From the Desk of the Chair…

A Tale of Davy Crockett

In which the Old Tennessee bear hunter meets up with the Constitution of the United States

Borrowed from a pamphlet distributed by the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government c. 1960, taken from an article appearing earlier in the Freeman magazine, in turn condensed from the 1884 Life of Colonel David Crockett by Edward S. Ellis.

Crockett was then the lion of Washington. I was a great admirer of his character, and, having several friends who were intimate with him, I found no difficulty in making his acquaintance. I was fascinated with him, and he seemed to take a fancy to me.

I was one day in the lobby of the House of Representatives when a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support, rather, as I thought, because it afforded the speakers a fine opportunity for display than from the necessity of convincing anybody, for it seemed to me that everybody favored it. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose. Everybody expected, of course, that he was going to make one of his characteristic speeches in support of the bill. He commenced:

Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812, precisely the same amount.

There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt. The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died.

I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

Like many other young men, and old ones too, for that matter, who had not thought upon the subject, I desired the passage of the bill, and felt outraged at its defeat. I determined that I would persuade my friend Crockett to move a reconsideration the next day.

Previous engagements preventing me from seeing Crockett that night, I went early to his room the next morning and found him engaged in addressing and franking letters, a large pile of which lay upon his table.

I broke in upon him rather abruptly, by asking him what devil had possessed him to make that speech and defeat that bill yesterday. Without turning his head or looking up from his work, he replied:

You see that I am very busy now; take a seat and cool yourself. I will be through in a few minutes, and then I will tell you all about it.

He continued his employment for about ten minutes, and when he had finished he turned to me and said:

Now, sir, I will answer your question. But thereby hangs a tale, and one of considerable length, to which you will have to listen.

I listened, and this is the tale which I heard:

Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. When we got there, I went to work, and I never worked as hard in my life as I did there for several hours. But in spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them, and everybody else seemed to feel the same way.

The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done. I said everybody felt as I did. That was not quite so; for, though they perhaps sympathized as deeply with the sufferers as I did, there were a few of the members who did not think we had the right to indulge our sympathy or excite our charity at the expense of anybody but ourselves. They opposed the bill, and upon its passage demanded the yeas and nays. There were not enough of them to sustain the call, but many of us wanted our names to appear in favor of what we considered a praiseworthy measure, and we voted with them to sustain it. So the yeas and nays were recorded, and my name appeared on the journals in favor of the bill.

The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up, and I thought it was best to let the boys know that I had not forgot them, and that going to Congress had not made me too proud to go to see them.

So I put a couple of shirts and a few twists of tobacco into my saddlebags, and put out. I had been out about a week and had found things going very smoothly, when, riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly, and was about turning his horse for another furrow when I said to him: Don't be in such a hurry, my friend; I want to have a little talk with you, and get better acquainted. He replied:

I am very busy, and have but little time to talk, but if it does not take too long, I will listen to what you have to say.

I began: Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and—

Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.

This was a sockdolager… I begged him to tell me what was the matter.

Well, Colonel, it is hardly worth-while to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case, you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest … But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is more dangerous the more honest he is.

I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional question.

No, Colonel, there's no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter, you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?

Certainly it is, and I thought that was the last vote which anybody in the world would have found fault with.

Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?

Here was another sockdolager; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:

Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.

It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government.

So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other.

No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.

I have given you, continued Crockett, an imperfect account of what he said. Long before he was through, I was convinced that I had done wrong. He wound up by saying:

So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.

I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go on talking, he would set others to talking, and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it fully. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.

He laughingly replied: Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and, perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.

If I don't, said I, I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say, I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of the people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.

No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. This is Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.

Well, I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-by. I must know your name.

My name is Bunce.

Not Horatio Bunce?

Yes.

Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend. You must let me shake your hand before I go.

We shook hands and parted.

It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.

I have told you Mr. Bunce converted me politically. He came nearer converting me religiously than I had ever been before. He did not make a very good Christian of me, as you know; but he has wrought upon my mind a conviction of the truth of Christianity, and upon my feelings a reverence for its purifying and elevating power such as I had never felt before.

I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him—no that is not the word—I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue, and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted—at least, they all knew me.

In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

Fellow citizens—I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.

I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation as I have told it to you, and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

And now, fellow-citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope that he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.

He came upon the stand and said:

Fellow-citizens—It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.

He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.

I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.

Now, sir, concluded Crockett, you know why I made that speech yesterday. I have had several thousand copies of it printed, and was directing them to my constituents when you came in.

There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week's pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men—men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party, when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased—a debt which could not be paid by money—and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000, when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.

