4.2 How they were lost
We have already covered how decentralization in principle was lost already with the Constitutional settlement. It is not my intention to rehash that same material for the loss of State Rights—though much of it is relevant. But we need to know more of the story, and we need to know more details of some of the parts I have mentioned in passing. What we have not covered yet, but very much need to, is just how systematic and premeditated that original takeover was. We are not dealing with patriots and patriotism here; we are dealing with the roots, causes, and progress of tyranny.
It is helpful to remember at this point that while great societies often appear to crumble overnight, very often the seeds of their destruction were actually planted long before. For example, when the Israelites demanded a “king like other nations” (1 Sam. 8:5), God said definitively that they had rejected Him (1 Sam. 8:7–8). This began the era of the kings in Israel. And yet this God-rejecting society which was “serving other gods” did not collapse immediately. Rather, it gradually decayed over centuries to the point that even its most famous reformer-King, Josiah, could not totally spare it from judgment. This era of the kings ended when the people were defeated and carried away captive into Babylon. But from beginning to end this decline and fall took about 434 years (1020BC to 586 BC). In other words, the incipient cause of a social decline can be present immediately, but its effects may take centuries to manifest fully.
Thus while it may be illuminating to speak of the various periods of centralization in America’s history—whether it be the Wilson War State, the Civil War, etc.—it is not necessarily the most effective approach. It may even be detrimental. For example, the Civil War debate can entirely consume you with an endless variety of side-issues—slavery not the least of them. And yet the issue of slavery—as important and interesting as it is—is not the core issue behind tyranny and centralization in American history. Yet it will consume the entire debate, and then breed several side debates of its own. This is unfruitful. It is better to lay the axe to the root of the tree than hack away at a thousand branches which always seem to find a way to grow back anyway. While it may require some digging, sweat and dirt, we simply must get to that root.
We cannot solve the problem if we are continually trying to fix the wrong problem. We cannot plan a proper solution to the problem if we are misstating the problem, or stating only part of it. For example, we feel free to condemn Wilson or FDR, Johnson or Obama, Socialism or the Fed, and yet we remain timid or even defiantly opposed to criticizing even parts of the Constitution itself. But if the Constitution was the first great act of centralization in this land—the act which enabled and empowered all subsequent centralization in this country (exactly as predicted by its opponents)—then it will do little good to clear away the subsequent acts alone. If the root remains viable, the brambles will grow back. “Return to the Constitution” sounds nice, but what good does it do to return ourselves atop the same slippery slope we’ve already gone down?
So in regard to this project, I am not so much interested in debating the evils pro and con of the Civil War (Northern Aggression, Southern Rebellion, or any of its other hundred partisan epithets), Reconstruction, or the Progressive Era (either in its Republican or Democrat permutations), or anything else. I want to focus on the root of the problem. For that reason, I will take this section to continue the story of centralization during the first generation after the Constitutional settlement, adding upon what I’ve already written under County Rights. I wish to hammer home just how systematically and drastically power was grabbed and centralized during that time, preparing the way for the wars, debts, and tyrannies that would come later. Since I have already told some of the story of the ratification debate, and the series of John Marshall’s Supreme Court decisions which gradually centralized power over every area that the Anti-federalists predicted, I now want to cover a different angle of the same takeover. This will, hopefully, further drive home how the nationalist takeover was premeditated and purposeful, and how it was the turning point for the country (though the nature of the change would take decades fully to manifest).
One of the prominent Anti-federalist writers, “The Federal Farmer” (possibly Richard Henry Lee), pointed out both the extreme degree of the change in government and the premeditated nature of it. Very early in the ratification debate, he wrote,
The plan of government now proposed [the Constitution] is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our condition as a people. Instead of being thirteen republics, under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government. . . . This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for sometime past.1
The Federalist Agents of Centralization
We need, therefore, to examine the goals and efforts of the most prominent of these early central planners. While there were, of course, many that deserve attention, we will only have space here to deal with some of the most famous—Madison, Hamilton, and Washington. Among these, we will mainly concentrate on Hamilton’s agenda.
As I said, we have already discussed Marshall a bit. Despite the enormity of his contribution, he was only the judicial wing of the real energy behind the Federalists. Writing on the centennial of Marshall’s death, the leftist Max Lerner noted the direction of the judge’s agenda: “[M]uch of Marshall’s career may be viewed as a process of reading Hamilton’s state papers into the Constitution.”2
There is no doubt that there was no influence toward centralization of power more efficient, effective, energetic and evil all at the same time than Alexander Hamilton. Often praised today by conservatives for the tradition of “strong Hamiltonian Federalism”—derived from his central role in writing the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution—his system was anything but truly federal. He was the liberal progressive of his day in nearly every political sense considerable (except possibly the idea of social welfare which was not really invented yet, not in the modern sense).
Long before the Convention, Hamilton displayed a dangerous taste for top-down, coercive means of obtaining his goals. As a young soldier these instincts served him well, producing examples of bravery and leadership during the Revolution. But during the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783, when the restless Revolutionary Army refused to disband without its long-overdue pay, Hamilton suggested Washington take charge of the army and use the threat of force to persuade Congress not only to pay up, but to pass legislation to install his dream of a more centralized financial system. Washington, as much a statist but less foolhardy than his former aide-de-camp, read Hamilton’s letter “with pain . . . astonishment and horror.” He explained,
The idea of redress by force, is too chimerical to have had a place in the imagination of any serious Mind in this Army; but there is no telling what unhappy disturbances might result from distress, and distrust of justice. . . . [T]he Army . . . is a dangerous instrument to play with.3
Hamilton’s dangerous disposition developed very early. As a bastard child who was orphaned at about 12 years of age when his mother died of fever, he was fortunate to find meaningful employment as a merchant’s apprentice. A prodigious self-taught child, his intellect and energy drove him quickly to a position of responsibility: he was keeping the books and running the warehouse at 12 while his masters were out at sea. Despite his early accomplishments and promise, Hamilton was bored. He confronted his boredom with dreams of fame and glory. In a letter to a friend, he revealed how he disdained a life of common business: “I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk or the like, to which my Fortune &c. condemns me.” He said he would willingly risk his life to exalt his “Station.” And Hamilton had studied the classics; he knew how to achieve advancement and fame. The primary way—according to prominent Greek and Roman writers—was through warfare. Hamilton was ready to risk his life, he said; and thus he wrote, “I shall Conclude saying I wish there was a war.”4
For a young man to be considering personal fame and advancement, and already having plans how best to achieve it, at age 12, is to say the least extraordinary. But to be discontent with a promising business career and willing to die for fame is the definition of a fool. To dismiss (really hate) the value of a steady wealth-producing life due to a lust for fame is indeed a biblical definition of foolishness.
We must not ignore the powerful role that the lust for fame played in the lives of America’s framers. It was overwhelming; it was all-consuming for them. An historian widely respected by colleagues from various perspectives and parties, Douglass Adair, first alerted the American history profession to the importance of this concept. It reigned true for most of the famous founders, including Hamilton. Hamilton recognized that “love of fame . . . is the ruling passion of the noblest minds.”5 He would second this motion later in his life in a letter to his uncle, suggesting that the “love of fame” was a common “spring of action” for seeking public office.”6 After reviewing how this love of fame infused the lives of Hamilton, Washington and others, Adair concludes,
The love of fame, and the belief that creating a viable republican state would win them fame, is part of the explanation of the élan, the tremendous energy, the dedicated and brilliantly effective political maneuvers by which a small minority of American leaders who were nationalists kidnapped the movement to reform the Articles, wrote what they conceived to be a more perfect union, and then managed to get it ratified by the reluctant representatives of a apathetic populace.7
An American Caesar
In Hamilton’s case, the love of fame seems to have had some attachment to the icon of empire himself—Julius Caesar. Jefferson had portraits of Bacon, Locke, and Newton in his parlor. He called these the three greatest men the world had ever produced. As a guest in Jefferson’s house, Alexander Hamilton rebuffed him: “The greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar.”8 Jefferson would conclude of Hamilton that while “honest as a man,” he was nevertheless, “as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.”9
An interesting angle appears long before Hamilton’s visit to Jefferson. As champion of the Constitutional centralization, Hamilton was the most vigorous nationalist to undertake its defense in print. But before he and Madison collaborated as “Publius” on the Federalist Papers project, a curious pair of response letters appeared in a New York newspaper. Here’s the story:
The other two delegates from New York left the Convention early in disgust at what they perceived as a coup. They returned to New York City and informed the strongly state’s rights (at the time) Governor George Clinton what was afoot. Merely ten days after the close of the Convention, the proposed Constitution was published in the New York Journal for all to read. In that same September 27, 1787 edition, an open letter to the citizens of New York bore a critique and solemn warning about the proposal. The letter was signed with the pseudonym “Cato.” The author was (most assume) Governor George Clinton.
