One Nation Under God

Celebrating the Fruits of Christian Resistance in America’s Founding

One can hope that as July 4th nears, Americans everywhere – in addition to preparing for fireworks and cook-outs – are revisiting the very words that give us reason to celebrate: those contained in the Declaration of Independence. As a refresher, here is but a sampling from the preamble – likely, words which at least the older among us can remember:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...

Having received a history education from the California public school system, I had no idea what those words meant when Thomas Jefferson penned them in the day in 1776, nor any clue as to how the historical context, along with the philosophical and spiritual milieu at the time inspired the political liberty movement those words inaugurated. Likely many in this generation and forward will similarly receive at best a cursory treatment of events leading up to the penning of this seminal document, being that post-modern progressive activism is driving social studies education.

For those having suffered a public-school revisionist history of America’s founding and desiring a more complete treatment, Glenn S. Sunshine’s book, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition is must-read. Not only does Dr. Sunshine – a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University – catalog the great philosophical and historical events underpinning our founding in particular, he also outlines how the Christian/ Biblical narrative has influenced movements limiting the role of an intrusive government since the time of Christ and the early church. Narratives informed from political theology concerning liberty, tyranny, and resistance culminated in the mid-to-late 18th century giving rise to the great, but embattled country we live in today.

Liberty and Tyranny

On the role of Biblical thought in the forging of our nation, Sunshine writes, “New England was the cradle of the Revolution, and it’s political ideas were influenced far more by the Puritan political tradition and by the Great Awakening, than by Locke.” This statement might seem absurd on its face, yet Sunshine points out that during the Great Awakening, the hierarchy of the church, the political order, and society itself was challenged in this way:

If God can reach down to a servant or a slave but leave the pastor untouched, then the existing hierarchies in society were meaningless before God. And if they were meaningless before God, why should they hold sway in society or politics?

The revivals associated with the Great Awakening made it apparent that God was working directly with individuals. By this the rights of the individual were affirmed, such that a thirst for individual liberty (for the sake of living a virtuous life) and the right to resist a tyrannical government were born.

For New England converts, there became a growing emphasis on positive liberties – that is, rebranding freedom from to freedom to. In Sunshine’s words, “Specifically, liberty referred to the freedom to pursue good ends of your own choice within the bounds of natural and divine law.” Note how this historical rendering of liberty is different from its bastardized use today. Liberty in colonial early America included a moral imperative: to live a virtuous life (as the winsome quality of virtue is essential to the survival of a republic). Today, liberty is couched as the freedom to pursue selfish interests, which in this case is more properly termed license. Licentious people demand “freedom” to pursue behaviors unrestrained by societal/ biblical morays (such as declaring they can change their biological sex by verbal fiat).

Resistance, Christian-style

Still other political philosophers have echoed Sunshine’s words, that for the early Americans, liberty meant the freedom to fully pursue your faith and exercise freedom of religion without fear of government intrusion. Since emboldened New England converts embraced the notion of biblicism, they viewed that any custom, practice, or edict not supported by scripture, was subject to challenge and subsequent rejection – whatever its source.

With the growing notion of liberty, came cautionary and proactive moves on the part of the colonies to protect it. Of key importance was the establishment of public schools. Sunshine states these were for the “. . . express purpose of teaching literacy so that citizens could challenge their legislators for the scriptural justification of the laws that they passed.” The focus of learning then was to empower liberty-loving citizens the facility to recognize and repeal any laws passed which undermined their ability to live out their Christian faith. Imagine, if our public schools adopted this same vision today.

While Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence reflects more of John Locke’s theories concerning government, no doubt it was informed and buttressed by the Christian beliefs and traditions held by the colonists, having had their influence by God’s work in the Great Awakening.

In 2021, we can honor the forebears of American Christian resistance by prayer and action. We can pray with hope and anticipation that God will do a similar work in the lives of American citizens today as he did during the Great Awakening - to give them a thirst for those original positive liberties to live a virtuous life before him. In action, we can resist the upcoming tyranny by schooling our children in the way the colonists did – in biblical literacy so they are enabled to challenge legislators when unbiblical laws are passed and challenge the culture when it seeks to inculcate licentious behavior.

References

Sunshine. G.S. (2020). Slaying Leviathan: Limited government and resistance in the Christian tradition. Canon Press.

has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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