Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why Would I Want to Force Keith Ellison to Use the Bible When He Takes the Oath of Office in January?

Talk show host Dennis Prager has created quite a stir by suggesting that Keith Ellison, set to become the first Muslim member of the United States House of Representatives, should not be allowed to use a Koran during his swearing-in.

Prager argues that Ellison's choice: an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.
Both as a Christian and an American, I think that Prager is completely wrong. Why?

First, there's a little thing we Christians call "the Golden Rule." It was enunciated by Jesus, Who we believe is God as well as human, meaning that His word carries more than a little weight with us.

Jesus said, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you..." (Matthew 7:12) As a Christian, I would be deeply resentful if I were forced to use a Koran when I swore an oath of office. Constitutional issues aside for a moment, no person should be forced to use the religious symbols or texts of any faith against their wills.

Christianity insists that no one can come to faith in Christ or be under the authority of God's Word by anything other than voluntary means. For Christians, faith in God is about having a trusting relationship with Christ, not adhering to some values system.

Although as a Christian, I hope that all people will come to follow Jesus Christ, I also believe that we need to be respectful of those who adhere to religious views different from our own.

In December, for example, I'm scheduled to lead the prayer for the opening of a session at the Ohio House of Representatives in Columbus. I'll be identified as a Christian pastor because I believe Jesus Christ the way I gain access to God. However, I will word my prayer in such a way that I hope will convey respect for others' sensibilities.

This isn't about being politically correct; it's about being a Christian. The apostle Peter, no slouch about sharing his faith in Christ, advised Christians: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (First Peter 3:15-16).

Prager's argument that the Bible is the source of the ideas that animated this country's founding is an oversimplification. The America of the 1770s and 80s was largely unchurched and spiritually-disconnected, although some of the Founders--people like John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian clergyman, and John Adams--were committed Christians. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, worshiped humanity, most especially himself, and only invoked the name of a nebulous God to buttress his political points.

But however accurate Prager's assertion that America is rooted in Christianity, it doesn't necesarily follow that all office holders must use Bibles for their swearing-in. In fact, the Constitution clearly states, in Article 6, that there can be no religious test for holding office. Forcing officials to use a Bible at their oath-taking would violate this stipulation. (The Constitution, in fact, makes no mention of using the Bible for taking oaths of office. It is purely customary. I didn't use one, for example, when I was sworn in as a member of the Clermont County [Ohio] Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, a government entity, this July. I had my Bible with me, incidentally, but forgot to bring it when asked to stand to take the oath.)

As a Christian, I believe that obeying the Constitution is not only legally right, but in the interest of our faith. The government which can today insist that everybody use our holy book, the Bible, for oath-takings could just as easily demand that people be forced to use the Koran or a Betty Crocker Cookbook next week.

In the free and open marketplace of ideas, I'm convinced that the Christian faith is so true and Jesus Christ so compelling, that people will voluntarily want to follow Christ when given the opportunity. So, I feel no need to force my faith down others' throats.

Besides all of which, as I've hinted above, I have no interest in the Bible being used as a symbol of cultural unity, as Prager suggests. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the living Word of God. It's more than a book of ideas. It's the definitive, authoritative voice with which God speaks to us. It can't and shouldn't be used to support any particular political system or nation, no matter how much I revere the system or love my country. In essence, Dennis Prager wants not to elevate the Bible, but to trivialize it and put it in a box marked America or national value system.

The Bible is much too big a book for such small potatoes because the God Who speaks in it is vastly bigger than the finite--if laudable--nations and political systems devised by human beings. I frankly consider Prager's suggestion insulting to Christian faith and to the Bible, however unintentional the insult may be.

Given all this, why would I want to force Keith Ellison to use the Bible when he takes the oath of office in January?

[UPDATE: Great thoughts from READER_IAM of Done with Mirrors. She makes a whole lot of sense in a great piece titled, "On My Oath, This is Nonsense."]

[Cross-posted at]


Anonymous said...

Very good article, however, I believe that John Adams, John Quincy Adams and two other US Presidents out of the first 20 were Unitarians. I do not know if their beliefs have changed over the last 200 years but today they would not be considered a
"Christian" Denomination. Although it may be implied in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution neither document mentions Jesus Christ (who by the way is my Lord and Savior) For years I have seen conservative Evangelists declare America as a "Christian" Nation however, our founding fathers messed that up by not including Native Americans, Women and African Americans as being particpants in the American Dream. These folks have a short memory or they never went to History Class. As for Rep. Ellison, it is unfortunate he is not Saved, however, it is his right to worship God in his fashion. And the most I can hope for him be he Christian or not is that he will be a servant of the people and represent his district well.

Mark Daniels said...

The religious affiliations of our first twenty presidents were:

Washington- Episcopalian
J. Adams- Unitarian (their doctrines have changed considerably since his time)
Jefferson- Deist
Madison- Episcopalian
Monroe- Episcopalian
J.Q. Adama- Unitarian
Jackson- Presbyterian
Van Buren- Dutch Reformed
W.H. Harrison- Episcopalian
Tyler- Episcopalian
Polk- Presbyterian
Taylor- Episcopalian
Fillmore- Unitarian
Pierce- Episcopalian
Buchanan- Presbyterian
Lincoln- No affiliation
A. Johnson- No affiliation
Grant- Methodist
Hayes- Methodist
Garfield- Disciples of Christ