The name “Cato” was taken from Cato the Younger (d. 46 BC), the ancient Roman statesman known for his commitment to freedom and honesty. After Caesar crossed the Rubicon and usurped power from the Senate, Cato committed suicide. He would rather die than suffer the tyranny of Caesar’s military dictatorship. Governor Clinton now saw a group of similarly ambitious would-be Caesars usurping power from the States. He warned the people:
Deliberate, therefore, on this new national government with coolness; analyze it with criticism; and reflect on it with candor: if you find that the influence of a powerful few, or the exercise of a standing army, will always be directed and exerted for your welfare alone, and not to the aggrandizement of themselves . . . adopt it—if it will not, reject it with indignation—better to be where you are, for the present, than insecure forever afterwards. . . .10
Within a week, the letter received a response in the newspaper.And what pen-name would the ambitious defender choose to oppose Cato? Unbelievably, it was “Caesar.” And just like the Caesar who crossed the Rubicon with military force, this young would-be Caesar brandished the threat of military takeover should the people not submit to the proposed government willingly. Referring to George Washington as “the American Fabius,” he urged Clinton to help the former general’s journey to the presidency of a new nation:
I would also advise him to give his vote . . . to the American Fabius; it will be more healthy for this country, and this state, that he should be induced to accept of the presidency of the new government, than that he should be solicited again to accept of the command of an army.11
Scholars for some time considered Hamilton the author of the “Caesar” letters, though it has been severely questioned by some today.12 Whoever the author was, he (or she) was certainly of same Hamiltonian nationalizing spirit, even if more extreme, and was very likely of personal association with, or at least known to, Hamilton. What this shows is that the nationalist clique of New York in which Hamilton circulated himself at the time was willing to appeal immediately to military force in order to get their agenda passed.
So here we have the same Hamilton who in 1783 urged Washington to leverage military power aligned with the same “end-justifies-the-means” tactic once again. Clinton (although certainly no saint himself) denounced this idea to the people as a threat that “in case you do not acquiesce, he should be solicited to command an army to impose it on you.” In his second letter as Cato, he went on to remind them of the freedom they had just fought for:
Is not your indignation roused at this imperious style?—For what did you open the veins of your citizens and expend their treasure?—For what did you throw off the yoke of Britain and call yourselves independent?—Was it from a disposition fond of change, or to procure new masters?—if those were your motives, you have your reward before you—go,—retire into silent obscurity, and kiss the rod that scourges you—bury the prospects you had in store, that you and your posterity would participate in the blessings of freedom . . . let the rich and insolent alone be your rulers—perhaps you are designed by providence as an emphatic evidence of the mutability of human affairs, to have the shew of happiness only, that your misery may seem the sharper, and if so, you must submit. But, if you had nobler views, and you are not designed by heaven as an example—are you now to be derided and insulted?—Is the power of thinking, on the only subject important to you, to be taken away? And if perchance you should happen to dissent from Caesar, are you to have Caesar’s principles crammed down your throats with an army?—God forbid! . . .13
This indeed was a case of Caesar versus Cato, and the Governor intended to make it clear to all people that a small group of tyrants intended to grab power over them. He wrote:
The Convention too, when in session, shut their doors to the observations of the community, and their members were under an obligation of secrecy—Nothing transpired. . . .
For the sole and express purpose [of revising the Articles of Confederation] a Convention of delegates is formed in Philadelphia:—what have they done? Have they revised the confederation, and has Congress agreed to their report?—neither is the fact.—This Convention have exceeded the authority given to them, and have transmitted to Congress a new political fabric, essentially and fundamentally distinct from it, in which the different states do not retain separately their sovereignty and independency, united by a confederated league—but one entire sovereignty—a consolidation of them into one government. . . .
[T]he Convention had taken on themselves a power which neither they nor the states had a right to delegate to them. . . . it originated in an assumption of power . . . founded on usurpation. . . .
[A]nd yet you are unhesitatingly to acquiesce, and if you do not, the American Fabius, if we may believe Caesar, is to command an army to impose it.14
Caesar’s final letter against Cato would reveal his animosity not only to freedom, but to religion: he wished to see America as a glorious secular empire destined to steal power from and begin the decline of Christian nations:
When this glorious work is accomplished, what may America not hope to arrive at? I will venture to prophesy that the day on which the Union under the new government shall be ratified by the American States, that that day will begin an era which will be recorded and observed by future ages, as a day which the Americans had marked by their wisdom in circumscribing the power and ascertaining the decline of the ancient nations in Christendom.15
Hamilton surely, quickly realized that “Caesar” did not have the upper hand in this particular rhetorical battle. He was playing the role of the tyrant, Caesar, against the just lover of freedom, Cato. He was threatening a military dictatorship, or at best a civil war, and he openly opposed Christian civilization at this time. He seemed to play the part of a tyrant well. So Hamilton resolved to change tactics: he presented himself as the champion of federalism and liberty, joining with Madison for the Federalist Papers. These did become a success, and probably should be the subject of a later supplementary discussion.
A Christian Statesman?
The public deprecation of “the ancient nations in Christendom” struck directly (if unwittingly) at the true Christian heritage of America. As we saw in the last chapter, the Christian feudal system (what was good of it), particularly the emphasis on contracts and property ownership, formed the basis of the settlement of this land. It formed the basis, particularly, of the decentralized nature of government in America. The nationalist swipe at that heritage—indeed the prophecy of its decline and fall—was an admission of the unbounded tyranny latent in that party.
Hamilton’s relationship with religion is certainly of interest. Adair and Harvey have recognized four different periods of his life in which his attitude toward religion was quite different: his youth, his fabulous rise to fame, his partisan activist period, and his decline and fall.16 Without explaining each part in depth, here are the main points. During his youth, Hamilton was eventually taken in by a devout Presbyterian family. During these years he prayed regularly and attended worship services and religious education, though he never joined a church. It seems that during these years he may have been simply going through motions, for in the second period, his references to the faith disappear from his writings almost entirely.
It is the second and third periods which concern us most here, for this is when most of Hamilton’s permanent influence was wielded. And it is here that his agenda and worldview are most explicit. As I mentioned, during this second period—which covered his military exploits and advance to national stardom, 1777 to 1792—Hamilton appears religiously indifferent, even mocking. He refers to religion only twice in these fifteen years, and both times in crude jest. In the first, he says that a certain “Dr. Mendy” fit his mold for a perfect army chaplain except that the parson “does not whore or drink”—suggesting that he expects hypocrisy among Christian ministers. Not ironically, the later editor of Hamilton’s writings, Henry Cabot Lodge, scrubbed “whore or” from his edition of the letters (the only one available to the public). The lack of irony comes in the fact that Lodge published in 1904 as a partisan of the old imperial Progressive Republicans—for whom Hamilton was a hero, but he had to be sanitized for “Christian America.” In the second reference, Hamilton provided a friend with his qualifications for a good wife. Among having “a good shape” and a large fortune, she must both “believe in God and hate a saint.” Aside from these references, we have nothing from Hamilton’s own pen on religion during the period. There are a couple of other anecdotes from others, but these, too, are unflattering.
Hamilton’s third stage is ushered in during the period of the French Revolution and the political battles with Jefferson. At this point, Hamilton suddenly waxes religious again. Unfortunately, his main references during this period make it clear he was using religious rhetoric only for political advantage. Indeed, he speaks explicitly of religion as an “engine” of politics, and explained this at length in letter to William L. Smith (April 10, 1797):
A politician will consider this [religion] as an important means of influencing opinion, and will think it a valuable resource in a contest with France to set the religious ideas of his countrymen in active competition with the atheistical tenets of their enemies. This is an advantage which we shall be very unskilled if we do not use to the utmost.17
Just for the record, while Lodge printed part of the letter of Hamilton’s, he suppressed this part of it. Progressive Republican “Christian American” endured.
With this plan in place, Hamilton mounted his attack against the Jeffersonians by presenting them as American admirers of the French Revolution, engaged in “a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity.”18 Yet as we just noted, it was Hamilton himself who sought to overthrow the ancient heritage of Christianity in society. So nothing of Hamilton in this period speaks of a Christian worldview: only of hypocrisy and political leverage. Even the secular historians note, “this period in his life hardly deserves to be praised as an era of Christian thought and practice.”19 This is an understatement.
Hamilton does eventually appear to get true religion, but only after his dramatic fall from fame and popularity. In his final four years of life there are numerous testimonies to his change of heart and perspective in his humbled state. He focuses on family, nature, and gardening, and prays with his sons. He allegedly disagreed with dueling, and yet accepted the code of honor to which he apparently felt bound. Nevertheless, he allegedly wrote that he would waste his shot and let Burr kill him. On his death bed he pleaded for the sacrament and eventually received it when the parson accepted his faith as genuine. Thus it appears Hamilton died a Christian.
But all of this came only after his great fall from public grace and influence, and little-too-late to affect his politics in a biblical way. Adair and Harvey observe,
Hamilton, who in the years of his early success had almost forgotten God, who in the years of his greatest power had tried to manipulate God just as he manipulated the public debt to increase that power, began sincerely seeking God in this time of failure and suffering.20
Besides, this more private religious period is less referenced as the image of Hamilton’s faith. It was his period of manipulating God that factors most heavily in this image:
Ironically, it is his insistence during these years, in tirade after tirade, that “democracy” and “Christianity” were incompatible, that Jefferson, “the atheist,” was God’s enemy, that has left a simple-minded American posterity with the false impression that Hamilton throughout his life was a devout Christian in both thought and practice.21
Indeed, we have seen that this was not the case. During his most influential years, he was at his most irreligious. And during these times he had perhaps the largest hand in America in pushing through massive assumptions of power, beginning with the Constitution, and extending throughout many acts of legislation, taxation, military action against Americans, central banking, judicial cases, and many other acts of tyranny. It is tempting to say that his years of tyranny and sacrilege were not ironically synchronized.