[It was not so long after the incident described above, that Colonel Crockett travelled to Texas to aid in the fight for Texan independence; to lay down his life in their cause at the Alamo. (Older readers will remember the movie made when Walt Disney was alive, which honored that brave American, as well as the John Wayne classic The Alamo, in which Wayne played Crockett.)]

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I pledge allegiance to...

The Constitution of the United States.

I love our flag. I love its broad stripes and bright stars. I love the national anthem. And I love our Republic.

But I no longer pledge allegiance to the flag.

Don’t think me disloyal. There is no one alive more patriotic than I. My forefathers came to this country one hundred fifty years before the Constitution was written. My wife and I both are descended from a woman born in 1623 in Boston — before that name was even assigned the place. She had ancestors on the Mayflower; I have one from Jamestown in 1607. Two grandfathers, born in Virginia in 1793, moved out of the United States five times without ever moving into it; they helped to expand the nation from sea to sea and died in Oregon. Our roots run deep.

But as to the flag. The flag is a symbol, but the meaning of a symbol can change. Consider the rainbow. One hundred fifty years ago, it would have been seen as representing the throne of God. What does that flag represent now?

I pledge allegiance instead to the Constitution of the United States, and to the Republic it creates. Two words fewer, and reminiscent of our glorious Creator, to Whom be honor, and glory, and power, forever and ever. The Constitution is less a symbol of our glorious Republic than it is its very essence. Without the flag, we still have a republic. What do we have without the Constitution? I firmly resist all efforts to alter or abolish the Constitution, lest our Republic be lost in the doing.

Fortunately, the Constitution is not so easily subverted as the flag. True, it can be ignored as is so often the case today. But even if our flag should be used against us, even if, God forbid, our country should fall and the flag be no longer flown, still the Constitution can be memorized, its Scriptural principles upheld, the blessings of Liberty maintained, wheree’er we go.

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the Republic it creates, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

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Success in Politics in One Easy Step

I hear a lot of voices today.

Voices are crying out in the street that We the People should do this, or We the People should do that. But the voices do not agree, and nothing is done. The government grows more and more oppressive, and tyranny rears its ugly head.

These voices are of three types.

The loudest come from those who are sure they know just how to solve our problems.

Next are those who insist that we Christians should stay out of politics.

And finally, there are those who have simply given in, tired of swimming upstream. They insist:

And so they go their merry way, do whatever their merry heart pleases, ignore the oppression. These have turned from doing what is right and live for their own pleasure.

But there is a solution to our national ills, one that is certain to work and simpler than I used to think. I told people all the time, There’s a guaranteed answer for our political problems, and it only requires three easy steps!

Then I learned that it’s really only one step. Three different types of people. One step each.

The Almighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the same Creator who is referenced in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution, is the answer to our political squabbles, just as He was when the Constitution was being written. If each of us will take just that one small step. We have heard that He says, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

When God says He will do it, He will — and He can!

But first some, who are loud and proud, must humble themselves and pray. Others, who know God but have been idle or distracted, should begin to seek His face. And all of us — but especially those who have given in — should turn from our wicked ways.

And then and only then God will hear those who pray, forgive those who have done wickedly, and, to the benefit of all of us, look up to see those who have gotten in His face. He will move His hand and heal our land.

Guaranteed.

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America's Covenant with God

The questions have often arisen:

Intending to expound on these, I began researching but immediately found that the Christian Heritage Fellowship had answered them all better than I, citing the principal legal minds in the country, the Supreme Court.

The answers are:

On February 29, 1892, The Supreme Court declared (in Holy Trinity vs. United States) that the historical record of America overwhelmingly demonstrated that the United States …is a Christian nation.

The quoted article cites many legal precedents that confirm this assertion, from both founding documents and legal cases, dating from both before and after the Supreme Court decision. Has this been true — that America is Christian — since the founding of America?

Yes, and from before her founding — from her inception.

Our forefathers often compared America to Israel, which became a nation at the time of the first Passover, when she left Egypt. Her inception, however, was through Abraham, who made a covenant with God and immediately left home to go to the place God would show him. America became a nation in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, but her inception was long before, when the Pilgrims wrote the Mayflower Compact and the Puritans the charters and constitutions of the various states; these were done in covenant with God after their founders had left home to remove to a new continent. From the beginning there were signs that not all was well; many came merely for profit or other base motives, but the clear separation from England and the other monarchies of Europe soon made it manifest that the independent thinkers of America based their governments on Christ and Christian principles. This was perhaps seen most clearly when the rallying cry of many during the War of Independence was “No king but King Jesus!” The Mayflower Compact was the first document that portrayed this covenant, beginning with “In the name of God, Amen!” but many, indeed most, others did so as well.

