Religion and Government – Program 1

By: Dr. D. James Kennedy, Mr. John Buchanan; ©1984
How involved should Christians be in politics? How involved should the government be in religious matters?

What is the Relationship Between Religion and Government?


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.

John Ankerberg: Welcome. We are talking with former Congressman John Buchanan from Alabama and Dr. D. James Kennedy from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. We are talking about politics and religion. What can a Christian do in the political world? And I would like to start our program with a commercial that People For The American Way under Norman Lear created and it has some of the best known Christians in America speaking on this. And I would like for you to see it and then we will comment. Let’s take a look at this piece.

[*** Excerpts from commercials ***]

Paul Weyrich: We are talking about Christianizing America. We are talking about simply spreading the gospel in a political contest.
Man’s Voice: Our form of government came directly from the Bible. There is no question about it.
Martin Sheen: New voices evoking the gospel and the eternal truth now echo through the cathedrals of government. The threat of the religious demagogue would not be unfamiliar to our founding fathers. They knew well the long, cruel history of church dominated government when they wrote our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Burned in the minds of the founding fathers was an understanding of how fragile a democracy can be to forces within, determined to impose a single belief on a nation of many beliefs.
Jerry Falwell: We’ve registered millions of voters and this year we’re gonna add another 2 million through the ACTV group. We absolutely can determine what kind of government we have.
Paul Weyrich: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. . . they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.
Robison: There is no possible way that you can separate God from government and have a successful government. God is the ultimate authority….
Martin Sheen: The founding fathers would disagree. “The clergy,” said Jefferson, “by getting themselves… engrafted in the machinery of government have been a formidable engine against civil and religious rights of men.”

[end excerpt]

