Our Nation at the Crossroads: Is God on America’s Side?/Program 5

By: Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2008
What events in American history have prompted our presidents to call the nation to prayer?



Today on the John Ankerberg show, is God on America’s side? Does God take a position, have a side in the moral and public policies being debated in our country?

Dr. Richard Land: Well, I think that conservatives, their big mistake is that too often they assume that God is on their side, or God is on America’s side. And we can never assume that. If we assume that that’s pretty close to idolatry. What we need to do is what Lincoln encouraged us to do. He said we need to try to make certain we’re on God’s side. I think the problem with the liberals is that too often they assume that God doesn’t have a side.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: I think that it is very important for Christians to be involved in politics, but I think we’ve been involved in the wrong way. We’ve not done so maintaining independence. John, I really do believe that one of the greatest mistakes we have made is when ministers actually endorse political candidates. You see, this confuses the whole issue as to what the church is about.

My guests today are Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country. He graduated with high honors from Princeton University and received his Ph.D. from Oxford. He has represented Southern Baptists’ and other Evangelicals’ concerns in the halls of Congress, before U.S. Presidents, and in the media. He has just written a new book entitled, The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!

My second guest is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. His new book is entitled, Is God on America’s Side?

I asked these men, how can Christians be involved in influencing public policies and laws without clouding the message of the Gospel?