To be a Christian nation, then, means to have a covenant with God. He is the true Founder of our nation and, to be Biblically correct, of all nations. He raises up kings and governors, and He puts them down, in accordance with His own will.

What then does it mean to be a Christian nation? Hint: it is not what is portrayed by Christian Nationalists. If America is and always has been a Christian nation, it is apparent this does not mean she should be a theocracy. Instead, she should be in covenant.

Covenant is a relationship between two persons, as is marriage.

The concept may be expanded to include the relationship between God and an entire nation. Such is America’s covenant with God. Israel was called God’s wife, and America likewise. However, covenant does not portend despotism, any more than the covenant of marriage implies that a man is absolute ruler over his wife. God is sovereign, yes. Yet not dictatorial. He grants all men liberty — we, after all, recognize this self-evident truth, by our own Declaration.

Neither, however, is liberty license. We must couple freedom with morality to be in covenant with God. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Religious: in covenant with God. And moral.

Well then, you ask: does America really have a covenant with God? If so, what is it?

Yale graduates Peter Marshall (son of the late Senate chaplain) and David Manuel also sought to answer the questions posed above, as well as these final two. Their research uncovered mounds of evidence supporting the founding of America as a Christian nation. In response, they authored three volumes entitled The Light and the Glory, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Sounding Forth the Trumpet, which resoundingly echo the same answers I have given above and detail America’s covenant with God from its beginnings. That covenant consists of two main elements: submission to God and to one another.

How critically important for us Christians is this business of commitment to one another — as vital for the Body of Christ today as it was three-and-a-half centuries ago! There are two great steps of faith in the Christian walk, and they correspond to the two Great Commandments: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The first step of faith is the vertical commitment: once a person has discovered the reality of God, and has experienced the miraculous gift of salvation in His Son Jesus Christ, he then must face the prospect of accepting Christ as his Lord and Master, as well as Saviour. To do this means yielding our wills to God: Nevertheless not my will but Thy will be done. And it is a covenant relationship, which means there are two parties to the agreement. As long as the Christian obeys His God in humility, God will honor his obedience, often blessing him beyond his imagining.
The second step of faith is the horizontal commitment to one’s neighbor, and ultimately to that specific body of Christian neighbors of whom God calls one to be a part. In a way, this second step requires even more faith, because now one has to learn to trust a perfect God operating in and through imperfect vessels. We must do this, armed only with the assurance that it is God’s will, that the other vessels’ hearts are also turned towards His will, and that they too are aware of their being called to serve Him together.

A more concise textbook, including discussion questions, is The American Covenant: The Untold Story, by Marshall Foster and Mary-Elaine Swanson. A thorough perusal of true histories of this American experiment — that is, Is it reasonable to found a Christian nation and to enjoy the blessings of God on that nation? — and of these works lead us to the inescapable conclusion that our only hope of reformation and return from the degradation of our state and nation is to once again — again, because it has been carried out successfully many times in the past — humbly petition God, acknowledging that we do not have the answers we need, and to commit to serving Him and our neighbors in covenant fellowship.

Surely the greatest of the commandments serves to answer more than our personal needs but extends to our social, political, and national needs also!

When we have fulfilled our commitment, our covenant conditions, then and only then, promises 2 Chronicles 7:14, He will hear from heaven, and will heal our land.

We the People of America are rebels at heart and would love to rise up against a corrupt government, to re-establish our authority, and to correct the evils.

In seeing, however, that America has a relationship with God, Who is much more powerful than our government, it is evident that the American people collectively have instead an obligation to acknowledge God as ruler of our nation, to operate according to His principles, and to credit Him for our successes. (God is good, so the blame for our failures falls on us alone.) When we have done that, we will again be able to say with impunity, “God bless America!”

Land that I love.

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America's Covenant with God, Part 2

The question has been answered as to whether America, as a nation, has a covenant with God: it does.

But why should we care? What does that even mean? To whom does it apply? How do we honor that covenant? Where do we see this play out? When must this happen?

A covenant is an agreement, a commitment, a contract, and a relationship between two parties. God the Creator, Who is one, is nevertheless triune. Not a monad (i.e., not indivisible), He is therefore in this sense a community Who maintains a one-on-one relationship with another nonmonadic community, the nation of America. Each party to the covenant consists of a body of people and not a single person.