To be Continued . . .
Well, it is clear that this article is getting too long for one post. I will have to divide this section into two parts. In the next installment, we will walk talk about the New Deal—but not the one you think!—and the power-hungry elites who brought it to pass.
- The Complete Anti-Federalist, 7 vol., ed. by Herbert J. Storing (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 2.8.4.
- “John Marshall’s Long Shadow,” Ideas are Weapons: The History and Use of Ideas, (Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ, 1991), 31.
- Washington to Hamilton, April 4, 1783, The Writings of George Washington: Volume 29, January 1, 1783–June 10, 1783, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1938), 292, 293.
- Quoted in Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1979), 9.
- Douglass Adair, “Fame and the Founding Fathers,” Fame and the Founding Fathers: Essays by Douglass Adair, ed. by Trevor Colbourn (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1974), 10.
- See McDonald, 85; Hamilton to William Hamilton, May 2, 1797, Papers of Alexander Hamilton: Volume 21, April 1797–July 1798, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 78.
- Adair, 34.
- Adair, 18. See Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, Jan. 17, 1811.
- Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, Jan. 17, 1811, The Works of Thomas Jefferson: Volume 11, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1902), 168. The recent hagiographer of Hamilton has called this story “absurd.” His evidence however is a combination of strained assumptions and exaggerated circumstantial references, as will be shown in a later post.
- Storing, 2:105–6.
- Ford, Essays, 285. Fabius Maximus was the Roman general who won his wars gradually through guerilla tactics. Instead of meeting superior forces head-on, he broke into small bands and executed numerous small sorties, slowly wearing down the enemy’s forces and will to fight. George Washington had used similar tactics against the British during the American War for Independence.
- There remains scholarly discussion whether or not the letters of Caesar were penned by Hamilton. While consensus for some time accepted it was Hamilton—based on primary-source evidence found by Paul Leicester Ford—a couple scholars have since undermined this position with counterevidence strong enough to force the question to remain open. (See Jacob E. Cooke, “Alexander Hamilton’s Authorship of the ‘Caesar’ Letters,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 17/ 1 (Jan., 1960): 78–85.) The worst part of this debate is that Ford’s primary source evidence was apparently destroyed in a library fire, and thus are not able to be re-entered into the discussion. This allows would-be Hamilton apologists the leverage of further skepticism.
- Storing, 2:107.
- Storing, 2:108–9.
- Ford, Essays, 291.
- See Douglass Adair and Martin Harvey, “Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesmen?” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 12/2 (Apr. 1955): 308–329.
- Quoted in Adair and Harvey, 316n10.
- Quoted in Adair and Harvey, 316n10.
- Adair and Harvey, 316.
- Adair and Harvey, 317.
- Adair and Harvey, 316.
Chapter 4: State’s Rights
4.1 Freedom and State’s Rights: How it used to be
The last chapter dealt with the primary issue of decentralizing government. The goal is to decentralize as much as possible, ultimately leaving individuals as free as possible and dealing only with local units of government. We also saw how America once had this ideal, how it was lost, and we talked about ways to begin taking it back. Now it’s time to talk about the important role of State’s Rights.
A vital lynch pin in American history related to the protection of local government is the old notion of State’s Rights. State’s Rights is a vital check on national tyranny, a link in true federalism, and a truer representation of the way American was settled and founded. Now I’ve already said that State’s Rights is not a good enough solution to national tyranny. But we need to note that if we recognize and restore their original role, States could provide 1) a necessary weakening of centralized tyranny, and 2) an umbrella of protection against the central government under which local governments can (or must) begin to work independently of federal regulation and interference. In fact, States could provide the needed impetus for local communities to develop greater independence. In short, even if not sufficient or ultimate, State’s Rights may be a necessary step along the way. More importantly, it is vital for understanding just how bad federal tyranny has become. For these reasons I include a chapter on it in this project.
The American colonies were originally settled as feudal land grants, chartered by the English crown. Government was established based on fiefs of private property, owner control, and very clear contractual agreements between levels of government. It is necessary here to remember that each colony was established as a separate ownership, separate charter, separate governments, separate jurisdictions. The operative word in regard to the colonies—later “State”—was “separate.” When the colonies declared independence, they established themselves as sovereign States, not a single nation. This history forms the basis for the old claims about State’s Rights. They have been largely ignored and maligned, but the argument is both viable and vital. Let’s take a brief look.
We have already covered much of the history regarding the nationalist takeover of this land. We’ll only summarize here what we’ve already covered, and add a little.
The Original States’ Rights Debate
Within three decades of the ratification of the Constitution—within the generation of those who debated—virtually all the fears of the anti-federalist opponents of the Constitution had come true. Power had been centralized at the national level in regard to the judiciary, the military, taxation, legislation, commerce, and much else. Nevertheless, while political power had been centralized in reality from day one, popular sentiment remained starkly divided. The majority of common Americans assumed the State’s rights view, while the victorious party in the Constitutional battle favored the Nationalistic view which was in place. The Jeffersonian party called “Democratic Republicans” represented the majority, while the Federalist Party controlled the day.
The debate over State’s rights ultimately hinged upon the interpretation of the nature of the Declaration of Independence. The anti-federalist (and thus, later, Jeffersonian) side noted what seemed like common sense: once the colonies “dissolved the political bands” that connected them to the British Crown, they immediately became thirteen “Free and Independent States.” These thirteen countries—as we would understand their position today—recognized their need to band together for strength and thus “united,” or confederated. In this unity they declared their independence, and in this unity they vowed to support each other in defending it. The same group that drafted the Declaration immediately set about writing a constitution for the arrangement, and the resulting document was called the Articles of Confederation. Finished in 1777, this “Confederation” of separate States was ratified formally in 1781. It stated clearly in Article II, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”
The nationalist side of the debate, nevertheless, emphasized the unity at the expense of the plurality. Their response to the anti-federalists was that “the colonies declared their independence not individually but unitedly, and that they had never been independent of one another.”1
This argument is clearly seen in the debates during the ratification period. Perhaps the most famous remark comes from Mr. “Liberty or Death” himself, Patrick Henry. He complained of the Convention,
[W]hat right had they to say, We, the People[?] My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the People, instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics, and the soul of a confederation. If the States be not agents of this compact, it must be one great consolidated National Government of the people of all the States. . . .
The people gave them no power to use their name. That they exceeded their power is perfectly clear.2
This argument threw down the gauntlet on the issue of nationalism. Everyone knew the Constitutional Convention had been resolved by Congress “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation,”3 and this meant honoring the sovereignty of the States. But this was the very thing the forces behind the Convention wished to change. They got their way, but only at the disdain of what everyone clearly agreed upon: this move squarely contradicted the Articles of Confederation. And thus in doing so, they had to provide some justification for why the Articles should not only be revised, but completely trashed and replaced.
Thus arose the new argument that the Articles of Confederation “were a defective instrument of a preexisting union”4 which departed from the true spirit of a single national people as allegedly expressed in the Declaration, and that the newly proposed Constitution was returning to that principle. The new position was expressed eloquently, for example, by General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who urged the Constitution on the South Carolina legislature:
The separate independence and individual sovereignty of the several states were never thought of by the enlightened band of patriots who framed this Declaration; the several states are not even mentioned by name in any part of it,—as if it was intended to impress this maxim on America, that our freedom and independence arose from our union, and that without it we could neither be free nor independent. Let us, then, consider all attempts to weaken this Union, by maintaining that each state is separately and individually independent, as a species of political heresy. . . .”5
After this position won the day, the victorious Federalist party (and its historical successors: the National Republicans, the Whigs, and the Republicans) used this argument as a means of suppressing the “political heresy” of States rights.
The most vehement elocution of this position appeared when National Republican John Quincy Adams gave a two-hour lecture to the New York Historical Society in 1839—The Jubilee of the Constitution. Adams wrote,
[A] convention of delegates from eleven of the thirteen states, with George Washington at their head, sent forth to the people an act to be made their own, speaking in their name and in the first person, thus: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This act was the complement to the Declaration of Independence—founded upon the same principles, carrying them out into practical execution, and forming with it one entire system of national government.6
He followed a few pages later with this further explanation:
It is not immaterial to remark that the signers of the Declaration, though qualifying themselves as the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, yet issue the Declaration, in the name and by the authority of the good people of the colonies—and that they declare, not each of the separate colonies, but the United Colonies, free and independent states. The whole people declared the colonies in their united condition, of right, free and independent states. . . .
But there still remained the last and crowning act, which the People of the Union alone were competent to perform—the institution of civil government for that compound nation, the United States of America.7
Adams carries on for pages extenuating his argumentation to the finest details of the situation. And yet for all of its detail and rigor, it is easy to get the feeling he was protesting too much. For all of his preaching to the choir, it is important to remember that this particular choir was composed of a minority of the population—a controlling, wealthy, entrenched minority, but a minority nonetheless. The Democratic-Republican party had grown so overwhelmingly popular that the Federalist faction was forced into oblivion—its nationalist sentiments only allowed to live on as they reemerged within a faction of the Democratic-Republicans called the National Republicans. This was Adams’ party. Regardless of how institutionally victorious the nationalists’ cause had been, the sentiments of State’s rights still gripped a majority of freedom-loving hearts across America. A very tense situation was brewing in which major popular sentiment wished for State’s rights and more local control, while the elites such as Adams continued to preach vehemently the necessary status quo of Union and thus federal government domination.
