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By: Dr. D. James Kennedy, Mr. John Buchanan; ©1984
Did our founding fathers intend America to operate according to biblical principles, or have Christians merely misinterpreted what they said?

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Introduction

Tonight, what is the relationship of religion to government?

[*** Excerpts of commercials from People For The American Way ***]

James Robison: I am sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the communists coming out of the closets. It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closets, out of the churches and change America. We must do it.
Jerry Falwell: We have got to raise up an army of men and women in America to call this nation back to moral sanity and sensibility. I call that the Moral Majority.
D. James Kennedy: ….Christian freedom in particular which is, I believe, today under serious attack.

[end excerpt]

However there are those who disagree. T.V. producer Norman Lear founded an organization called People For The American Way, whose opinion of such Christians is:

[*** Excerpt People For The American Way commercial ***]

Martin Sheen: If you are alarmed by these voices of intolerance, please call this number. I’m Martin Sheen, a member of People For The American Way. Washington and Jefferson knew the dangers of mixing church and state. Today, extremists are using religion to manipulate political debate. Their aim is to impose their beliefs on you. And if you remain silent they will succeed. Call this number and make your pledge of $15 or more, to help carry this warning to other Americans. Don’t take your freedom for granted.

[end excerpt]

Tonight, representing People For The American Way is their chairman, John H. Buchanan. From 1965 until 1981 Mr. Buchanan was a Congressman representing the 6th District of Alabama in the US House of Representatives. My second guest is Dr. D. James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is president of the Coalition for Religious Liberty and a board member of Concerned Christians for More Responsible Citizenship. Please stay tuned for this important discussion.


Ankerberg: Religion and politics is a really hot topic, right? And it is going to continue to go on. We have former Congressman John Buchanan who is the Chairman of People For The American Way, as well as Dr. D. James Kennedy from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. And we want to start this week with part of the commercial that People For The American Way under Norman Lear created and it has some of the most famous Christian preachers in America on this commercial and we are going to see that commercial.

[*** Excerpts from commercials ***]

Falwell: We have a three-fold primary responsibility. Number one, get people saved; number two, get them baptized; number three, get them registered to vote.
Martin Sheen: “Religion and government,” said James Madison, “will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Bailey Smith: Every sin in the world can largely be placed at the feet of a liberal pulpit.
Martin Sheen: “Religion is a private affair between every man and his maker,” said Thomas Paine. “The object of just laws is the protection of equal rights of all, however various their beliefs may be.”
Paul Weyrich: Everything can ultimately. . . ultimately everything can be reduced to right and wrong. Everything!
Martin Sheen: “All religions united with government,” said Henry Clay, “are more or less inimical to liberty. All separated from government are compatible with liberty.”
Robison: This nation was built upon a Christian foundation, upon a Bible foundation. If you don’t believe that, you know nothing of the truth of American history.
Martin Sheen: “The government of the United States,” insisted Washington, ”is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion or any other religion.”

[end excerpt]