Our side of the covenant is expressed by the simple phrase We the People, a phrase directly from the preamble to the Constitution, that divinely inspired document that forms the very basis for our existence. Note the language it uses: more perfect, union, justice, tranquility, defense, welfare, and especially the blessings of liberty. These are words taken right out of Scripture that describe the covenant relationship between the nation and her Creator. Blessing, I heard recently, is when God comes near and shares His goodness; liberty is a fundamental trait of the Creator and of His goodness. It is for liberty that Christ has made us free, says the New Testament [=New Covenant] verse. Liberty is therefore an end in itself, a blessing that comes from God alone.

There is, however, another aspect to a covenant between two bodies of people, and that is the interrelationship that exists amongst the body. In other words, that principle that ties the disparate I into a single entity we — those ties that bind the nation into one, in the same way that the triune God is one. What makes us all Americans? A love of liberty and of minimally limited oversight by government and maximal personal oversight by my own conscience. Together these produce freedom of religion, of speech, of self-defense, and all those other fundamental rights that are an innate part of the character imbued into us by the One Who made us.

The commitments that form the vertical bond of the covenant are expressed by public policies, laws, and upon the recognition of our dependence upon a Biblical foundation — one nation under God. Those that form the horizontal bonds are seen in the interrelationships between the people. Is there harmony? Are they bound together?

God exists in perfect harmony. Do we? Clearly not. But all is not lost for America as a nation, not yet, because the covenant is still in place. God hates divorce, and that is a good thing because otherwise He would long since have divorced us.

All this applies not solely to the believer in the Creator but to all in the nation. Nathaniel Philbrick, the author of Mayflower, concludes in his secular book about the early Americans and their relationships with their neighbors, For peace and for survival, others must be accommodated. The moment any of them gave up on the difficult work of living with their neighbors—and all of the compromises, frustration, and delay that inevitably entailed—they risked losing everything (p. 348). This was a lesson, he adds, quickly forgotten by their children.

We have forgotten the lessons our forefathers learned. But things forgotten can be rediscovered. Let us begin by answering the questions posed: why should we care? Because when we take a single step toward our Maker, he runs toward us to save. If My people — that’s America — will meet My conditions, then…

What does it even mean? (What conditions?) If those who are loud and proud, who insist that they have the answer and so shout others down, will instead admit, I don’t know; God does; if the one who has given up on the whole mess (I voted for the other guy) and ignored others will seek My face; if those will turn from their wicked way, the way into which so many have turned, trampling on their neighbors — in truth, it is not that we are no longer a Christian nation but rather that we have done our own thing while giving lip service to God — then, God says, I will hear and I will heal.

Can God save? Jesus, the son of God, includes the answer to that query in His very name: I am salvation.

To whom does this apply? Sixty-five plus percent of Americans claim to know God. At the bare minimum, these are the people who are “called by My name.” (Others would include the rest of us as well.) Is this claim backed up by their actions? No, according to surveys by pollster George Barna, it is much closer to three percent that act with morals and ethics intact, honoring God by heeding the advice of their own consciences. Twice this country has come to the brink of destruction: the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Each time, national repentance preceded and was a proximate cause of God intervening to save the nation. The same is needed today. The turning point (the “repentance,” that is) we need now is the same as then. We must, each one of us, as Philbrick said, commit to accommodate others, to embrace the difficult work of living with our neighbors and all the accompanying frustrations, lest we lose everything.

How is all this honoring our covenant? What God requires is not perfection, not a theocratic demand to keep all the rules. Every sin will be forgiven men, says the Scripture, but the sin against the Holy Spirit. What then does God require? That we do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Justice and mercy are expressed to our neighbors; God has no need of those things but insists that our neighbor deserves them. The sin against the Holy Spirit is simply to refuse to hear and obey, to speak against the wholesome actions that God demands of us.

Where should we see this play out? In our courts when we speak out for justice; in the legislature when we hold our representatives accountable for fair and honest laws, in our schools when we insist on ethical standards for textbooks and other reading material, in our churches as we insist that pastors teach a balanced view of Scripture rather than man-centered social justice, in our neighborhoods as we forbear accusing others and hauling them into court. We have been the most litigious people on the face of the earth. God has shed His grace on us. Why can’t we do the same for our brothers and sisters?

Finally, when must this happen? Nothing hinders a single one of us from beginning to carry out our part of the relational covenant the Maker of us all insists we honor. Seek common ground with our neighbors rather than conflict. The need is great and the call urgent. We must begin today to live in harmony with those we live in covenant with.

The bonds of covenant are in place. Will we honor them? Ps. 121:1 says, I will lift up my eyes … My help comes from … the Maker of heaven and earth. Our Maker, in other words, still honors His covenant with us. Will we do our part and love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus said? When Cain fell into decline (aka sin), he asked, Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is as obvious now as it was then.

Yes, you are.

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