The plan of government now proposed [the Constitution] is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our condition as a people. Instead of being thirteen republics, under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government. . . . This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for sometime past. Whether such a change . . . can be effected without convulsions and civil wars; whether such a change will not totally destroy the liberties of this country—time only can determine.8
Time told. While the old debate between nationalists and State’s rights advocates was settled on paper in Philadelphia with the Constitution, that settlement was not fully manifested until it was written in blood at Gettysburg. At that site, Lincoln gave an eloquent eulogy for State’s rights, if only in passing: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation. . . .”
That was the heart of the debate, which Lincoln, victorious at Gettysburg, was affirming. The “fathers” had not confederated several States, no. The brought forth a single, one, “a new nation”—or as the anti-federalists had so often warned, “one consolidated government.”
Of all of the major advances that the Federalist party touted as benefits of the new Constitution, not one was ever carried out successfully, eventually, without the force of arms. The Civil War was only the climax of that movement.
Despite how things were eventually settled, the nationalists’ argument in favor of the primacy of the government of the Union was not nearly as sound as Adams, Lincoln and company would have us believe—for at least a few reasons.
First, The language of the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that the States, though united for a particular purpose, still viewed themselves as plural independent sovereignties in doing so.
While the Declaration contained language of “the Right of the People” and of “one people”—thus favoring the Federalist side—it nevertheless concluded by speaking of the new independence not of a single nation but of the “free and independent States” in the plural:
these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
“These united Colonies are . . . Independent States” is a very odd phrase if, in fact, the goal had been to create a single government.
So often do the details make the difference. In fact, it is of great importance that we notice just how even the capitalization of a single letter changes the whole nature of the discussion. In that final paragraph of the Declaration, the original text begins, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America. . . .” The same text also refers to “these united Colonies.” Note in both cases that the word “united” is not capitalized; it is, therefore, a mere adjective and not a proper name. The phrase is not referring to a single government or entity called “The United States of America,” but rather to the coming together of the “Colonies” or “States of America.” Yet, when Adams tells the story, he argues that the assembly which drafted the Declaration were “qualifying themselves as the Representatives of the United States of America.” He emphasized “not each of the separate colonies, but the United Colonies.”9 Thus did the assembly’s mere adjective “united” become a proper name “United” in the mind of the nationalist—and this was the basis of his reasoning. Adams thus imposed his nationalist view on the Declaration’s own words. In other words, he had to deny those Representatives’ clear and very definite conclusion in order to charge them with not concluding their job.
Second, it is helpful in this regard also to understand the usage of the term “State” in the Declaration. Today Americans generally think of a “state” only as one of those divisions within the nation of the United States. We tend to consider a state simply a secondary unit of government below federal or national government. A “state” is less than a “nation.” But at the time of the Declaration this was not so. A “State” was regarded as a free and independent, stand-alone, unit of government subject to no other body. A nation was considered a lesser group, often based only a common language. Noah Webster said in his 1828 dictionary under “NATION”: “It often happens that many nations are subject under one government,” and such a “whole body of people united under one government, whatever may be the form of the government” defined a STATE.
The Declaration did not declare the colonies a free and independent nation, or even a free and independent State, but in the plural, “Free and Independent States.” And in calling Britain herself a “State” as opposed to a “nation” as we would view it today, the Declaration seems to equate each of the American “States” with her status, and thus exalts each to the status of what we would regard as nations today. Thus it says that “as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do”—all things that mere constituent parts of a single state may not of themselves rightly do.
Finally, the nationalist argument was an ad hoc novelty, conceived of only as a justification of the Constitution. It was not heard or explicated by anyone before the Convention or ratification process. The State’s rights doctrine, however, was immediately expressed after the Declaration in the Articles. These were not challenged at the time, and no one objected to them on the grounds that the colonies were actually acting as a united whole.
Whatever else can be said in defense of having a single, powerful, centralized national government is to the side here. America was not originally settled that way, the colonies did not declare their independence that way, the original instrument of government written by the same people who wrote the declaration did not confederate in that way, and thus State’s rights seems to be the original American way. Whatever undesirable associations became associated with State’s rights at a later date must be set aside from the issue itself for the purposes of this discussion.
Now we have already discussed a lot about how State’s rights have been trampled and lost over the years. There is still more to tell about this story, however. In the next discussion, we will cover some of the important but not well-known aspects of this story.
- Herbert J. Storing, The Complete Anti-Federalist, 7 vol. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 1:13.
- Storing, 5:211.
- See Journals of the Continental Congress, 32:74.
- Storing, 1:13.
- Storing, 1:82n40.
- John Quincy Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, Inc., 2011), 39.
- Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution, 42.
- Storing, 2.8.4.
- Adams, Jubilee, 42.
The Kaepernick kerfuffle has reignited the chorus of demands that true patriots are measured by saluting a flag and singing an anthem. I couldn’t care much less about Kaepernick or his version of events, nor will I rehash what I’ve written here or here, except to emphasize one part of it: the true measure of national honor.
Before we get too emotionally attached for or against showing respect via some form of obeisance to a flag, we ought to consider whether Scripture speaks pro or con to that topic.
The Bible on flags
When we look at Scripture, we see flags (“banner,” “standard,” “signal”) used almost primarily for military organization and warfare (Num. 1–2, 10). The prophets often use the image of such battle standards as a threat of coming judgment (see Isa. 5:26; Jer. 4:6, 21; cp. Psa. 74:9). Flags are sometimes referenced in metaphorical ways, for example, as a sign of love in Song of Songs (2:4), but even here the metaphor is of the beloved’s “conquest” in romantic love.
What we do not see, however, is any mention of a flag for general national unity or as a symbol of a nation’s greatness. The few times the word is used metaphorically for reasons similar to these, it is said that God Himself, or the Messiah, is our banner (see Ex. 17:15; Isa. 11:10).
If we were simply to stop here—with a Scriptural study of the use of flags—we would have enough instruction to correct the behavior of many Christians today. Since Scripture does not openly forbid the use of a flag as a national symbol (in general), we should not demand it be removed. Yet, since Scripture does not command that people view national flags in any certain way (whether as a symbol of unity or as a symbol interpreted to represent any particular idea), then Christians sin the moment they demand others fall into any certain disposition to the flag—especially where there is an implied or expressed “or else.” Where Scripture is silent, we ought to be, too, and it is especially forbidden to impose extra-scriptural demands on someone else’s conscience. It really is that simple.
It should not be too difficult to see, then, that imposing extra-scriptural demands in the name of national unity and greatness has historically been the recipe of fascism—a recipe that has destroyed so many nations and empires in history.
Nevertheless, Scripture is not silent on the underlying value that many conservatives think they are protecting by demanding lock-step flag obeisance. That value is, of course, genuine national greatness. What really makes a nation great in the sight of all the others? As I wrote previously, Scripture does not leave us guessing:
When God through Moses constituted the Israelite nation, he said that the very thing that would commend the nation to international glory was her laws (Deut. 4:5–8). That is, the glory of a nation will be found in its ethics, not its symbols. When that nation forgot God’s Law, and yet gloried in their temple, God permanently destroyed the temple (AD 70) in judgment according to that Law. Ethics over symbol any day. It is high time that Christians in this country focus on the ethics and laws rather than the symbols.
This is why Scripture speaks of God Himself (Ex. 17:15) and the Messiah (Isa. 11:10) as our flag (“banner,” “signal,” “standard”). The measure of national greatness is her God-given rights, her laws, her ethics. Her symbols are meaningless at best, hypocrisy at worst, without godly laws.
It is also not surprising, then, that the early church adopted the term “symbols” to refer not to icons, flags, or pictures, etc., but to the early creeds—that is, to the objective beliefs of the church. The idea here is that the distinguishing marks of the church are, again, her ethics. The same should apply to the state and society.
The laws and ethics we live by and enforce are objective and real standards. They are either good or evil when compared to God’s laws. Flags, songs, and other symbols can be abstractions. Abstraction becomes a dangerous power in the hands of the state. Once people demand allegiance to the symbol, the state’s will can replace God’s will, the state can trample God’s law, and people will continue honoring the state virtually no matter what dishonor it does to God.
This turns God’s order on its head. The allegiance must go to God and His laws first, and only secondarily to the outward abstract symbols. The moment the laws depart from God’s, it is hardly wrong to acknowledge that her greatness, her goodness, has been tarnished.
But what about our fallen heroes?
The main argument I hear that made me contemplate this topic again is this: “Sure a person has the right not to stand for the pledge or the national anthem, but I think it’s disrespectful. Many people fought and died for that right, and by sitting we dishonor their sacrifice.”
The force of this argument evaporates the moment you consider it in the light of the scriptural standard just discussed: the laws. If the standard is some emotional attachment to an abstract symbol, then honoring the fallen can hardly ever be separated from it. Abstraction and emotion are powerful allies like that. But the moment the standard of judgment is objective and judicial, the tables turn, We must assess all aspects of the nation by that standard—her laws, her wars, and the reason her soldiers fought and died.