Ankerberg: Dr. Kennedy, that statement that Martin Sheen spoke there about George Washington would seem to indicate that the Christians that were speaking before are being too involved in the political scene. What would you say?
Kennedy: Well, first I would like to ask John Buchanan, do you know when George Washington said that?
Buchanan: Yes, and I appreciate the question. He said that in reference to a treaty that was being signed with a Muslim country and they were worried because they felt that there would be a religious bias on the part of the government of the United States that would cause it not to deal in good faith with the Muslim country. And what the President, then President, was underlining was the fact that under the First Amendment, our government was not a Christian government, but it was a government under whose provisions people who were Christians and Jews and others could have equal standing and could deal in equal good faith with a Muslim country or a Jewish country or a Christian country.
Kennedy: I thought that that’s what you would say. Now the fact is that in the 1790’s we were having a problem with pirates off of Tripoli. And we signed an agreement with them, a treaty with the nation of Tripoli. And when the Ambassador made out that treaty and brought it to George Washington, it contained the statement which you just heard on the television. Washington was incensed at it, refused to sign it and that paragraph was deleted. That treaty is found, was found, in the division of manuscripts of the Library of Congress. It has now been moved to the National Archives and can be investigated by anyone else. You see….
Ankerberg: So in essence he never said that?
Kennedy: He never said it. Washington refused to sign it. But you know with Norman Lear making 47 errors in one letter, and half a dozen mistakes in this, this is the kind of thing that has appeared in the atheistic literature of people like Madalyn Murray O’Hair. It has been trumpeted by atheist across the years and it just is not true. And another one of the errors, the fact of the matter is that the founders of this country well knew that this nation was founded upon a Christian base. The fact is that every nation that has ever existed has been founded upon some theistic or anti-theistic foundation. And America was founded upon a Christian foundation in very much the same way that Israel was founded upon a Jewish foundation or India upon a Hindu foundation.
In fact, in 1892 the Supreme Court of the United States in the Trinity case examined all of the documentation concerning the foundation of this country. Documents that go back to the very beginning of how this nation was founded. Things like the very first charter that this nation had, the Virginia Charter, signed in 1606 before they landed at Jamestown in 1607, in which they said that they came here “by the providence of almighty God for the propagation of the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness.”
Then we have the birth certificate of America, the Mayflower Compact, which was signed in 1620 before the Pilgrims landed at Mayflower. And they said there, “In the name of God, Amen. Having undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith a voyage to plant the first colony in Virginia.” And what was the first thing they did? The first thing they did when they landed in Jamestown was to erect a large wooden cross and to have a prayer meeting.
What’s the first thing that the Puritans did when they landed at Mayflower? According to Governor Bradford’s diary they fell on their knees and gave thanks to God Almighty, and that on publicly chartered land. And then you have the New England Confederation of 1643, where the colonies got together for the first time, and they said this, “Whereas we all came unto these parts of America for one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace.” And you can go on and on through scores and scores of other documents as I have made a study at one time.
Ankerberg: Then apparently….
Kennedy: Let me give you the conclusion, John.
Ankerberg: Alright.
Kennedy: The conclusion was that when the Supreme Court examined these matters in 1892 their conclusion was this, “This is a religious people, this is a Christian nation.” The Supreme Court of the United States. And therefore, this is just historical inaccuracy.
Ankerberg: Apparently James Robison was right then when he said this is a nation founded on the Bible. John, would you comment.
Buchanan: Well, I believe personally that many of the Christian precepts had a lot to do with the creation of our form of government and certainly with the motivation of the people who came to settle this country. The problem is when government …. we are all Christians here but we obviously very strongly disagree. See, I completely disagree with Dr. Kennedy’s interpretation of the history of religious persecution because I know what happened to my Baptist forebearers. They were persecuted by state churches. Now I…. we, all of us, who have had anything to do with this ad you just saw firmly believe that George Washington did in fact say that. I still believe it. I’ll check it out….