Lutzer: If you were to stand at the corner of State and Madison in Chicago and you were to ask people, what do you think Christianity is?, very few would say it’s this message that Jesus came to rescue us as sinners. Almost all of them would begin to talk about our political affiliations.
Land: In a country where 85% of Americans claim to have some affiliation with some form of the Christian faith and where 61% claim that religion is very important in their lives, then the only way that the secularists can win is if they are able to intimidate people of faith.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking with Dr. Richard Land who is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer who is Pastor of the world-famous Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. We want to talk about the fact of, what is the relationship of God to the country? Both of you agree that America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation. But at the same time you say that we have a special relationship because of who God is and the fact that our people believed in God at the beginning and down through our history. Take us back to the founding of our country. And start with George Washington, because there are certain Presidents in history that have relied on God, have felt responsible to God’s judgment, have actually called our entire nation to pray. And George Washington was one of the first ones.
Land: Well, he was. You know, we hear this story, this revisionist history that the Founding Fathers were deists and the Founding Fathers were Unitarians. And some of the more famous ones were not what we would call orthodox Christians, although I would have to say Jefferson was certainly not a deist. Jefferson was a person who was in love with Jesus, but it was only the teachings of Jesus; he didn’t believe in the deity of Jesus. But he certainly believed God was more involved than just a great watchmaker in the sky.
Ankerberg: Yeah, you go to Washington you can see on his statue there, you can see he trembled at the fact that God was alive.
Land: And that God would judge America for slavery. Washington was a member of the vestry at his Episcopal church. He was a person who was known to be someone who was a person of strong faith. Now, a lot is made of the fact that he always left before Communion at the end of the service and he never explained why. But he was a person who prayed to God, who talked about God, who added the phrase, “So help me, God” when he was the first one inaugurated. That’s not in the actual oath, he made it part of the oath. He was the first to have a Bible there and to quote scripture. And, you know, he said that religion was an absolutely essential pillar for the foundation of the society. And in fact in my book, The Divided States of America?, I have a whole chapter on all the Presidents’ faith. And virtually every President had a scripture verse, the Bible opened to a particular scripture verse when they took the oath of office. They were people of prayer. Some of the more famous recent Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy.
And then, of course, what I think is perhaps the most fascinating of the Presidents is Lincoln. And Lincoln struggled in a Meditation on the Divine Will, which was in his own personal papers and was discovered after his death, during the darkest days of the Civil War in 1862 when it was not clear at all which side was going to win. And he said, you know, both sides in this terrible conflict believe that God is on their side. And he said, both sides can’t be right. And it may be that neither side is completely right and that God has sent this terrible war as a judgment on the whole nation for having profited from slavery; both north and south. And that it may be that this war will continue until all of the ill-gotten gains accrued by the work of the men who were in bondage is spent up and used up before this terrible conflict comes to an end. And you can hear in it echoes of what later became his magnificent and in some ways, nonpareil second inaugural where he says that, you know, with malice toward none and charity toward all we’re going to go forward, seeking to do the right as God gives us the light to see the right.
So, you know, when people criticize George W. Bush as talking too much about God – and by the way 70% of Americans disagree with that – they’re totally wrong in that Bush is standing squarely in a tradition that goes all the way back in an unbroken line to George Washington himself.
Ankerberg: Yeah. While we’re talking about Bush let’s compare him with President Clinton in terms of, they’ve actually counted up the references that were used.
Land: Yeah, there was a study done that found that during the first three years of Bush’s presidency where he actually mentions God more than he has since, in the first three years of his presidency, they compared that with Bill Clinton’s eight years and they found that Bill Clinton, in official speeches, mentioned Jesus, Jesus Christ and Christ twice as many times as George W. Bush did. And that Clinton’s references to Jesus, Christ, and Jesus Christ went up to double the amount of other years in election years.
Ankerberg: Why is there such animosity in the media and our elites that the President would actually mention his belief in God?
Land: Well, I think for a lot of them the elites in this country are disproportionately secular. You know Peter Burger, the famous sociologist, studied American life and he said, you know, he says we’ve done a study that found that the most secular people in the world were the Swedes. The Swedes had the lower belief in the existence of God or a supreme being than any other country. And the Indians, from India, were the most religious people in the world. And Peter Burger said, “Hmm, America is a nation of Indians ruled by an elite of Swedes.” And there’s far more painful truth in that than many Americans would like to admit. And so they find George W. Bush’s faith to be simple, to be dangerous, to be too absolute; whereas the majority of Americans hear in George W. Bush a faith that resonates with their faith, both Catholic and Protestant.
Ankerberg: Why is it that we’re even bringing up these illustrations of past Presidents’ actions and beliefs, what they wrote in their books and their memoirs and what they actually did? Why is that so important?