For example, we can hardly assume that American soldiers rushed headlong in the face of death at Normandy so that America could institute a program of murdering a few thousand babies every day in abortion clinics. But if they did, would you respect it? Would you ritually show your honor for that law by singing about it? Imagine the Marine Corps Band and Choir singing “God shed His grace on thee” while videos of aborted fetuses tossed in incinerators play on a large screen overhead.
That one law alone is enough to justify boycotting any and every show of national greatness until justice is restored.
In light of the biblical standard of national greatness, we have literally thousands of reasons to boycott a pledge or an anthem. And in doing so, for any of these reasons, we are not dishonoring the fallen, but rather honoring them for the very reasons they fought and died: the establishment and maintenance of justice and freedom.
We do not honor the fallen by standing for our freedoms in the abstract; we honor them when we exercise it in concrete situations. This is especially true when unrighteousness exists in our laws, taxes, police, governments, courts, and criminal justice systems.
If you honor the fallen by demanding lock-step conformity to the state, you do not honor them, but shame them. If you honor the fallen by insisting others conform to your ideals of what the flag stands for, and not the injustices that others see perpetuated by the Republic for which it stands, then you do not honor the fallen, but shame them.
To continue to sing of our national greatness when we fail God’s measure of it is blindness and hypocrisy. When we demand others do the same, it is madness and blasphemy.
Guest post by Pastor Trevaris J. Tutt
We have lived for so long in a society that calls being locked in a cage for a period of time “justice” that it would be rocket science for many to think of any another form of punishment. Sadly, many will protest—“No justice, No peace”—when a crime is committed, yet the same people will cry for imprisoning people as “justice.” But what if this demand of the people is itself an even greater injustice?
When a criminal, such as a murderer, is served with a lengthy amount of time in prison, many people proclaim with excitement “Justice served!” If that same murderer was given a short sentence, the same people would say the judge has failed to bring justice. People will differ, however, on the amount of time they believe this murderer should get. The number of years that people decide atones for the crime is thus clearly based on a subjective foundation.
The punishment for crime in our country rarely if ever directly benefits the victim involved, or is proportional to the crime. If a thief steals from someone, the property may be returned—if the thief has not already pawned it and used the money. Restitution in any form is not necessarily guaranteed for the victim. With a prison sentence, however, the criminal is now adopted into a system which brings him into legal slavery, loss of freedom, a hostile environment, and which only returns him to a society which rejects him once released.
The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world. We make up less than five percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of its prison population. This is, in part, because the prison system has turned into an industry. Money and not justice is the motivation.
Although involuntary slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution, there was an exception. The exception for slavery was punishment for crime.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
This allows for legal slavery. Although in a few cases (which I’ll mention in a minute) this is not necessarily wrong, our justice system has corrupted it and greatly abused it. In many prisons, private and public, prisoners are forced to perform free labor for corporations. In some, prisoners are paid about twenty cents an hour. This is where so-called capitalism goes wrong. Instead of companies outsourcing work to sweat shops in foreign countries, major companies you probably shop with simply outsource their work to prisoners at even more greatly reduced prices.
Prison can be not only an exploitative racket, but as long as beds are filled, our tax dollars are funding what could be seen as a form of legal human trafficking. In order to keep beds filled, wicked corporations who own prisons lobby politicians with hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This results in many laws being pushed in certain states due to the influence of prison owners who need to keep certain laws, or to encourage even tougher laws, in order to keep those lucrative beds filled. Many of the candidates you vote for are controlled by the pockets of prison owners. The War on Drugs has resulted in mass incarceration, often specifically targeting African Americans. According to most recent statistics in 2014, 50 percent of inmates in federal prison, and 53 percent in state prisons, are in for drug offenses. In some cases, judges are required to assign mandatory prison sentences. In other cases, they have been caught with a corrupt agreement to convict as many as possible. In at least one case, a judge has been convicted of being paid millions for “selling” juveniles to prisons. That should tell us a lot about our current “justice system.”
On top of this, in many prisons, you will find living conditions that spit in the face of those who are made in the image of God. Even though many inmates have truly committed crimes, there is still a level of grace that should be extended in regard to how they are to be treated. There are many in prison, however, who were falsely accused or who were imprisoned for breaking laws that should not even exist. Both groups include people torn away from their families in order to live in the filth of rats, drug-infested environments, sexual abuse from other prisoners and guards, and to defend themselves in a culture of violence while unable to obtain a life insurance policy.
And yet, in the face of all of this, the ultimate goal is not to reform the system. Why not? Because the biblical solution is something much better.
This discussion will not be as extensive as I plan to do so in a later book. Neither is this meant to give an answer to every question dealing with changing the system. This will, however, provide a foundation. Imprisonment is not new. Many societies, including ancient Israel, historically only used prisons in different ways: for example, while holding while the offender awaiting trial, or for punishment (ancient Israel was not to do the latter). That is not to say that all imprisonment in historic societies was done in a just way.
In the modern era, thinkers who believed that punishments such as death were too harsh turned to incarceration as an alternative. Ironically, the punishment substituted is actually the harsher punishment, being a lifelong torture. Instead we should see the Civil Law in the Bible as a blueprint for us. God’s design is perfect and his corrective action is effective. The penalties for crimes under the Mosaic Law were never imprisonment, but all were directly connected to the particular crime. If someone stole, they were to pay back the victim in full plus some (Ex. 22:1, 2 Sam. 12:6, Luke 19:8). If they could not pay back the victim, they were to serve in indentured servitude until they paid off their debt. This allowed them to remain in society and most likely to live with a family who could pour into them and launch them off on their own without a record that hindered them from contributing to society. If someone committed a violent crime—such as murder, rape, or—the punishment was death (Deut. 22:5, Ex 21:12–14). Imagine the restraint of evil in a society with punishments like these.
Prisons do not correct, nor do they rehabilitate men and women to be effective and productive members of society. We must first look to the Gospel, and see that God is a just God that he would not allow sin to go unpunished. In order for his wrath to be satisfied, our punishment was put on Jesus. We are freed from the penalty of sin, not because God just arbitrarily forgives, or because he puts us in time out or purgatory, but because he dealt with our crime on the cross. Therefore, in light of the Gospel, we also should be concerned with justice. This does not mean that mercy can never extended by a victim, but that we must look to the law of God to see what is righteous punishment rather than create our own subjective standards. We know sin will ultimately be dealt with on judgment day, but God’s servants must administer the proper temporary justice while here on earth as well. The only need for prisons should be for holding if necessary for trial or punishment. There is no need for prison reform, therefore, because it should be abolished in order to usher in true justice.
Trevaris J. Tutt is the Pastor/Church Planter of Truth and Grace Bible Church in the inner city of Jacksonville, Florida. He is married with four children: two boys and two girls. He is an entrepreneur and is currently working on writing books to educate and edify the body of Christ on doctrine, apologetics, history, and biblical worldview.
A colleague asked me about Michael Horton’s claim that John Calvin referred to “Christendom”—the idea that Christianity should prevail in all aspects of society—as a “contrived empire.” “Did Calvin really say that?” because, “I can’t find it anywhere.” So, I set out to see what Horton said that Calvin said, and whether Calvin really said it. All Christendom was at stake.
Indeed Horton makes this claim. He writes, “Opposing what he called the ‘contrived empire’ of Christendom, Calvin says that we must recognize that we are ‘under a two-fold government. . . .’”
And indeed, Horton appears to hold this claim very dear, for he has repeated it in many publications: it’s in his Introduction to Covenant Theology (p. 125)1), an article “In Praise of Profanity: A Theological Defense of the Secular” (p. 259)2), a Christianity Today article “The Only ‘Christian Nation’”3, a Ligonier article “A Tale of Two Kingdoms,” other interviews and articles4, and probably other places as well, for example, his seminary classroom.
In fact, since this article was first published on August 4, 2011, and the reprinted in my eBook, Inglorious Kingdoms, Michael Horton has still continued repeating it, for example in his book Calvin on the Christian Life (see p. 215), despite the fact that the claim, as we shall review below, is thoroughly repudiated.
In one place, Horton expresses this claim in the broadest terms. In answering an interview question of whether the Reformers ever intended to “transform culture,” he replies flatly, “No.” He explains, “I think it’s important to remember that that was not the Reformation’s aim. Christendom had already tried that at an earlier time, and Calvin called it the ‘contrived’ empire.’” From this we can see that by “Christendom” Horton means a broad view in which Christianity transforms all aspects of culture, or applies God’s Word to every area of life, and that Horton means to say Calvin utterly rejected this view of Christian living as a “contrived empire.”
Is this really what Calvin said?
What Calvin really said
Unfortunately, Dr. Horton has misrepresented Calvin here—both in Calvin’s use of the phrase and in his view of Christian society in general. Let’s look at what Calvin really said.
Calvin does indeed use the phrase “contrived empire”: in his Institutes, 4.11.13, in Battles’ translation. But Horton is quite wrong: Calvin in no sense applies this to “Christendom,” and certainly not to the broader sense of the term. Rather, Calvin’s argument in both the immediate and larger context actually supports, rather strongly, a view of Christendom.
