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Conventional Thinking: Ten again

There they go again. The American Civil Liberties Union is working with a handful of Oklahomans who are offended by the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds and want it removed.

One of the plaintiffs was reported by the media as a “Baptist minister” (though he is not affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma or Southern Baptists whatsoever), only adding more intrigue to the story.

The proponents of the lawsuit appear to want the display removed under the guise of “separation of church and state.” A civilized discussion about their concerns and the future of monument like this is warranted.

 

///Religion in public?

In recent decades, there has been a major legal and public push to move religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, into the closet. People in society are fine if you attend church on Sunday and worship privately in your home, but don’t you dare bring it out in public, let alone try to convince others of the truths of Christianity.

Not all who think this have atheism on the brain. Many have simply misunderstood what the Founders of this country (and what our Baptist forbearers) meant by the “separation of church and state.” This statement, which does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, historically means that the church will be protected from the state’s influence, not vice versa.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The operative word here is “Congress,” which does not prevent laws on a state level. Indeed, many of the United States did have official denominational ties in their beginnings.

Be that as it may, while Christianity is a personal religion, it is not a private one. Christ calls us to follow Him every day, not just Sundays. While we are not showy of our faith (like the Pharisees), we are open about it.

 

///Whose commandments?

It is a little hard to figure out what atheists are afraid of, when it comes to the Ten Commandments. Are they fearful of an outbreak of people honoring their fathers and mothers?

Nevertheless, there are others who, while they personally agree with the Ten Commandments, simply do not wish to foist them onto others in the public. Objectors to the Ten Commandments need to remember that these Commandments, given by God to man, are not exclusive to Christianity.

Judaism (and to a degree Islam also) recognize the transcendent importance of the Ten Commandments, which added to Christians represent a huge population base of this country and the entire world. The Founders of the country viewed the Ten Commandments as foundational to our system of law. Therefore, a courthouse or center for public policy is a logical and fitting place for such a document. Whether or not you agree with all 10 or live them out (we all fail at this point), you must admit they are foundational to society and are a noble guidepost for civilization.

 

///Naked public square

The viewpoints of a small minority must always be considered. Yet when one display offends one person, we do not necessarily need to take it down. In fact, the logical end of such movements only leads to what public intellectuals call a “naked public square.” If you remove public displays of religion from the public square, be it a Christmas tree to the Ten Commandments, you will end up with a barren, lifeless society.

In the end, these efforts in Oklahoma and other places will do more harm to society than good. While we have no expectation that every member of society will convert to Christianity, our faith calls to make God’s will be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

To that end, I say this: long live the Ten Commandments!

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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  • Gary Capshaw

    I have a few questions about the 10 Commandments on state property:

    1. How does it advance the Gospel? How is the presence of an Old Testament quotation a part of the Great Commission?

    2. Where in Scripture did Christ command us to do such a thing?

    3. What’s the objective of forcing a co-joining of the state and Christianity? What’s the end game?

    4. Who will pay to defend the state from the lawsuits which will surely follow? The taxpayers? If so, how is that an example of the fiscal responsibility Oklahoma voters were promised? This is a fight which doesn’t HAVE to be fought.

    5. Since the Constitution of the United States forbids the government from promoting any single religion, what would prevent some other religion from mounting a monument of their own on the capitol grounds? For instance, a quote from the Koran or the Guru Granth Sahib? Would that be alright? Would the state be willing to pay for that, even partially, and defend its presence? Why, or why not?

    6. Will you publish these questions?

    • Brian Hobbs

      Dear Gary,

      Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. While you ask some good questions, and I understand your perspective, I have to take exception.

      What’s at stake with the Ten Commandments (which again were given by God Himself to man and etched in stone and in Sacred Scripture) is the very essence of a universal moral code. While not every religion would necessarily agree on all ten, almost all–Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon and of course Jewish and Christians–would agree on most.

      About the Gospel itself, how would it take on its true meaning if we are not offenders against the Law (Romans 7:7)?

      Moreover, as I explained in my piece, only Congress is prevented in the First Commandment from establishing a state religion. States may go farther, which Oklahoma has done. If a handful of dissenters in Oklahoma are offended, then they may voice their dissent.

      If they are successful in taking it down, will taxpayers be stuck with the cost of taking it down plus shipping? If we lose the presence and understanding of a transcendent moral law, then we have as a civilization lost something much more valuable than money.

      In a day and age when Christians and Christian virtues are pushed into hiding, I fail to see why retreating and forfeiting yet another monument to God’s care and guideposts for our lives gains us anything.

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