There seems to be a lot of debate today over exactly what it means to be an American.
For many evangelicals what it means to be an American is tightly woven with their faith and was articulated by America’s founders who embraced Judeo-Christian values as the basis for a civilized society and social order.
These values include the dignity of human life common decency support of traditional family values and the 10 Commandments.
Today Judeo-Christian values are under siege as evidenced by the increasing secularization of our society and the march of progressive thought that attempts to redefine history and the American experience.
For example the political debate over immigration and border security is essentially a clash of values and how Americans interpret the founding principles of the United States: individual liberty federalism limited and representative government private property that all men are created equal by God and the separation of governmental powers.
As a refresher just what do these founding principles actually mean? The Bill of Rights Institute articulates it this way:
Individual liberty: Each person is born with freedom from arbitrary or unjustified restraint.
Federalism: In this system of dual sovereignty the people delegate certain powers to the national government while the states and the people retain all other powers.
Limited government: The national government has only those powers granted in the Constitution. If a power is not listed the national government is assumed not to have it.
Representative government: A republican system in which the people select representatives to represent their interests as they make and carry out laws.
Private property: Individuals have the right to obtain and control possessions as well as the fruits of their own labor.
“All men are created equal”: There is no natural class of rulers among people and everyone is born with the same inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Separation of powers/checks and balances: The Constitution establishes a system of distinct powers to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch of government and to ensure that each branch can stop the others from growing too powerful.
As improbable as the founding of our nation was in 1776 when the American colonies penned the Declaration of Independence – defying England which at the time was the most powerful nation on earth – it may seem just as improbable the difference the Church makes in our country today during a time of divisiveness and social/cultural upheaval.
The essence of living in a free nation is that it gives individuals the opportunity to choose how they will live and conduct their affairs – and that’s where the truth of the gospel message comes in.
For Christians we choose life centered on Christ because we know without Him it is a path leading to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14 NIV):
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”
Whether or not the great American experiment will succeed as our country approaches the 243th year of its founding may be uncertain but what we do know is that every Christian’s freedom is secure through Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul writing to the church at Ephesus said:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:4-10 NIV).
While the gift our nation’s founding fathers gave us was individual freedom during our earthly existence freedom of the eternal human soul is found in Christ alone.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.