The “contrived empire” to which Calvin refers is not “Christendom,” but rather the fraudulent papal empire purported by the so-called “Donation of Constantine” (DoC). Calvin explicitly refers to this by name in the two previous sections, 11 and 12, of chapter 11. He then refers to it as “this contrived empire” in section 13. “This” specific “empire” to which Calvin actually refers was “contrived” not because the ideal of Christian law, Christian rulers, or Christian society is contrived (Horton’s position), but because the document of the DoC was itself literally a forgery. This was exposed by Lorenzo Valla in 1440, and became widely known. Calvin knew of the forgery, and refers by name to Valla in section 12. Thus he calls this particular, historically-bound, purported province of the Pope a “contrived empire”—for it literally was forged. He makes no such reference to the idea of Christendom in general. Horton apparently misread Calvin, and as a result has made a rather stunning error in application. The question is, why does he now persist in this error since it has been made public for over five years now?
We should also note that Battles’ rendering of “contrived” is not necessarily helpful to the modern popular reader. Battles uses the Latin of 1559 for the base text, in which the phrase is “commentitium hoc imperium.” The older English translation by Beveridge renders it “fictitious empire,” which is probably better. “Forged empire” I think would get the point across best, for Calvin is alluding to a forged document on which a false claim to empire was made, and thus making a double-entendre of the idea of forgery. But Battles always checked his translation of the Latin against Calvin’s own 1560 French translation, and the French has “Empire controuvé.” Thus Battles used an English word that appeared equivalent, “contrived.” But I don’t know that this is truly equivalent, especially considering the nuances in usage over the past 500 years.
Calvin’s meaning is also apparent from the fact that the rest of the very sentence in which that phrase appears alludes to a specific historical time frame: “But if anyone should ask at what time this contrived empire began to rise up, not yet five hundred years have passed since the pontiffs were still in subjection to the princes and no pontiff was created apart from the emperor’s authority.” Calvin would of course decry the emperor’s usurpation of ordinations as much as the reverse, but his point here is to dispel the notion that the ancient church would allow bishops to seize the power of the sword. And he points back 500 years in the historical record to make this point.
Calvin in defense of Christendom
Also contrary to Horton’s contrived representation, in the very next section, 14, Calvin actually speaks in defense of “Christendom.” He laments the papal usurpations for having “troubled” and “nearly destroyed it”—the “it” being Christendom. In other words, it would be a bad thing if Christendom were to be destroyed. Rather, Christendom is a thing to be preserved and advanced in Calvin’s view, but the papal abuses almost brought it down. Calvin goes on to make the historical context very specific. He narrows the “not yet five hundred years” by this statement:
about 130 years ago they [the popes] reduced the city itself (at that time free) to their control, until they came into the authority they hold today; and for some two hundred years they have so troubled Christendom in their efforts to hold or increase that authority . . . that they have nearly destroyed it.
The word “Christendom” here is Battles’ translation of the text, which actually says “christianum orbem” in Calvin’s Latin, and is more literally translated “Christian world.” In other words, during the 1300s, by trying to usurp the civil sword throughout the whole part of the world that was dominated by Christianity, the Pope almost destroyed the whole society.
Horton never mentions this very narrow historical context, despite the fact that it appears explicitly in Calvin’s preceding sections—twice on the facing page—and is explained in a lengthy footnote by the editor (John T. McNeill) on the very same page. Calvin even refers to the DoC by name again at the end of the very section (on the next page) from which the quoted phrase is taken, but Horton still says nothing of it. He also never footnotes it (thus no one can check his usage without the difficulty of tracking down the phrase somewhere in Calvin’s dozens of volumes), despite using the argument repeatedly in many publications.
Had Horton been more careful, he would have noted that other parts of the same chapter 11 actually uphold the “Christendom” view in which rulers should govern as Christians—in submission to Christian discipline, according to God’s Word, and for the sustenance of God’s covenant people. In section 4 of chapter 11, Calvin argues that while the clergy should not bear the power of the sword (agreed), the magistrate should nevertheless subject himself to the law and discipline of the church. He writes that
the magistrate, if he is godly, will not want to exempt himself from the common subjection of God’s children. It is by no means the least significant part of this for him to subject himself to the church, which judges according to God’s Word—so far ought he to be from setting that judgment aside!
He then quotes Ambrose: “For what is more honorable than for the emperor to be called a son of the church? For a good emperor is within the church, not over the church.”
Calvin returns to this theme as his final thought at the end of chapter 11 (section 16). For the very reason that the church itself has no power of coercion, it is even more pressing that the magistrates subject themselves to Christianity and support it by the civil power they rightfully possess, for “it is the duty of godly kings and princes to sustain religion by law, edicts, and judgments.”
Contrary to what Horton contrives it to say, Calvin’s teaching here actually supports “Christendom” rather than refuting it. Simply reading Calvin’s context shows us who is really involved in a contrivance. Horton has more in common with the ancient forgers of documents than with Calvin’s view of society.
So did Horton even read the whole chapter? Did he read it carefully? If not he needs to go back, reread, and then amend his misrepresentation of Calvin in a half-dozen or more public statements. If so, then he has some explaining to do as to why he so often presents Calvin as deriding something he actually supported. Would this not be a false witness? Or just a repeated mistake? I await the clarification.
I’ve been waiting five years.
I would counsel those interested to reread the entire 11th chapter of book 4 in order fully to understand Calvin’s context: the limits of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This, Calvin argues, had been greatly abused by the Roman Church since at least the 1200s. He rehearses the gradual slide of the Roman church into full usurpation of the civil magistrate’s sword, starting originally with local bishops here and there abusing their practice of private arbitration, then seeking more and more power, then land, then full civil power; then eventually the Pope claimed it for all of the lands alleged by the DoC (most of the Mediterranean world).
Calvin, however, nowhere says anything against the Gospel transforming culture, or Christians impacting and transforming every area of life, and he certainly never argues that rulers should not submit to Christ and his Church. Calvin’s point is simply that the church should not control the sword, but he would hardly say that therefore the sword has no obligation to submit to the gospel and God’s law. He does not criticize the idea of Christendom. Indeed, just the opposite—Calvin wants to restore Christendom to a proper balance of powers.
Students interested in Calvin’s views on the subject would be wise to read Calvin very carefully, and Horton even more carefully.
(Get this essay and many more like it in Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology.)
(Cover art by Bertram Poole Art.)
- (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006
- In Bruce Benson and Peter Heltzel, eds. Evangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008
- under the pseudonym “Knox Bucer-Beza”
- See “Why Two Kingdoms?” Modern Reformation, Oct. 2000
If you think of mainstream conservatism as the proverbial guy hanging from a cliff for dear life, a recent study published by The Journal of Hand Therapy may seem a lot more relevant—because these pundits are about to lose their grip.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post related the results of a study that seems to show that young men today have less strength in their grip than men of just 30 years ago. This revelation sparked reactionary articles about the “wilted lettuce leaf” handshakes of the American male.
Spying the opportunity to pronounce how much greater their generation of real men was than the targets of their current midlife angst—dreaded “Millennials”—some conservative writers seized the moment (with the strength of a Vulcan death-grip, you can be sure) to remind us once again of the good ol’ days before the war on boys destroyed the last vestiges of chest hair and gumption.
National Review’s David French, for example, had a grand old walk down memory lane to tell us how much manlier he was back in the day, and how he’s raising his own son to be a hulkin’ beast-man in comparison (when they’re not playing World of Warcraft together, of course). And he tells us why all this has come to pass:
In the age of instant oil change (why entrust your car’s health to your 16-year-old?), ubiquitous lawn services, and on-demand handymen, privileged kids simply don’t have the same, naturally occurring opportunities to learn to work with their hands and to develop physical strength. In the age of zero-tolerance school-disciplinary policies — where any kind of physical confrontation is treated like a human-rights violation — they have less opportunity to develop toughness. Today’s young males don’t have common touchstones for what it’s like to grow up to be a man.
While this may seem intuitive to us given the “emasculation of the American male” rhetoric in our circles for a decade now, it’s hard to comprehend how poorly short-sighted French’s comments really are. I’ll limit myself to two point here: first, playing fast and loose with facts in order to score a red-meat rhetorical point, and second, the real reason American conservatism has consistently failed.
A loose grip on the facts
First, all the headlines pouncing on this study have not paid too much actual attention to the details. French, for example, makes this out to be an indicator of the loss of manhood among male youth. But the details of the study (and others like it) are actually opposite such a conclusion. USA Today relates two separate facts that make this clear:
Grip strength is not consistently linked with overall strength in studies of athletes and fit young people, says Peter Ronai, a clinical associate professor of exercise science at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn. . . .
And one large study found that men with weak grips at midlife, ages 45 to 68, were more likely than men with strong grips to be disabled 25 years later [my emphasis—JM].
Since the present study included men under 30, its results actually mean very little if anything in regard to their overall strength or its development, as French laments. Instead, the correlation in play actually pertains to men later in life—French’s demographic, actually—that is, men who may have a weaker grip in midlife.
Further, the study does not even necessarily compare apples and apples. It pits a small group of college student in North Carolina to a more general group of men in Milwaukee. While the older sample is said to have included college students, it almost certainly included factory workers, brewery workers, truckers, and much more from the general population. It should not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a sample including blue-collar workers will usually out grip a gaggle of sociologists in-training.
