In the 17th Century, a ship carrying prisoners to America was commandeered by those prisoners who broke loose and overpowered the crew. To make sure the crew would not try to retake the ship, the prisoners killed the crew and threw their bodies overboard. Thinking they were free, they celebrated and began to discuss where their newfound freedom would take them. Both the celebration and discussion were short-lived when the prisoners realized they had just executed everyone on board who knew how to sail the ship.
For the last 50 years, powerful forces in our culture have been trying to overpower the values and moral underpinnings that have kept us on course for over two hundred years. We have finally succeeded in throwing them overboard. The question now is the same question the prisoners faced in the 17th century. Now that we are free from the so-called burden of biblical truth, who is left to sail the ship and where are we headed?
General Omar Bradley, a hero of World War II once said, “America today is running on the momentum of a godly ancestry, and when that momentum runs down, God help America.” We were given an incredible gift by our Founding Fathers. They established this county on sound biblical principles while recognizing that all reasonable religious expressions should be allowed. They gave us a Constitutional Republic as our form of government. They inserted checks and balances to protect the rights of the minority and to curtail the power of the majority. It is a form of government that has experienced hundreds of peaceful transitions of power without violence.
When the pilgrims came to America it took them twenty-three years to pay for their own passage. They were blown five hundred miles off course, missing Virginia and landing in Massachusetts. But when they finally stood on that rocky coast, they fell down to their knees, kissed the earth and wrote “We establish this state to the glory of God and the spread of the Christian religion.” Still, there are those who question the role of Christianity in the founding of this great country.
One of the reasons the questions remain is because so many Americans are unfamiliar with their own history. Several years ago on the 4th of July a reporter in Madison, Wisconsin handed a slip of paper to 122 people on the street. He asked them their opinion of the words written on the paper. The words were, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Many of the people said they thought the statements were much too dogmatic and radical. Others said the words represented silly idealism. Some suggested it was the writing of some counterculture group. Only thirteen out of the 122 recognized these the words as part of the Declaration of Independence.
When the debate over the wording of the United States Constitution was over and the final document agreed to, Benjamin Franklin met with his fellow citizens on the steps of Constitution Hall and said, “We have given you a republic if you can keep it.”
It has been over 200 years…. the question is how well are we keeping our republic?
The Constitution is a call to personal and collective responsibility. John Adams said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” The ability to protect our freedom does not lie in the might of the military but in the minds and morals of the American people. It is moral character based on the teaching of God’s Word that led Washington to endure the horror of Valley Forge and to cross the Delaware in the dead of night to attack an army far superior to his. That same character has led United States troops across the beach at Normandy, through the jungles of Southeast Asia, and across the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.
The great leaders of our past were men of character whose belief in God bound them to ideals they were ready and willing to defend to the death. Our country is suffering from a host of problems. We find ourselves in a mysterious malaise not unlike that described during the Carter years. Extracting ourselves from this wilderness of uncertainly and doubt about the American dream will require the rediscovery of character…the kind of character that was present in the soldiers we honored on Memorial Day. We need leaders who will give us something other than government to believe in. We can retake our ship of state and get it back on course for safer waters but only if we realize that the freedom we seek is not freedom from moral restraint. It is the freedom to pursue what is right.
Character comes from morality, which flows out of our right relationship with God. Restoring America to a place that rightly defines and vigorously defends what is right means returning to the personal righteousness that comes from a personal relationship with God through Christ. Only as we are made holy by repenting of our sins and returning to God can we be made whole again.