[This is a reprint and renamed essay of a 2006 article. But the content fits exactly the latest brouhaha about newly-made American citizens allowed to take exemption from defending the country. Conservatives are livid. But why?[update: this exception clause has been around awhile] ]:
The national talk-show host, Dennis Prager, contends that the newly elected Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) should not be allowed to swear into office upon the Koran “because the act undermines American civilization.”
To let this pass without a fight is to “embolden Islamic extremists” whose sole goal is the “Islamicization of America.”
He concludes the thought-provoking essay with a bang:
“When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization.
I sometimes listen to his radio show. And I sometimes appreciate his comments. And this article is most heart-warming insofar as he summarizes the truth: taking such an oath is an affirmation of the unifying value system of America. I wish more people, even Christians, understood that fact.
In fact, the seriousness of oaths has been the hallmark of Christianity and even included in the Puritan Confession of Faith:
“Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth: neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.” [WCF 22:3, 7. Proof Texts: Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Jer. 4:2; Hosea 10:4 8. Gen. 24:2-9; Neh 5:12-13; Eccl. 5:2, 5 ]
Thus, many of the early State constitutions only allowed avowed Protestants as civil officials. For only a Protestant could take an oath upon the Bible in good conscience. (In contrast, Prager has no problem commending Jews and others to take an oath upon the Bible. For him, it is a sign of supporting the “value system of America”—that Judeao-Christian values system. I find that rather strange to put it mildly.)
In spite of that, I still find his position commendable. For the fact of the matter is that America was mainly founded upon explicit Christian values (and Calvinism in particular); and voting into office men who publicly and avowedly uphold a foreign value-system (a world-view) is to undermine the intellectual, historical, religious, cultural, societal and political system of America. One element that makes treason so serious for most countries in the world is its attack upon the heart of the country’s political & cultural system.
Each and every human political, cultural, societal—indeed, any human endeavor—is built upon certain presuppositions. And the Triune God was such a presupposition—an irreducibly complex & epistemologically necessary Person & Truth without which this essay would be meaningless gobbledygook.
More to the point: oaths require a higher authority to enforce them. If there is no higher authority in modern America than the polled masses or the leaders and judges—all fallible & sinful humans—then one man’s opinion is as valid as the next. Only those with the most power will be able to enforce their oaths. The will-to-power becomes all. In Ellison’s case, that higher authority is allah; hence, his consistent insistence upon vowing before the Koran. That book represents his world-view (Weltanschauung). His set of presuppositions.
This is a watershed moment.
But in another sense, it is only a outward manifestation of a century-long decline in America’s original Christian worldview. In other words, Prager is a day late and a dollar short. With the liberalization of the mainline churches reaching a critical point in the 1930s (in both the Presbyterian and Baptists churches), the leavening dimension of the churches was severely hampered (the parallel rise of fundamentalistic Dispensationalism did not help much either). With the downplay of the centrality of the Bible as a God-breathed document relevant for God’s people and all their activities in life, the church weakened collectively until outright denial of the Bible and the Bible’s God was the mainstay of many churches. In short, any and all worldviews were becoming increasingly acceptable.
This decline erupted in the open wickedness of the 60s. And it is mutating quickly. The fact that Americans voted for an avowed Muslim simply demonstrates this devolution. It also contributes to the problem as well. But historically, it is not the root cause of our modern malaise. En masse denial of an absolute standard as found in the Bible is the root cause of our difficulties. Prager is absolutely right that “When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization.”
Unfortunately, there currently is no consistently widespread “unifying value system.” Christianity is the closest. Yet one man’s Christianity is another man’s heresy. That word and idea are so diluted and stretched to non-recognition that even the Clintons can lay claim to the word.
Many of our leaders break these vows and do not hold to America’s traditional unifying values. In fact, church leaders break their vows. And many do not hold to America’s traditional unifying values. Those values are not some vague Judeao-Christian ethic (ala Prager), but the unique worldview Gospel of classical Protestantism. How many would willingly submit to colonial Puritan doctrine? The only way America can revert to the days of yore is through a Spirit-wrought revival through churches with faithful Gospel preaching, for “it is the power of God unto salvation.”
We are in a cultural war. The homosexuals are enlarging their closets. The atheists are pounding the war-drums. And the schools are fulfilling their pagan mandates. Now the Muslims are infiltrating the government (see White Horse Inn interview with Muslim lawyer expert about the Muslim doctrine of lying). It appears that America is surrounded by enemies within and without.
To such men as Prager, it may indeed seem that all is coming to an end. But we Christians should know better. God’s kingdom is not America. It is greater than America. And the most visible form is Christ’s Bride, the Church. The gates of hell shall not stand against her.
The wicked only hate “America” insofar as she reflects the Gospel. Their real hatred is aimed at Christ. And the real battle is in the hearts and minds of the churches throughout this land. And the weapon that will win the day is the Sword of the Spirit, the church’s faithful proclamation of the Gospel to a dying world.