Land: Well, I think it’s important because when people try to rewrite American history, to try to make some of these people sort of proto-secularists, it’s important for us to bring out the truth. We have to know where we’ve been in order to know and to be instructed as to where we’re going. And so, for instance, I think it’s important for people to understand that on June 6, 1944 on D-Day night, Franklin Roosevelt gave a fireside chat to the American people. And he actually asked the American people to get down on their knees in their parlors around the radios, around the country, and he was going to “lead them to the throne of grace,” that’s a quote, as he sought to pray for our soldiers who he knew, they didn’t know yet, he knew that 12,000 of our men and boys had lost their lives securing the Normandy beachheads just that day. And he prayed for God’s blessing on their efforts and he acknowledged World War II as being a struggle between good and evil, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and asked that God would help us to prevail and would give us faith and would give our soldiers faith. Can you imagine? I mean if a President of the United States did that today they’d have to put the ACLU and Americans United on industrial doses of Prozac.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Talk about Eisenhower.
Land: Well, Eisenhower, I didn’t know this until I did this research for this book. The day that he was inaugurated for his first term, January 20, 1953, he took the oath of office. And then he turned to the crowd and he said, “Before I begin the remarks that I consider appropriate to this place,” in other words his inaugural address, “I’m going to ask you to bow your heads, and I’m going to say a prayer.” And he then prayed. And he prayed that God would give him guidance and God would give him wisdom and God would give all of the people in his administration the wisdom to do God’s will. And then in the famous John Kennedy inaugural address in 1961, John Kennedy did say along with, you know, “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” he also said that freedom was God’s gift to mankind, and that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Erwin, do you think that the American Christian actually believes all that Richard is even saying right now? Or have we become so inundated by criticism of being Christians in the public square that we’re actually backing off of our own background?
Lutzer: Oh, I really think so. I think that we have been intimidated. And we think to ourselves because sometimes the media, the elite media that we’re talking about is against us, we think that we have to keep our mouths closed. And that’s too bad. First of all, as Christians we should be speaking out no matter what we might be hearing from the media, or even by laws that are implemented. But secondly, we have a responsibility also, just constitutionally we have that privilege of speaking out. And what you find in these revisionists is this great desire to take America, with its great heritage of Judeo-Christian values and freedom, and to scrub it clean so that God is no longer referred to.
The other thing that I find amusing, especially as it relates to President Bush, is that you find people say, “Oh, you know, because he prays, this means that he believes in infallible guidance.” Of course, we know that that’s not the case. All of us pray when we make decisions and we know that that does not make us infallible. You can pray after making a decision and you believe that God is leading you, and then later on you say to yourself, you know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it might not be a good decision. All Presidents, virtually, they have prayed, they have sought God for guidance. We should be thankful if we have a President who can say to us as citizens of this country, “I pray to God and I seek God’s guidance.” I hope we always have a President who believes that way.
Land: And you know, John, polls show consistently that Americans want a President who is religious. It would be almost impossible to imagine that someone who is an agnostic or an atheist could be elected President. In fact, in our history we’ve only had four Presidents who did not have some formal association with some religious group. And I think that the reason for that is that Americans are somehow comforted when they realize that their President acknowledges that there is a higher authority to whom he is responsible than just himself, because of the awesome responsibilities of that office. And so I think that we’re going to continue, in spite of what the secularist critics might like, we’re going to continue to have people who will be presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, who are people who profess faith in a higher authority, and in almost all cases, a Judeo-Christian God.
Ankerberg: Alright, guys, this is great stuff. But people that might be listening to us might be thinking the fact is, you guys want a Christian nation? And we need to talk about what we’re not saying and where conservative Christians are missing the boat in pushing for a Christianized country, alright? And we’re going to talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. And we’re talking about the kind of nation that we want. And maybe if you’ve been listening you’re thinking that we want a Christian nation in every sense; that we would dictate what the nation would actually do. And that is not what we’re saying. Richard Land is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. And Dr. Erwin Lutzer is Pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And they both have written books on this topic. And Richard, let me come to you. When we’re talking about getting Christian principles and morality into our public laws, we are not doing what some other evangelical Christians have been advocating, namely that we demand prayer in schools. Explain this.
Land: Well, look, I’m arguing for accommodation; and that means the government should not be a sponsor or a coach or a counselor for Christianity or any other religious faith. That’s a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The government should also not be a suppressor or a censor of religious speech or religious expression or religious activity. That’s a violation of the free exercise clause.
I believe that what our Founding Fathers were giving us is an accommodation model, where the government maximally accommodates every citizen’s right to bring his or her faith to bear on public policy issues; or to express that faith and to allow others to express their faith in the public square.
Now when it comes to prayer in schools, I support the 1962-63 decisions because you had the government getting on the side of Christianity. I happened to go to a high school that was about 30% Jewish. And every morning we recited The Lord’s Prayer, led by the principal over the public address system. And that was a violation of every one of those Jewish children’s rights as American citizens.
