Today, everyone is quoting the Founding Fathers. The words of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few, are appearing in newspaper articles, Internet blogs, and radio commentaries. But for those who lived in the turbulent years between 1760 and 1785, it was the words of others who actually moved the opinion of the public to support the efforts of their more famous political counterparts.
Those others were pastors. And they spoke in the pulpits of the American colonies -– passionately and eloquently defending the ideas expressed in the American Declaration. Men like Jonathan Mayhew, John Wesley, Moses Mather, John Witherspoon, Richard Price, Jonathan Edwards, and Noah Webster, who used the voice of the church to explain why tyranny was indefensible, and how King George’s actions constituted tyranny.
As America grew, the churches were not silent bystanders. They spoke, often and clearly, about the issues confronting this nation. They spoke against corruption, no matter what office the corruption arose from. They spoke about the need for diligence in protecting America’s freedoms. They called attention to injustice, and demanded its correction.
Their input reminded everyone, government official and citizen alike, that there is an authority higher than the state; an authority to which all are equally accountable; an authority that does not bend with the political winds, but judges by unchanging standards of right and wrong.
But in 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson orchestrated the addition of certain language to the IRS tax codes. The language said that, for the first time in American history, the churches were to be silent on issues that were “political”. A church that dared to speak out would be punished.
Under the 1954 standards, every single one of the sermons delivered in support of the work of our Founding Fathers would be considered illegal.
The answer is both simple and frightening.
Government grew, and it wants to keep growing — in power and in size.
And for government to continue its growth, it must silence any voice that reminds the citizen that there should be a limit to the authority of the state. The church is pre-eminent among those voices because the church, by definition, represents the REAL ultimate authority. The denomination does not really matter in the eyes of the state — no matter what name a particular religion gives to that authority figure, every religion is based on the premises that 1) this authority exists and 2) it is higher than the government.
No government intent on growth can tolerate this. So as the government grows, so does the hostility to the church. Today we not only have a ban on church speech, but some elected officials even insist that churches cover any religious symbol on their own property if a government program or person is in attendance. After all, that symbol might remind someone that the government is accountable to Someone.
The fact that the government worries so much about silencing the churches seems ridiculous. After all, no pastor commands an army, and no local reverend can actually change any vote or remove any official just by speaking about it from a pulpit. No citizen has to join a church, or attend its services. And any pastor will tell you that those who do attend do not listen to and heed his words every time — response is purely voluntary.
But whether an individual responds or not, the voice of the church is a constant reminder that government is not the ultimate authority, and should have limits. It’s a voice that needs to be protected.