Ankerberg: Alright, Dr. Kennedy, I mean, boy, what can be more damning than that? I mean, Jefferson against the modern day preachers. I mean, it looks like what those fellows are doing on the set there is all wrong. What would you say?
D. James Kennedy: Well, John, like Norman Lear’s letters, as Max Freedman says, one of them contains 47 errors in itself, this commercial is replete with all sorts of misstatements, errors, factual errors, and untruths, and distortions of statements taken out of context. For example, the first one: “Our founding fathers knew the danger of a church-dominated government.” That is so historically illiterate that it is astonishing to me.
Ankerberg: Why?
Kennedy: Our founding fathers came over from England which had an Erastian form of government which was a state-dominated church, not a church-dominated state. Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury did not declare himself the head of the country of England. It’s exactly the opposite of what they said. Furthermore, the First Amendment was written not to protect the state from the church as the People For The American Way would like to distort the thing today and turn it completely around and set it on it’s head. The First Amendment was to protect the people’s rights of freedom of religion from the state. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Congress shall not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The whole effort was to restrain the Congress.
Then as far as this statement by Jefferson is concerned, that the liberal People For The American Way would be heralding, that is ludicrous. I mean we have right here, I have right here with me a liberal Congressman who was certainly ensconced in the machinery of government as a Congressman, a liberal theologian. I probably know 10 or 12 clerics who have been involved in the actual machinery of government. Everyone that I know has been a liberal. We have Jesse Jackson, another liberal clergyman who was just trying to run for the presidency of the United States. I didn’t hear any of his comments on that particular ad just now. The fact is that the conservatives are quite outside the machinery of government, the conservative clergymen. It is the liberals who have attempted to take over the machinery of government. That’s the second thing that I would like to say.
Ankerberg: Well, go back to this quote that was on there about Jefferson. It sounds like they have got a kosher idea going here, namely the fact of, he sounds like he is against clergy, he is against religion with politics.
Kennedy: Well, I certainly would agree that I am opposed to the church or the clergy taking over the government and I think everybody in America is opposed to that. I certainly am definitely opposed to that. But if there has been any effort to do that, it has been on the part of liberal clergymen. And now when conservative clergymen speak up at all we have this enormous response from people like Norman Lear, et al.
Ankerberg: Okay, let’s let John in here.
John Buchanan: In the first place I am glad to learn of my liberalism. Most of the charts that measured folks voting didn’t show that, and I am also interested to learn my liberalism as a Christian. I am a mainstream Southern Baptist and I agree with Barry Goldwater of my Republican party, instead of with you on this subject. We are in agreement, and we used to think of him as “Mr. Conservativism.” So I guess my terms are mixed up. But let me talk about Jefferson. Jefferson spoke of the wall of separation between church and state and that’s precisely what he meant. Dr. Kennedy, you could not be more wrong in your interpretation of history and the Constitution. People came to this country fleeing religious persecution in England and in Europe. Baptist ministers, like me, in the colony of Virginia were beaten and imprisoned and run out of town by a church-dominated state because it had a state church and that state church persecuted those who disagreed with its provisions and punished dissenters and it happened in all the American colonies. Haven’t you ever heard of Roger Williams and Rhode Island and the whole idea….
Kennedy: You didn’t listen to your own ad very well.
Buchanan: I heard it.
Kennedy: They talked about what was going on in Europe and not what was going on in America.
Buchanan: The ad quoted precisely founding fathers who understood the evil of religious persecution and the need for a wall of separation between church and state so that a state church couldn’t go against and use the state to punish dissenters like Baptist preachers like me. Now that is history and certainly not anything other than history.
Ankerberg: Well, let me ask you a question, if that’s history…. I am sure that you think that’s history, let me ask you….
Buchanan: I am sure I know that’s history.
Ankerberg: Well, let me ask you this then, why was it that when the First Amendment was tacked on in 1791, that there were four of the 14 states who had an official state church that was not dissolved for many years after that. It didn’t seem to bother them.
Buchanan: But the whole idea of the….
Ankerberg: So it couldn’t have been referring to that.
Buchanan: The whole idea of the First Amendment was to make sure that at that level of government there should not be a state church that could set up persecution. At that point in history each individual state, also state by state, began to adopt a similar resolution. Indeed the colony of Virginia that I just spoke about, when Thomas Jefferson was asked what things he wanted on his tombstone, and he had been a President of the United States, he said there were three things: that he had founded the University of Virginia, that he was author of the Declaration of Independence and that he was author of the provision for religious freedom in the Virginia State Constitution, that is even stronger in its providing for a wall of separation than the First Amendment. There is no question that Jefferson and others wanted in every level of government as soon as they could to bring about a wall of separation so you couldn’t have state churches persecuting people like Baptist preachers. Which was done and it happened throughout the life of the colonies.
Kennedy: John, let me comment on that. Let me clarify our Congressman’s history.
Buchanan: Dr. Kennedy, I know my history!!
Kennedy: First of all Thomas Jefferson had nothing to do with writing the First Amendment.
