Until a few months ago, I was one of the slumbering masses who was blissfully ignorant of all things political. But I did grow up with a fierce admiration for the principles this country was founded on, even if I was unable to articulate them. I am now 28, and like many others, the election and subsequent months rudely roused me from my stupor. Not knowing where to turn to learn how to defend the values I have held with such reverence, I decided to start at the beginning … and began reading about the founding fathers. I was surprised to find tears streaming down my face as I read of our history and was overcome with the stark contrast I saw in the events unfolding around me.
In the fallout of this, one of the things that has struck me is that of all the Christian duties I’ve heard emphasized by the church, our civic duties have never been one of them (aside from the cursory “go vote”). Perhaps it is the belief, as founding father John Jay puts it, “… the mere expediency of public measures may not be a proper subject for the pulpit.” But if it is our duty to vote, we should be equipped with a context in which to make those decisions. Not that people should be told how to vote on certain issues, but certainly provided with an opportunity to study history of how our forefathers’ faith influenced them in answering the questions of their day. In the little reading I have done it is clear that for many of the founders, their philosophy on government and civil society drew heavily from the Bible. For example, in just a single letter from John Jay to a Quaker friend he uses the Bible to justify war, civil government, and civil punishment. I read how Calvinist theology had a vast influence on why people were open to the principles of republican liberty and self-government. I read how a biblical worldview of the sinful nature of man shaped what many saw as the best choice for effective government. I had never heard any of this before. Why?
I want to continue my self-education and share some of the treasures I’ve found with my friends. So, through my church, I am planning to host a bible study / small group for young professionals such as myself who are interested in the role religion played in shaping our founding fathers’ view on government. I would also like to touch a little on themes such as the proper role for religion in the public square (I find that many young people, including myself are very confused as the answer to this question). I’m writing this diary because I’m hopeful that those of you who have pondered these questions longer than I have can help me form a curriculum for an approximately 12 week long bible study. Are there books or other materials you can suggest? While this will be mainly a historical exploration, I would like to tie it directly back to the Bible, since this will be a bible study. I’ve found some of the writings of the recently passed John Richard Neuhaus to be helpful in answering contemporary questions of faith in the public sphere. And I have several books on the faith of the founding fathers. But your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.