Remarks at the Rally for the Bayview Cross
June 27, 2017 § 2 Comments
In the early evening of June 27 I had the honor of standing alongside a host of liberty-loving men–pastors, a rabbi, talk radio personalities and politicians–at a Pensacola rally in support of a cross that, in one form or another, has stood in Bayview Park since 1941. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled June 19 that the cross in the city park violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and must be removed within 30 days.
The Pensacola community was largely stunned and responded quickly. Supporters of a proposal that the city lease the area around the cross to a private historical association helped to organize the above-mentioned rally and came out in force.
Below is the full text of my prepared remarks, which I gave in an abridged and partially improvised fashion due to the time constraints. My voice was but one of many–and, again, it was a great honor to add mine to theirs.
Very few nations in world history have been governed in principle by the rule of law. Most nations have been and are even now ruled by the whim and fancies of individuals who lust for personal power and control; whether by King, Queen, Chairman, Great Leader, Premier, politburo or supreme council, the vast majority of human beings have not known what it is to live under the principle that everyone, from the smallest and weakest to the most powerful and influential, possesses unalienable rights that must be protected from those who would infringe upon or destroy those rights—especially when the one threatening is the government itself.
By the gracious providence of God, the United States of America has been an exception to that rule of history. We have enjoyed unprecedented civil and religious liberty because we have a constitution that does not view religion as an enemy.
No matter how often so-called scholars and historians will attempt to tell us otherwise, the reason our Constitution does not view religion as an enemy of liberty is because our founders believed that what makes humanity unique is ultimately a spiritual truth: God alone gives humanity rights, not nature and certainly not governments, whether legislators, judges or executives.
Now, I suffer no delusion that all of our founders were Christians—not in the biblical sense that each and every one of them trusted by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for their salvation; men like Jefferson and Franklin were confessed deists and did not believe in the deity of Christ or in the inspiration of the Bible. But they did not in any way view religion in general or Christianity in particular as enemies of liberty.
On the contrary, they clearly saw the opposite to be the case: that government, being made up of men who themselves needed checks and balances, also needed checks and balances to prevent it from being the chief enemy of liberty. Hence the first amendment of what we call the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What I want to emphasize here, though, is what I said earlier: the reason our Constitution does not view religion as an enemy of liberty is because our founders believed that what makes humanity unique is ultimately a spiritual truth: God alone gives humanity rights, not nature and certainly not governments.
Now it is true that it is the Declaration of Independence and not the Constitution that specifically states the truth that
all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Nevertheless, among the known correspondence of the 55 delegates who framed the Constitution there is abundant reference not merely to this foundational truth but also of many direct appeals to “almighty God” and the blessing of his providence for his direction in drafting and, ultimately, ratifying and implementing the Constitution in the life of the young Republic.
Consider the very preamble of the Constitution itself:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Blessings—and particularly in the minds of these framers the blessings of liberty—come not from a congress of delegates but from God alone. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Constitution ends with this attestation clause:
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven…
Again, I will say the reason our Constitution does not view religion as an enemy of liberty is because our founders believed that what makes humanity unique is ultimately a spiritual truth: God alone gives humanity rights, not nature and certainly not governments.
Now I should tell you that I am not one of those who believes that America has a special covenant with God or was in the past or ever will be in the future, even with the most spectacular of revivals—and for which I pray!—a Christian nation. There is only one Christian nation, only one people who are called by the Lord’s name, and it is not America but the Church of the Living God.
But I do believe that God in his providence caused America to be created out of a most amazing confluence of circumstances that were primarily influenced by Christian theology in general and the Gospel of Christ in particular. Our Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, could only have been created by and in a nation overwhelmingly influenced by biblical Christianity.
I also believe that is precisely why the enemies of religious liberty single out crosses like the one behind me; it is why they attack prayers in Jesus’ name at public events; it is why they want to religion, and particularly Christianity out of the public square. And therein lies the irony; it is not religion that is the enemy, but secularism that is the enemy of liberty.