Ankerberg: He wasn’t even there. He was in Paris.
Kennedy: Thomas Jefferson was in Paris when the First Amendment was ratified. He had nothing to do with writing it whatsoever. And furthermore….
Buchanan: But what about….
Kennedy: Now let me…. you have been talking most of the time, John, just don’t monopolize the whole conversation.
Buchanan: What about the Virginia Constitution?
Kennedy: Let me finish my statement.
Ankerberg: We will get your comment in a minute here. Hold on.
Kennedy: The First Amendment, which was given to us in 1789 and ratified in 1791, was for the purpose of restraining the powers of the newly created federal government. And it wasn’t for the purpose of restraining the church. The First Amendment was a one-way street and it restrained only the federal government, not the church. It only talked about what the Congress could or could not do. In fact, what it could not do. It could not establish a state church; it couldn’t interfere with the free exercise of religion.
And then Thomas Jefferson came along with this statement about a wall of separation between church and state in 1802. Now that was 11 years after the First Amendment was ratified. And in a letter which he wrote to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut, he said there should be a wall of separation between church and state. Now this has come to be accepted in the minds of many people, and apparently including our Congressman here, as being what the First Amendment teaches. But it is not. It is a distortion of the First Amendment, because a wall impedes people on both sides of the wall equally. And so if you have a wall of separation you are going to inhibit not only the federal government, you are also going to inhibit the churches as well.
I said to a newspaper reporter one time that all the first 10 Amendments were one-way streets for the purpose of restricting the powers of the newly created government. He said, “That’s ridiculous.” I said, “Is it?” Well, let’s take the proposition in there about the freedom of the press which says that “Congress shall make no law which will abridge the freedom of the press.” Now suppose we distorted that, as the other part of the First Amendment has been distorted, by saying there should be a wall of separation between the state and the press so that the state can say nothing about the press and the press can say nothing about the state. Virtually every reporter in America would be in jail today.
And that’s what they are trying to do with this state wall of separation. Now they are trying to build it all the way up to heaven so they have tried to, first of all, silence religious people, now they are trying to silence politicians. We had a huge uproar when the President made a statement in Dallas that there was an inevitable relationship between God and government. Now they are trying to build a wall so high that not only is the church separated from the state but also God is separated from government, in spite of the fact that we have people like Madison, who wrote the Constitution, saying that it would be impossible to govern without God and the Ten Commandments. Or George Washington who made the statement that it would be impossible to govern without God and the Bible. Or the fact that the same Congress that gave us the Constitution also gave us the Northwest Ordinance in which they said “religion, morality and knowledge being essential to good government, schools shall be established in the Northwest Territories.” They did not have the idea of this secular estate.
John Adams said that it would be better to go back to the gods of the Greeks than to have to suffer a government run by atheists or secularist kind of people, which is the type of thing that is being foisted off on the American people today. That secularism is trying to take over the religious foundations upon which this nation was built.
Ankerberg: Okay, John, you have to come back and reply here and I would like for you also to answer why it is that after the passage of the First Amendment the same Congress then went on and petitioned the President to proclaim a national day of prayer and thanksgiving, which they did, which was opposed by Representative Tucker who objected that prayer is a religious matter and as such shouldn’t be involved with the federal government. It should be under the states. But the Congress, hearing his objection passed over it anyway, which would seem that Congress knew that as far as praying and declaring days to pray for our whole country, namely which came to be Thanksgiving, that that was not a breaking down of this so-called wall between the church and the state.
Buchanan: Well, in the first place, let me say that like most Baptist Christians throughout American history, I agree with Thomas Jefferson and not with Dr. Kennedy. What Congress was prohibited from doing in the First Amendment, it was a prohibition on the Congress, of course, it was a legislative body of the federal government and is. Other bodies that were governing bodies had taken the political act of establishing state churches. In turn dissenters had been persecuted in Europe, England and the American colonies. What the founding fathers, as Mr. Jefferson pointed out, were trying to do was say to the Congress, “You can’t set up a state church. You can’t have one religious group favored by government and persecute other religious groups. You have got to protect the freedom of conscience of all citizens.”
Ankerberg: We are using a word two ways. Let me help you clarify it. When we talk about state we are talking about a national denomination versus a church that, say Virginia would have, because they had a state church. They had four of them when they made the Constitution and they did not dissolve them. So we are talking about a national church denomination.
Buchanan: But wait, you were talking about the First Amendment which pertained, according to the early interpretations, only to the federal government. But in the same essential time frame Virginia did adopt a state constitution and when it did it adopted a similar provision, written by Thomas Jefferson, to the First Amendment and one of the reasons it did is because Baptists like me pressed very hard that there be a provision to protect their liberties against the former state church and the state church was done away with. And that happened state by state in every state. Now maybe you want state churches so you have a church of England in Virginia that persecutes Baptist and you have a Baptist church in Alabama that persecutes Methodists, but I don’t. I like the First Amendment and the similar provisions that were adopted by each state in turn to protect individual American citizens against the imposition of one interpretation of religion on all citizens or the persecution of those who disagreed. I believe that’s what the founding fathers meant to do in the First Amendment. I think they did something right. I thank God for it and I hope we never return to where there is a state church in any state in the United States anywhere at any time.