Ankerberg: What if it’s found that’s not true though?
Buchanan: Dr. Kennedy says it’s not true, but I don’t know it’s not true.
Ankerberg: But what if it is?
Buchanan: He said it was not true that Baptist preachers were persecuted by state churches in the colonies and I know they were.
Kennedy: I did not make that statement at all.
Buchanan: Well, I thought you said that was not why the provisions were put in the Constitution. That they didn’t cover the church dominating the state. You said precisely it didn’t do that.
Kennedy: I was talking about England, that England was an Erastian church government where the state controlled the church, not the other way around.
Buchanan: No, but you said about the First Amendment, it was not intended to keep the church from controlling the state. I am saying precisely it was state churches persecuting dissenting faiths, like Baptists, that became the substantial reason for the First Amendment at the federal level and for some of the provisions in all the state constitutions.
Kennedy: Are you saying that the First Amendment was written to keep the church from controlling the government?
Buchanan: Yes, as in….
Kennedy: Well, then you have got it completely backwards.
Buchanan: No, I am saying it is in part….
Kennedy: Completely backwards.
Buchanan: Well, you are completely backwards, my friend, because it was state churches….
Kennedy: Congress shall make no law….
Buchanan: ….state churches persecuting dissenters that became the basis for the First Amendment, the Virginia similar provision and similar provisions in all the state constitutions. People were being persecuted by state churches. That’s why they fled from England and Europe.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me give you the actual historical quote….
Buchanan: They were being persecuted by church….
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s see if we can straighten this whole thing out.
Kennedy: They were being persecuted by the state which controlled the church.
Buchanan: Which had an established church.
Kennedy: Because the state controlled the church, it was the soldiers of the state that persecuted the Puritans.
Buchanan: Well, listen let’s get back to the Inquisition of the Crusades. That was the church controlling the state and terrible things happened to the people.
Kennedy: Yes, but the founders of this country did not come from Spain. They came from England.
Buchanan: The idea in our Constitution was to remove us from religious persecution and intolerance and provide freedom for people of all beliefs.
Ankerberg: Jim, go on.
Kennedy: Okay, I think that this is really beside the issue. As I have said before, nobody is trying to establish a state church. But what they are doing is they are taking this so-called wall of separation and they are trying to remove all vestiges of the religious heritage of America and produce a secular humanist state. Now that is actually what is happening today. We have an established religion in America today. And it is the religion of secular humanism. We have billions of dollars being poured into our public school system and secular humanism is being taught in virtually every school in America today. Now there is the real practical problem. Secular humanism is a religion. Nine times in the Humanist Manifesto of ‘33 they declare themselves to be a religion. The Supreme Court in Torcaso vs. Watkins declares it’s a religion. The dictionary declares it’s a religion. They themselves declare it is a religion and yet it is being….
Buchanan: How many people do you know are secular humanists who would say they’re secular humanists who teach in public schools? I don’t know any.
Kennedy: Well, there are many.
Ankerberg: A former member of Anthropology at Berkeley says that he is one. We have had him on our program.
Buchanan: Well, there may have been one or two.
Kennedy: How about John Dewey? How about John Dewey, would he be an insignificant member?
Buchanan: I don’t….
Kennedy: John Dewey signed the Humanist Manifesto of ‘33. He is the most significant educator of the 20th Century in America, influenced more educators than anybody else that there is. We find secular humanists making statements in our schools like, “Maybe Johnny can’t read after he gets out of high school, but at least we are removing from him this superstitious, this religious superstition, that he brings with him into the classroom.” So we have other secular humanist educators saying that the humanist educator is a proselytizer of a new faith, a new religion. It’s a battle between the rotting corpse of Christianity and the new religion of secular humanism.
Buchanan: Well, you are not talking about schools in Birmingham, Alabama.
Kennedy: Well, I may not be talking about Birmingham.
Buchanan: You are slandering a great many patriotic and Christian Americans right this minute. I mean the people who teach in the public schools and who lead it.
Ankerberg: Alright, we are going to go right now to part of a commercial that Norman Lear created for People For The American Way. And it has some of the well-known preachers of our day as well as some of the founding fathers being quoted. I want you to listen.