And make no mistake, secularism is itself a faith that allows no other gods before it, that accepts no worship but a false worship of the state and insists on driving all other faiths into the darkness.
Secularists have reimagined and reinterpreted the Constitution, reshaped public education and rewritten history.
Secularists have intimidated city governments and all too often carried the day. And this is precisely where the Church, the true Christian nation, must be awakened.
We must recognize that because we belong to the God who makes man in his image and gives liberty to all that we are, by the providence of God, custodians of that liberty.
We must, for the honor of God and the sake of the Gospel, show that we do not seek to force our faith onto anyone—especially not on those who do not want it. But we cannot sit idly by while our lawful freedom to express our faith—or the lawful freedom of the expression of any other faith—is infringed upon and its presence in the public square is marginalized.
We do not insist on special rights or special treatment. We will not meet evil with evil. But by God’s grace we will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And we must be prepared to understand that what we are facing goes beyond the one issue of the Bayview Cross. If the cross remains standing the struggle will not be over—because the secular enemies of religious liberty are tireless.
Our Gospel, however, is more powerful than their opposition; it is the very power of God not merely to halt their rebellion but also to give life to dead, rebellious hearts and bring them to repentance and eternal life.
One of my greatest fears as a pastor and as a citizen of this country is that far too many don’t understand our history as a nation—and they do not understand that the freedom that they enjoy is slowly eroding and that the attack of religion in the public square is one of the most dangerous things we face today.
We must be vigilant students of our history. We must be courageous defenders of liberty for all. We must pray that God will have mercy on us, that he would lead us all in revival and awakening for the sake of the Kingdom of Christ and its advance.
I would suggest that Francis A. Schaeffer is one of the most important modern Christians that most people gathered here have perhaps never known. In 1982 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, he gave an address that was to become his book A Christian Manifesto. I urge all of you to get this book and read it. In the address Dr. Schaeffer asks, “How much are we willing to pay?” What are we willing to give up or sacrifice in our commitment to do justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God?
We have forgotten our heritage. A lot of the evangelical complex like to talk about the old revivals and they tell us we ought to have another revival. We need another revival—you and I need revival. We need another revival in our hearts. But they have forgotten something. Most of the Christians have forgotten and most of the pastors have forgotten something. That is the factor that every single revival that has ever been a real revival, whether it was the great awakening before the American Revolution; whether it was the great revivals of Scandinavia; whether it was Wesley and Whitefield; wherever you have found a great revival, it’s always had three parts.
First, it has called for the individual to accept Christ as Savior, and thankfully, in all of these that I have named, thousands have been saved.
Then, it has called upon the Christians to bow their hearts to God and really let the Holy Spirit have His place in fullness in their life.
But there has always been, in every revival, a third element: It has always brought social change….
I think the Church has failed to meet its obligation in these last 40 years for two specific reasons. The first is this false, truncated view of spirituality that doesn’t see true spirituality touching all of life.
The other thing is that too many Christians, whether they are doctors, lawyers, pastors, evangelists—whatever they are—too many of them are afraid to really speak out because they do not want to rock the boat for their own project. I am convinced that these two reasons, both of which are a tragedy and really horrible for the Christian, are an explanation of why we have walked the road we have walked in the last 40 years.
We must understand, it’s going to cost you to take a stand on these things. There are doctors who are going to get kicked out of hospitals because they refuse to perform abortions; there are nurses that see a little sign on a crib that says, “Do not feed,” and they feed and they are fired. There’s a cost, but I’d ask you, what is loyalty to Christ worth to you? How much do you believe this is true? Why are you a Christian? Are you a Christian for some lesser reason, or are you a Christian because you know that this is the truth of reality? And then, how much do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? How much are you willing to pay the price for loyalty to the Lord Jesus?
An awakening is needed—an awakening of the heart of God’s people in the pulpits and congregations and most importantly, in our own hearts.
May God give us grace—and may God have mercy on us.