Kennedy: John, the thing about this is that all of the emphasis of the People For The American Way, it’s not talking about establishing a state church. I don’t know of anybody that I have met today that wants to establish a state church, whether federally or locally in the various states of the country. What they are talking, the people that they attack are people who have anything to say about applying religious or moral biblical principles to government.
Buchanan: But I do that and I am on the other side from you. Well, no, it’s my turn. You had a long turn.
Kennedy: John, you have been dominating the conversation here.
Ankerberg: John, let us..
Buchanan: Lord, I needed to. I’m Daniel in the lion’s den! I need to!
Ankerberg: Well, Daniel, hold on here. Let Jim finish his and then we will come to you and you can finish yours.
Kennedy: Thank you. Can you imagine with all of the uproar that has been given over simply the President’s statement that there is an inevitable relationship between God and government. Can you imagine what would happen today, what kind of ads the People For The American Way and some of our other people, the press, the media, would say if a President said something like, that it is impossible to govern this country without God and the Bible? Without God and the Ten Commandments? Yet these were statements made by George Washington and made by Madison who wrote the Constitution. George Washington passed that statement about a Thanksgiving and I think that people should hear what the words of that were. He said this, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and to humbly implore His protection and favor.” Why, if a statement like that were made by a President today, the liberal media and the People For The American Way would be all over him. What they are really trying to do is to remove all references to God, all religious impact upon our nation and produce a secularized culture. This is precisely what Norman Lear wants to have. And the idea that he wants a nice moral nation I think is ridiculous. He has shown to the whole American people in all of his television programs what he thinks his ideal of American society is.
Ankerberg: Can I give an undeniable historical fact here concerning Jefferson? And that was the fact that as the President, you can look in the congressional record as well as in the speeches of Jefferson, he invoked the guidance of God in his public statements and then as President negotiated an Indian treaty by which the U.S. government paid the salary of a priest and built a church. Madison promoted religion in public education and regarded religion as “a supplement to law in government of men.” So Jefferson’s wall of separation that he himself practiced was the government not imposing things on us but the people could speak to the government.
Buchanan: Well, the people certainly can speak to the government. You skipped over a part of that film that I would like to address and that is Paul Weyrich who is the one who said, “Too many Christians had the “goo-goo” syndrome, good government.” That he didn’t want everybody to vote. That our leverage goes up when people don’t vote. Now what we want is the opposite. We want everybody to get into the act. Certainly conservative Christians like James Kennedy have every right to speak out, to involve themselves in politics and government, but so do a lot of other Christians who might disagree with him. What we don’t want is the establishment of religion or government favoritism toward a particular religious expression. And that’s what I am all about and that’s what the 130,000 people who are part of my organization are about.
Ankerberg: Well, I am glad to hear….
Buchanan: We want the separation of church and state and we do not want government to show favoritism to a particular expression, nor do we want government to impose any kind of religious faith on citizens or government to be used for that purpose. God doesn’t do it, why should we?
Ankerberg: John, I am so glad that you said that people like your friend sitting next to you there, have the opportunity to vote for things that they believe in just like other people have the choice to vote for what they believe in.
Buchanan: Sure do.
Ankerberg: Now what happens if he is with the majority vote? Is he then imposing religion just because he happens to be on the majority side?
Buchanan: Not, certainly, because he happens to be on the majority side, but if what the majority is doing imposes religion then the majority has done something that should not happen in this country and the whole idea of the Bill of Rights was to protect individuals against some capricious act by the majority.
Ankerberg: Alright, Jim.
Kennedy: Well, John, it’s interesting that on this ad we just saw where other Evangelical Christians expressed their views about morality and the religious foundations of America, that this whole ad is designed to attack these people and to attempt to silence them. And yet John Buchanan here says that he is quite in favor of doing that. I think the fact of the matter is that the whole effort of the People For The American Way is to try to stifle and silence all Christian conservatives from expressing their views in the public sphere and stating what they feel the American idea really is.
Buchanan: Not true.
Ankerberg: I want to pick up one that will kind of test the waters and that is about the President’s idea about prayer in the schools, voluntary prayer. And I know that, John, you were against that and I think, Dr. Kennedy, you were for that and we want to see how that works out. Please join us next week and we will see a little bit more of some of the commercials that People For The American Way with Norman Lear have put out. So please join us next week.

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