[*** Excerpt from commercial ***]

Robison: Don’t you commit yourself to some political party, or politician. You commit yourself to the principles of God and demand those parties and politicians align themselves with the eternal values in this book… and America will be forever the greatest nation on this earth.
Martin Sheen: Today, this religious ideology has found support in the highest places in our government. But, are these the ideas we wish to hear in this place?
Smith: My friend, it is not God and country, it’s God.
Martin Sheen: Or do we listen to the men who gave us our democracy? Said Jefferson, “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people. . . the building of a wall of separation between church and state.” Washington and Jefferson understood the dangers of mixing church and state. I’m Martin Sheen, a member of People For The American Way. If you are alarmed by the voices of intolerance you just heard, please call this number. Religion is an important personal matter to me, as I’m sure it is with you also. But today, a powerful group of extremists are using religion to manipulate political debate. Their aim is to impose their narrow beliefs on you. And if you remain silent, they will succeed. So call this number and make your pledge of $15, $25 or more, to help carry this warning to other Americans. Don’t take your freedom for granted. Call us now. Thank you.

[end excerpt]

Ankerberg: Alright, Dr. Kennedy, what about these statements?
Kennedy: Well, one of the statements there was that people should not commit themselves, Christians are the people to whom he was addressing, should not commit themselves to a political party but they should commit themselves to the Word of God and to the eternal principles which are contained in that Word. And yet statements like that are referred to in this ad as “extremist,” as “intolerant,” as “dangerous to the health of our people.” And I just can’t imagine that a clergyman like John Buchanan would say the contrary, that we should commit ourselves to a political party rather than to the principles contained in the Word of God. Is that what you would say, John?
Buchanan: No, I would not say that. The only thing in Robison’s statement with which I might take some issue is America remain forever whatever it was, because that gets into civil religion. And I, as a Christian, happen to believe that God deals with and Christ saves individual people and it’s not so much a national thing. And I would have some problems with the civil religion aspects of that. But I would not personally have disagreement with the essence of what James Robison is saying. I would say….
Ankerberg: He said, “Politicians align themselves with the eternal values in this book.” They align themselves.
Buchanan: Yes, I personally think that, and I as a Christian hope I am in alignment with the eternal principles in the Bible and the totality of my life, and I would hope all who believe would be as well. Let me say about Martin Sheen….
Kennedy: John, let me ask you something? Have you apologized to James Robison for putting that on national television and designating him as being intolerant, and dangerous….
Ankerberg: An extremist.
Kennedy: …an extremist?
Buchanan: Well, I personally… I have seen a lot of footage of James Robison, and I would not personally apologize, because to me some of his statements come down that way. Let me explain what Martin Sheen was saying. He, himself, really is a deeply religious person and he really does react this way. And one of the reasons he does is because of this matter of secular humanism. Most of the teachers I know, and I know a lot of them, are Baptist and Methodist and Presbyterian and believers. They are not secular humanists. Ninety percent of the kids in our country rely upon the public schools for their education. Now it’s well and good if you can afford to send your child to a Christian school and you prefer it. I am so glad you have that privilege. It was given to you by the Supreme Court some years ago.
Ankerberg: Then, John, why did you vote down the prayer amendment of the President for voluntary prayer?
Buchanan: Beg your pardon?
Ankerberg: Why did you vote down the voluntary prayer amendment that the President wanted?
Buchanan: Because I believe that prayer is the responsibility of the church and the home, not the public school. Because I believe that it is not possible to have organized prayer without violating someone’s conscience somewhere. In Birmingham you would have Baptist prayers; in Salt Lake City, Mormon prayers; in New York City, Jewish prayers.
Ankerberg: But, John, we did for 180 years and there was no problem.
Buchanan: I know, but this again is an historic Baptist position and I am a Baptist Christian. Most of us have believed this through all the years of our history.
Ankerberg: Right after the First Amendment Thomas Jefferson had the whole Congress say a word of prayer.
Buchanan: We just disagree. We think we can teach in our homes and our Sunday School religious observance. We also think there’s no way to keep kids from praying in school. I prayed a lot in school. I had to.
Ankerberg: Jim, what do you think?
Kennedy: Well, I think that to say that this is what the Congress meant is again an absurdity. The same Congress that gave us the Constitution gave us the Northwest Ordinance. And in that Ordinance the Congress that gave us the Constitution of the United States….
Ankerberg: The very men.
Kennedy: The very men said, and I will say it again, “Religion, morality and knowledge being essential to good government….” It’s not endangering good government as Norman Lear and his ilk would have us to believe. But it is essential for good government. “Religion, morality and knowledge being essential to good government, Schools shall be established in the Northwest Territories.” Furthermore, we also know that Jefferson, when he was the Superintendent of Schools for Washington, D.C., ordered two principle books to be used. Namely, the Bible and Watts Hymnal. And George Washington in his farewell address to the people said that we should be very careful not to be so foolish as to suppose that we could maintain the structure of morality while destroying the foundation of religion. But we have been precisely that foolish. We have tried to totally blast away every vestige of the religious foundation of this country and suppose that somehow morality is going to stay up there. Is there any wonder that we have a problem with drugs and alcohol, where suicide is becoming epidemic among our high school students today because of the fact that they have lost the religious foundations upon which this country has been built.
Ankerberg: Okay, John.
Buchanan: I believe very deeply in the religious foundations and I believe it is the job of the church and of parents to provide them and protect them and the job of the government in sublime neutrality to protect the religious freedom of all citizens.
Ankerberg: Jim.
Kennedy: Well, over and over again when I have heard that prayer amendment discussed, I have heard about people talking about the government mandating prayers, about forcing students to pray. But the amendment was very clear. It said that it would be voluntary prayer. It said that the prayers could not be composed by the state or any of its agents, which means that even the teachers couldn’t pray the prayers, or write the prayers, or pray them. Therefore, it meant that children would have an opportunity to pray if they wanted to pray. They weren’t being forced to pray but there would be a time. And if any of the students wanted to pray, as someone just today told me that when they were in school when they would have a time for prayer, one of the students would get up and pray. Sometimes nobody would pray. But they should have the opportunity, if they desire it, to be able to speak to God. It’s strange that we have freedom of speech in our schools, except we can talk to anybody except God. And I think this is wrong.
Ankerberg: Alright we are going to have to shut it down. I would like to close with the words, an exact quote from the great Chief Justice, John Marshall, who in 1835 wrote these words, “It would be strange indeed if with such a people our institutions did not presuppose Christianity and did not often refer to it and exhibit relationships with it.” And I hope that you will join us next week as we continue this conversation.

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