An Interview With Pastor Robert Drake
Jay Adams once told my class in seminary that sermons printed in books were not really the sermons which were preached, but the versions of sermons the men wished they had preached. I don't think the following is what I wished I had said when I was interviewed by a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times about religion. I know for sure that the substance of my answers are accurate, because I've addressed these issues many times before, but the wording has varied. Excerpts from the interview may be found at the paper's website. (Go to www.citizen-times.com and search for an article from March 13, 2006 entitled "Religious Freedom Sometimes Opens Legal Minefields.")
There were two basic questions the reporter asked which stand out in my mind. The first was what I thought about having the Ten Commandments displayed in a courtroom. The second question was how I would respond to someone who was offended by that display.
The gist of my answer to the first question was that there is a separation of church and state as institutions, but that there cannot be a separation between a person's religious life and the state. Most people who speak of a separation of church and state think the church institute as a worshipping community exhausts the full meaning of a person's religious life. Actually, worship is only one aspect of the Christian's religious life, for his religious life is his service to God. A person lives out his faith in every area of life and in every institution of the society, which is part of what Paul meant when he said "to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).
Within that Christian tradition which separates institutions but not religion from institutions, the display of the Ten Commandments was meant to remind those seeking public justice that religion was not limited to worship. The Commandments were evidence that there was "a Higher Law," a higher authority above the state to which both the state and the citizens were responsible and to which they could both appeal. The American Revolution was justified by an appeal to an authority higher than the British government. Likewise, the abolitionist movement made a similar appeal when it argued for the equality of human rights. When there is no higher authority above the state, our view of the law becomes similar to that of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and the Communists. Those who think that the majority rule of the population is the higher authority above government seem to ignore how both legislation and court interpretations of legislation ignore the will of the people. The law of the land tends to come from a powerful minority rather than the consensus of a majority.
I also gave the reporter my synopsis of Western history. It began with ancient civilization represented by the pyramid with a ruling class at the top which had the power of the sword, the ownership of property, and the authority of the gods, for the rulers were also priests, if not themselves considered gods. The development of freedoms for those at the base of the pyramid came with the ownership of property apart from the state and an institution of religion (Christianity) which was apart from the state. The rise of various forms of totalitarianism is the uniting again of the powers of the sword, the purse and the altar - or the denial that there is any altar. Religion, and even the institutions of religion such as the church and the synagogue, does not threaten a citizen's freedom. It protects a citizen's freedom by proclaiming that there are limits to the scope of state power and there is an authority above the authority of the state. Those who desire a completely secular society cannot make that proclamation. In fact, their desire that the state be the final authority to grant rights and, therefore, enforce the rights which are granted, increases the unlimited authority of the state.
The above, as I recall, led into the answer to the second question about people finding the public presence of religion offensive. Institutions of religion are not enemies of freedom. They are protectors of freedom. The Ten Commandments on the wall of a courtroom do not deprive people of rights. The Commandments guarantee that the rights cannot be taken away, because the rights come from a higher authority. If one finds the presence of such limitations to state power offensive, what should be done? The limitation of government's authority by God's higher authority is part of what America is all about, and it is a very dangerous thing for our freedom to tamper with our history.