What’s worst about this rush to judgment is that conservatives pride themselves as the bastion of honesty and integrity in a media dominated by liberal lies, half-truths, and rushes to judgment. Just this week, Ann Coulter blasted the liberal press for just such behavior. But dangle one little sliver of apparent red meat proving the influence of feminism on “our boys,” and conservative Piranha fly into a blood-frenzy like liberals on a Trump quote. They didn’t even have time to say “facts be damned,” they just pounce without thinking the problem through.
A lost grip on reality
This lack of thought is indicative of the greater problem, my second point. Conservatism has been as badly beset by humanism and rationalism as the left virtually from its inception. This is why it always loses, and this process is as clear here in this issue as it is anywhere.
If the Bible is to be the foundational guide—as it ought to be—where, oh where, in the Bible is “physical strength” the sine qua non of what it means “to grow up to be a man.”
It is arguable that most influential man in western history aside from Jesus himself was a man whose nickname—by which we know him most—translates into English as “little guy.” That man was Saul, also known as Paul the Apostle. (Contrary to popular belief, “Paul” was not a name change given at his conversion, but merely a Roman counterpart to his actual Hebrew name.)
Paul’s name as most likely derived from his form: he was so diminutive that his readers were shocked when he actually showed up in their presence. His letters seemed so bold! Yet in person, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10).
I’ll bet his grip strength didn’t compare much even to the average American college student.
Yet this unimpressive, little guy turned the entire Mediterranean world upside down with character traits: persistence, fortitude, and unbending faithfulness. Then followed the whole western world.
David, likewise, who was indeed a man of war, nevertheless did not fell the giant through feats of strength. In fact, it was the symbols of power and national greatness who were all standing sidelined, despite their highly developed size and strength, despite their military experience. Saul, who has been chosen precisely because of his physical prowess, was standing idle due to one thing: fear. Precisely because they judged their manliness by outward measures, they had forgotten God.
Young David walked among them with something far more potent: the law of God and a conviction to stand for it. His words were, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him.” This was a direct application of God’s laws for warfare: “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 20:1).
Granted, David had plenty of opportunity in his youth to develop physical strength, and he did; but this is not what was needed at this crucial moment. What was needed was mindfulness of God’s law, and faithfulness to be courageous in following it. He needed only enough grip strength to grasp a sling.
Please tell me where, in all the lists of fruits of the Spirit, is there any praise given to physical strength or the development of it? I read about developing “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:23), but only a passing warning against the fleeting and limited usefulness of developing great physical strength: “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Tim. 4:8).
Manliness in Scripture is rarely spoken of in terms of development of physical strength (certainly not as a focus or directive), but of the courage to remain faithful to the convictions of God’s truth through whatever trial may come. In fact, the word for “be a man” in Biblical Greek is used as a synonym for “be courageous” and is used to highlight how one should “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13).
The biblical lessons are augmented by historical lessons. Never forget that arguably the most influential male force in American history—who dominated the Constitutional Convention, authored most of the Constitution, and intellectually and politically manhandled his competition for a lifetime—was the 5’-4” 90-lb weakling James Madison. Grip strength? Barely enough to hold a feather.
But that was all it took when paired with ceaseless effort and unwavering conviction.
Why do conservatives so often neglect their Bible so? It is because of what they have always done: they take their cues from pagan sources of “conservatism”—often classical Rome and Greece. Whether French is doing this consciously or not, I don’t know, but it is often a malady among conservatives.
Indeed, the overweening focus on physical strength as a measure of what it means to be a man is much more reflective of classical Greece and Rome than anything Christian, and it is actually quite more liberal than anything. The origins of physical prowess as a standard for youth lies in the Greek Gymnasia, and along with this developed the ancient Greek legacy of homosexuality. Such relationships developed as older men sat around reminiscing about their own younger days as they coveted the grip strength of naked young athletes performing in front of them.
This idealism, obsessing about “physical fitness,” was later resurrected by Rousseau, Prussian apostates, and their American counterparts beginning in the 1830s or so. Dewey was later eaten up with it.
American conservatives cannot see past the socially-engineered box in which they have been placed by their liberal educators, or the humanistic presuppositions of the curriculum taught to them by every liberal-in-nationalistic-garb from Homer and Plato to Bill Bennett and Victor Davis Hanson.
I’ll make French a deal: I’ll work out for six months and give him the firmest handshake he’s had in a long time, if he’ll tell his National Review audience how much their public schools are insperably founded upon the humanism of Plato and Rousseau (via Mann and Dewey), and that a true conservative ought to want to see them abolished.
Classicism is pagan, not Christian. It is not worth conserving. It is, in fact, destructive of liberty and character. And the view of greater physical strength as what it means to “be a man” is a vestige of classical paganism.
This is why so many Christians and conservatives today are obsessed with ever-increasing police and military power as answers to our social ills. Standing firm for civil rights is, by them, associated with weakness, criminality, the fringe left, hippies, idleness, and the shadiness of those who have something to hide. Never mind the origins of these principles in the Bible.
Folks, we’ve gotten things backwards.
Nothing here is to say that physical strength in itself is bad, or that young men ought not to be fit and apt to work. But the moment you make it strength the measure of manhood, you leave Christian faith and step into paganism.
When you rush to hasty generalizations based upon incomplete facts in order to pronounce such, it speaks of the very perverted type of media of the very leftists and feminists you decry.
When the lust to decry your enemies’ wickedness drives you to act just like them, something’s gone wrong somewhere. It would be good to back up and study the little Hannahs, Davids, and Pauls of divine strength. The obsession with grip strength will make you lose your grip on God’s reality.
by Trevaris J. Tutt
We may feel proactive and involved in change, especially by figuring out whom to vote for in this upcoming election, but the truth is we are complacent and comfortable. We think progress is the State changing abortion laws from it being illegal at nine months to it being illegal at only three months. We think progress is choosing who seems to be the most conservative candidate to represent our nation. We live in complete fear at the possibility of one person holding opposite values of us becoming President.
Many happily send their children to public school and dare not to let their children miss too many days lest the Parents get in trouble by mom and dad . . . I mean the State. Many fight for homeschool rights only still to submit themselves with joy to the regulations of the Department of Education. Many who homeschool, happily submit their portfolios, or with joy hand over their money to “certified” teachers, to make sure they are doing this education thing right (because you know how incompetent we are).
We celebrate with ignorance when we get our children’s birth certificates. We celebrate our licenses that give us permission to marry someone and subject our families to the jurisdiction of the State. We condemn people who are trying to make a living because they are not licensed properly. People flash what we call cash on social media, not realizing it is like holding up a bunch of IOUs. Around February each year, many celebrate when they receive their own money back, some with a bonus from their neighbors. Why do we rejoice at so many measures of tyranny?
What this tells me is that we have a condition called Stockholm’s Syndrome.
Stockholm’s Syndrome is when a hostage begins to feel affections or trust towards their captor. The name of this “psychological diagnosis”, comes from a hostage situation that occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. In August of 1973, a convict named Jan-Erik Olsson, on leave from prison, ended up conducting an armed robbery in a bank. Someone was able to hit the silent alarm button, but Olsson was able to wound the policemen who came to rescue. He made demands of money, a car, and even a release of a friend. Since he had hostages, the police met his demands. However, Olsson required that he was able to leave with the four hostages to ensure his escape. The police refused this demand.
While the hostages were inside waiting to be rescued, however, it is said Olsson comforted them. He gave a jacket to one who was cold; he allowed movement for another who was claustrophobic; he allowed phone calls to family. The hostages began to form a bond with him to the point where one of the testimonies was that “he treated us well.” Hostages reported more fear of the police than of Olsson. They even defended Olsson in their testimonies that he did not hurt them.
Stockholm’s Syndrome is said to occur for several possible reasons: because the victim sympathizes with their captor for survival, grows a bond after being with them for a while, begins to share values, or the captor nurtures them.
This phenomenon reminds me of the movie John Q. in which Denzel Washington plays a father whose son needs a heart transplant. His insurance, however, will not cover it, so he is denied. The desperate father then takes an emergency room hostage demanding a heart transplant for his son. The hostages are all people who are also there for their own medical emergencies. They all are afraid and frustrated at first, but this father begins to show them care, and they find that they share views on insurance. They begin to discuss it, and soon they are talking like they are sitting on a couch fellowshipping at someone’s house. It was like they forgot they were being held hostage. With a newly-formed bond, they ended up defending this father. Some even ended up helping him. One of the ladies who was eventually released was greeted with a host of reporters who were eager to hear the horror story, only to hear her say, “He’s a good man!”
In real life, there are many examples of Stockholm Syndrome. Children or women who get kidnapped and over time built a relationship with their abductor—no longer seeing them as a threat. This is frequently true in human trafficking today: many women who are forced into it end up resigned to it and do not see a reason to leave even if they have a chance. Likewise, while there were many slaves in the American South who escaped or attempted to escape, many never even tried because they felt they had a “good master.” They were fed, after all, so they saw no point of leaving. Many people, after serving long prison sentences, have no problem going back. Some may even desire to do so. Some will continue to commit crimes in order to go back. They know outside of prison it is harder than the certainty of bed and food they grew used to on the inside, and they have psychologically suppressed the indignity and servitude.