But I also oppose what’s happened since 1963. Justice Goldberg said that this decision should not be interpreted as requiring a brooding hostility to the religious; that would be just as unconstitutional as what we just ruled against. Well, of course, that’s exactly what’s happened. You’ve had a brooding hostility to the religious, so that you have the various forms of government trying to clamp down on students’ rights to pray and students’ right to express their religious belief. So you’ve had valedictorians who’ve had their speeches censored; you’ve had children who have been told they can’t talk about Bible stories as their favorite story or talk about a religious theme. And whenever there’s been unlimited public open forum declared, students have a right to bring their faith perspectives to bear. That’s accommodation. And not just the Christian faith perspective; all faith perspectives.
You know, I was always taught that I should defend the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and the Mormon’s right to come and knock on our door and bother us, because if we allow the government to restrict what they can do today, then they can restrict what Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians and Catholics do tomorrow. We should never let the government be the arbiter of what is kosher faith and what is not. We should maximally accommodate every person’s right to bring their understanding of faith or their disbelief, into the public square in a free marketplace of ideas.
Ankerberg: So you’re cutting both ways. You’re cutting into the liberal ideas and you’re also cutting into the conservative ideas, so that you would say that atheists have the freedom to express their thoughts just like a Baptist would have the freedom to express his thoughts?
Land: Absolutely.
Ankerberg: What about Judge Roy Moore and putting up the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms?
Land: Well, Judge Moore in the case of the Alabama Supreme Court, I personally believe that he had the right to purchase this monument that had the Ten Commandments and then had the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta, as an expression of “this is where our legal system has come from,” and to put it in the Rotunda of the Alabama State Supreme Court. He didn’t put it in the courtroom; he put it in the Rotunda. I personally believe he had a right to do that. And if the people of Alabama didn’t like it they could vote him out at the next election. The State wasn’t doing that; he was doing that as a citizen.
However, when he defied the Federal Court order, he was then defying the rule of law. And you know, the rule of law is something which we take for granted in America because it pretty much always been the furniture in the room. But it’s a fragile thing. And we can’t have elected officials – whether they’re the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court or whether they’re the Mayor of San Francisco issuing same-sex marriage licenses even though it’s against the law in California – deciding for themselves which laws they’re going to enforce and obey and which laws they’re not going to enforce and not going to obey. That’s a recipe for a steep slide into anarchy. And we’ll regret the day that we ever allowed that kind of disrespect for the law.
Judge Moore was not challenging a law; he was challenging the rule of law. Now, if he had resigned his post and he had chained himself to the monument and been carted off to the jail, I would have given a donation to his legal defense fund. That would have been a protest by a private citizen. But when you’re the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, you have to enforce the law or, if in conscience you cannot, you must resign. You cannot as an elected official decide, well that law I’m going to ignore and this law I’m going to enforce.
Ankerberg: What do you think about the fact of when different states are voting on certain public laws that, when the states actually pass those laws, then when the liberals did not get their way or people that are opposed to those laws, they actually go to the courts and they get the court to go against the ruling of the people? What do you think about that?
Land: Well, I believe in a judicial review. And I also believe in the primacy of the Federal Courts. You know, if that was ever at issue, it was settled at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. And I happen to believe that there are certain rights, like the rights that are outlined in the Bill of Rights, that must have a federal standard so that they equally apply across the United States. Those are guarantees that are minimal guarantees to citizenship in the United States. And one of those is freedom of religion.
Now, I do think that the courts have gone beyond their authority in seeking to legislate from the bench and seeking to try to read into the law things that are not there. I very much like what Chief Justice Roberts said and what Associate Justice Alito both said at their confirmation hearings, when they said that the judiciary in this country at the federal level is well beyond the parameters that were laid out for it in the Founding Fathers and in the Constitution; that the judges are to interpret the law, not make the law. And when Senator Schumer said, “Well, I just want to know, Judge Roberts, are you going to be for the little guy or for the big guy?” Judge Roberts said, I thought very presciently, “I’m for the Constitution; my client’s the Constitution. If the Constitution says the big guy should win, then the big guy’s going to win. If the Constitution says the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win. I’m there to be an umpire, to interpret the law and to interpret the Constitution; not to try to impose my values on others.”
Ankerberg: Erwin, we’ve got one minute left. How would you react to what we’re saying right now?
Lutzer: Well, I think it’s very important for us to realize that indeed the public square here in America has to be a civil one. And that’s the thing that we should strive for. So that on the one hand what the liberals are saying when they want to scrub it clean, so to speak and ask us to keep our mouths shut, we say no. But nor do we want to impose Christianity on people as a religion, as a doctrine. And I’m just simply saying, can’t we just live together? Can’t we get along? Can’t we respect each other no matter what we believe, so that we can dialogue in the so-called public square?
Ankerberg: Yeah. Alright, next week we’re going to continue this conversation, and we’re going to go to the next one: does God have a special role for America in the world? Okay? Think about that. I hope that you’ll join us.

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