- Pastor John Smith
Clinton, The Pilgrims and the American Condition
When news broke out on the FBI ruling on the Clinton email scandal, I sat in my office un-phased and not surprised. To be honest, hardly anything surprises me these days. This is not stemming from an attitude of apathy or disenchantment, but a sober realization that the very fabric of our nation, one that was established by our forefathers so long ago, has been essentially brought to nothing. The certain unalienable rights that were given to us by our Creator have been in essence, denied to the people by black robed demigods who now wield an unquestionable authority. To use an illustration borrowed from America’s favorite sport, America is much like a baseball whose stitching has been systematically removed and now is hurling at great speeds. Upon impact that baseball will explode because nothing is holding it together. America is in that very same position—there is nothing holding us together.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 11:3 “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” If America’s underlying principles that were unquestionably derived from a Judeo-Christian worldview and ethic, are dismantled and abandoned, then we are to expect injustice, corruption and inevitable tyranny. However, it is because of the Judeo-Christian ethic, refined most distinctly through the Protestant Reformation, that has been the biggest obstacle in the way of Totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is defined by a governmental authority whose scope and reach has no limits and seeks to control every aspect of life. Again, the Christian worldview plants a huge barrier to that end because the ultimate authority is not the state, but a knowable and personable God, and the responsibility to acknowledge and abide by that authority is put upon the individual. In Latin, this individual responsibility is called Coram Deo, or in other words, we are to live before God’s face, recognizing his authority and glorifying him in all things.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, that is our foundation. However the groundwork for that wasn’t the doing of the founding fathers entirely. The nativity of America and the establishment of its moral and ethical underpinnings, occur way before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was the Pilgrims, those English Puritans of the 17th century who sailed to this land to establish a beacon of hope, liberty and charity that would point back across the Atlantic. What urged them to make such a harrowing journey was not only to flee religious persecution but to live before God’s face, to the glory of God alone. The robust Christian theology that was defined by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox is what compelled the early Pilgrims to settle this new land and gave them the perspective that the ultimate authority is not some monarchy, but God himself. John Winthrop, an early Pilgrim leader was quoted regarding the purpose and design of settling in America by writing this on his journey to Massachusetts,
“For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”
John Winthrop, like most of the Pilgrims thought of this great endeavor as something that was directed by God and done for a specific purpose. Winthrop pulls the imagery of a “city on a hill” from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”(Matt. 5:13-14). The great experiment of liberty that was first introduced by the Pilgrims and carried on through the founding fathers, was so that people would see the dynamic effect of Coram Deo.
So fast forward to our present day, have we abandoned our foundations so that now we are considered as Winthrop said “a byword through the world”? Possibly, however, for the Christian that is living in America, it is time to recommit to our foundations and be strong in our convictions in both love and justice, ultimately remembering “Your God reigns”(Isa. 52:7).