Under our own forms of servitude, we have become complacent in the same way. Just as Olsson gave a jacket to his cold hostage, our government gives us a pacifier to be quiet. It gives us incentives to comfort us and hush us up. When comfort won’t do, it uses the power of the police state to scare us into submission. So we then accept the tyranny for its comforts and its parental discipline. We then grow affections towards our captor and naively support it with our devotion to the left or the right.
Stockholm’s Syndrome in the Bible
When Moses led Israel out of Egypt and the people faced hardship in the wilderness, they began to reminisce about Egypt. They complained and whined to Moses about how they wanted meat and how in Egypt they would be eating well. They seemed to have forgotten all of the harsh treatment and the fact that they were slaves in Egypt or they did not care anymore. They were willing to go back to hardship rather than to trust God and have Him provide for them. Faced with the responsibility of freedom, they preferred the slavery of their captors. Even after seeing God do wonder after wonder for them, they still doubted God when faced with the walls of Jericho.
Israel was always faced with the temptation to trust man instead of God. Even when going against Assyria, some Jewish leaders wanted an alliance with Egypt rather than trusting in God’s power. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isa. 31:1).
This is also our constant battle, to put our trust in man or God. It seems that it is a hard task to help people see this when as a nation we have developed a sense of Stockholm’s Syndrome for a government that is progressively going against God.
In times like these, we need leaders who are able to encourage the people to put their trust in God and not man, and who will encourage people to not fear man or the tyrannical State.
America’s better way
Our Constitution, although not perfect, was founded by men who were resisting tyranny. It was shaped around biblical values and God-given rights. This same constitution, built on these biblical values, allows for disobedience against unconstitutional laws. The constitution was written to protect us from the type of government we currently have and that is progressing. We must remember that the freedoms that we do still experience in this country were not given to us on a silver platter but on bloody battlefields. John Adams once wrote to his wife, “Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.” Men were willing to fight and die for their freedoms, including the freedom from unjust taxation which many celebrate every summer.
Consider how this view of resistance is written directly in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That WHENEVER any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness [emphasis added].
Even during the time of the American Revolution, however, you had many people who suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. These remained loyal to the British Empire to avoid conflict, and were called “Loyalists.” Although they probably did not like paying higher taxes, they were not willing to go against the King. Some slaves remained Loyalist only because Britain promised them freedom if they fought, which I can sympathize with. But there were also many people who were just waiting around for freedom and independence, some who thought it was morally wrong to go against tyranny and believed their suffering to be legitimate, some who were pessimistic about liberation, some who were afraid, some who were financially attached, and many who were emotionally attached.
I believe our country is filled with many such Loyalists today, and for some of the same reasons listed above, as well as ignorance. I believe that the indoctrination in our public schools has made us passive. The American Revolution as taught in schools today would never encourage the type of defense of freedom that existed then. The pulpit is also to blame. They are filled with passive pastors who will not speak out against tyranny, whose only concern is the soul and not society, who preach against preachers who preach against tyranny, who have Romans 13 “submission” stamped on their foreheads without proper interpretation, 501(c)3 agents and not prophets. We have become too comfortable with our oppressor, and we put our trust in their strength.
Deliverance from Stockholm Syndrome
The first step is to recognize that we have a problem. We need to realize the bondage we are in. As long as we act as if the next president will solve all of our problems, compromise God’s law to gain an apparent inch towards righteousness, and create more laws that burden the people, we will remain in bondage. As long as we think a country is free when Olympic Medal Winners are punished with heavy taxes for winning, where murder is called a woman’s choice, where CPS can abduct your children without question, where the government forces healthcare and vaccinations on people, allows no real property rights, and believes prison is justice for thieves and murderers, then we will continue embracing our captors all the way to our destruction. We need to wake up and acknowledge the lawful slavery we have embraced for ourselves, see the unjust laws as an attempt to dethrone God, and oppose the tyranny.
Deliverance must begin with pulpit. During the time of the American Revolution, although you had other social issues such as slavery that needed to be dealt with, you had preachers who were motivating the people to resist the tyrannical government. Some were even encouraging raising funds for the army and its support for the war effort. Even when you look at the history of the Pilgrims who fled from England due to tyranny: they were motivated by the preachers in the pulpit. The preachers had to motivate them towards righteousness but also to encourage them to trust God and endure suffering.
Pastors must stop defending a nation against God, stop encouraging blind submission, and teach their congregation to count the cost. Pastors must usher their congregation out of the slumber of Stockholm’s Syndrome. Pastors must teach their congregations how Christians can have an authentic voice in their communities and in the nation rather than allowing them to remain plugged in to the political matrix voting for the “lesser of two evils.”
When we teach our congregations to vote for one candidate merely out of fear of the other, we have already accepted a government that allows too much power in one person’s hands, or in the hands of captors who are using candidates as mascots. We already admit they have too much power; when we vote for this current system, therefore, we are condoning it. We must acknowledge the whole system is broken and not just the President.
The truth is, even if a candidate agrees with us on abortion, foreign policy, vaccinations, health care, etc., we must remember that the biblical view of government demands its role to be far more limited than what we have. It is simply time to break out of our Stockholm Syndrome and start the limiting. Pastors must equip their congregations how to get involved locally to reform from the bottom up. There are brothers who already have laid some foundations to mobilize the church in this work. Restoring America One County at a Time by Joel McDurmon and The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella are good places to start.
Trevaris J. Tutt is the Pastor/Church Planter of Truth and Grace Bible Church in the inner city of Jacksonville, Florida. He is married with four children: two boys and two girls. He is an entrepreneur and is currently working on writing books to educate and edify the body of Christ on doctrine, apologetics, history, and biblical worldview.
“Nourished by the Kings Country,” by Dr. Joel McDurmon
August 14, 2016, at Christ Church CREC, Branchville, AL
I’m going to chalk this one up to homeschooling: independence, individuality, bravery, fortitude, and class. Go, Gabby!
A couple days ago it became national news when American gymnast Gabby Douglas neglected to put her hand over her heart for the national anthem. More accurately, it was national news that social media blew up with outrage over this omission.
Well, yeah! How dare a national representative not fall in lock-step with the mandated national liturgy! How dare she act like an individual! How dare she swim upstream! How dare she have independent thoughts or actions! How dare she not bleat with the herd! How dare she act like she’s . . . free!
I’m mean think about it. It’s one thing to sing “land of the free,” but it’s a whole different thing to act like it! We’re not supposed to do it, actually. I mean, yes, we preach good ol’ American independence, but we really demand collective conformity. It’s especially bad when an icon, an athlete, a representative star breaks ranks with the fascism that lies beneath the façade of freedom. That just might influence the children!
Yeah, Mr. Landmesser was expected to fall in line with national liturgy. He was expected to give the Nazi salute in his homeland. But he had fallen in love with a Jewess. Love does strange things to people. In this case, it opened his eyes to the evils of National Socialistic racism. For his independence and bravery, he was rewarded with prison, and then military conscription—which proved fatal.
Folks, here’s the lesson: nationalistic collectivism = bad; individual liberty = good. Go and do thou likewise. Class dismissed.
Looking back we can see the evils that consumed a whole nation, and we can easily condemn them. We can also easily support those who resisted the tide, and we can even let our imaginations run wild thinking we’d be like that guy, too. But you see it ain’t so easy to do.
It’s easy to condemn the nationalism of a by-gone era. It’s much harder to admit we have our own. The national outrage over one person merely neglecting to put hand-over-heart during the national anthem ought to be startling evidence to you.
My suspicion is that every American who’s anger swelled in-breast at this great affront immediately began judgement. She’s black. Probably a leftist already and consumed with #BLM entitlement mentality. She’s probably a Muslim and hates America.
And she did it. And when she won her first gold medal in 2012, the first thing she did was give glory to God.
She says, “Being homeschooled also helps build my self-discipline and time management.”
Would that the knee-jerk critics from the herd would learn more self-discipline.
Not to mention history. There is ample reason Christians should avoid the automatic “hand-over-heart” mentality. I suspect Gabby’s reason may not have been ideological. She was simply standing respectfully and just neglected the nationalistic pose. I could be wrong. If so, she is perfectly warranted in exercising her freedom according to Christian conscience.
Poor girl has, in fact, probably never experienced the collectively-enforced ritual of a class mandated to place hand over heart and recite a national pledge or anthem. And good for her, and her parents. We need more of these.
She did issue an apology—but only generally for offending some people and with an assurance she meant no disrespect. She did not explicitly acknowledge it as wrong not to “salute the flag” by placing her hand in a certain gesture—and I say good for her, she should stand firm at that position.
If we are to salute anything, it is to be God’s name alone (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). No Christian needs to feel cajoled by any peer pressure otherwise. Stand firm and let no man intimidate you with idols.
What in the world is America all about, after all? Are we free and brave like we sing? Do we really believe it? Practice what you preach, Christian. Be brave. Be free. Back off. Act like free Christians who respect freedom. Quit acting like Nazis.
Don’t hide your Christian heart under the bushel of nationalism.[And for the record, U.S. olympians don’t receive a single cent of taxpayer funding.]