The Constitution and Civil Rights



How Christians Celebrate the Bi-Centennial--1976 John 8:31-34: ". . .ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. . . ." Galatians 5:1. "For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage."


I.  Can the Meaning of Freedom be Determined (In our post modern culture)?


A. Greek political concept of freedom: Aristotle's Politics I, 2, pp. 1254ff, contrasted with a "slave" or one who does not belong to himself. Freedom is an essential of the state.


B. Democracy can best realize freedom; weakness in Attic democracy-promoting individual freedom a-c the expense of the common nomos. (Political Freedom/ Individual Freedom).


C. Stoic concept of freedom: based in physical determinism--could not justify their concept of freedom: freedom of citizens/freedom of the state.


D. Freedom requires knowledge of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled. Liberation from the world of matter, i.e., freedom is inward condition of human situation.


E. New Testament understanding of eleutheria—man is not free by merely retreating into his inwardness.


F. New Testament views freedom as a freedom from wrath (Romans 5); sin (Rom. 6:18-23; John 8:31-36), new life—new life style; from law (Romans 7); from death (Rom. 8); and freedom to serve in the realization of God's purpose in nature-history (Rom. 12-16). (See Part IV).




Adier, M. Idea of Freedom, 2 volis. Doubleday—recently reprinted. Great Books Syntopicon Nestle, D. Eleutieria. Freiheit bei den Griechen and im Neun Testament, Bd. I, Die Griechen, 1967. _______. Niederwimmer. Per Begriff der Freiheit im Neun Testament. Berlin, 1966. Pinnock, C., ed. Grace Unlimited. My essay and bibliography on "Jonathan Edwards—A Puritan in a Post-Puritan World." Bethany Fellowship Press, Minneapolis, 1975. Cotham, P. C. Politics, Americanism and Christianity. Grand Rapids; Baker, 1975.


II. Dream or Nightmare: Freedoms in the American Heritage.


A. Freedom, Civil Religion, and the American Way of Life.


B. Protestantism, Catholicism (e.g. American Heresy) , and Judaism in American Heritage.


C. Kennedy Inaugural, January 20, 1961: "For I have sworn before you and almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago." (Separation of Church and State in USA—First Amendment). "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”


D. Idea of a Civil Religion, e.g. Rousseau—The Social Contract, chp. 8, Book 4, Dogma of Civil Religion: "the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance.  All other religious opinions are outside the cognizance of the state and may be freely held by citizens." e.g.. Franklin Autobiography, "I never was without some religious principles.  I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing of good to men; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter.  These I esteemed the essentials of every religion, and being to be found in all the religions we had in our country. . ."


E.  Washington's Farewell Address:  "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity. Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that men claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens . . . and let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason, and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."


F.  The Declaration of Independence:  There are four references to God. The first speaks of the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" which entitle any people to be independent.  The second is the famous statement that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights."  The third is an appeal to "the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions;" and the fourth indicates "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."


G. First Thanksgiving Day under the Constitution:  On October 3, 1789, be "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer."


H. God of the Civil Religion;  Is Unitarian, austere and related to law, order, and right rather than to salvation and love?


I.   Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address:  "I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life."  Europe is Egypt America, the promised land.  God has led his people to establish a new short of social order that shall be a light unto all the nations.


J.  Civil Religion Theme Continued in both the Kennedy and Johnson: Inaugural Addresses:  Johnson:  "They came here—the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened—to find a place where a man could be his own man.  They made a covenant with this land.  Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still.  If we keep its terms, we shall flourish."  Civil Religion is neither totally antithetical to nor in any specific sense Christian.


K. Civil Religion and Civil War:  Until the Civil War, the American Civil Religion focused attention above all else on the event of Revolution.  The Revolution was the final Exodus act from the land of bondage.  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures and Washington and God-appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny.  The Civil War was to become "the center of American history," (Sidney Mead, The Lively Experiment, New York, 1963, p. 12) , and became the second great event that involved the national self-image.  In 1835, de Tocqueville wrote that the revolution had never been tried, but by 1861 the time of national testing had arrived.  National meaning was at stake.


L.  Abraham Lincoln;  Issue not slavery but "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure."  In his second inaugural, Lincoln related slavery and war in an ultimate perspective.  "If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time.  He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? . . . Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondmen two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drown with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said,  'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"  Closing note not on redemption but reconciliation--"with malice toward none, with charity for all."  New themes of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enter the Civil Religion after the Civil War.


M.     New Testament of the Civil Scriptures—The Gettysburg Address: Insistent use of birth images in the Gettysburg symbolism—"these honored dead," "brought forth," "conceived," "created," a new birth of freedom."  Herndon, who had been Lincoln's new partner, wrote:  "For fifty years God rolled Abraham Lincoln through his fiery furnace.  He did it to try Abraham and to purify him for his purposes.  This made Mr. Lincoln humble, tender, forbearing, sympathetic to suffering, kind, sensitive, tolerant; broadening, deepening, and widening his whole nature; making him the noblest and loveliest character since Jesus Christ ... I believe that Lincoln was God's chosen one."  Abraham "won the last full measure of devotion."  The theme of sacrifice was indelibly written into the civil religion (quoted in S. Eddy, The Kingdom of God and the American Dream. New York, 1941, p. 162).Memorial Day, which grew out of the Civil War, gave ritual expression to the new themes on the Civil Religion (e.g.s.:  July 4, Veterans Day, birthdays of Washington and Lincoln provide an annual ritual calendar for the civil religion).  R. Niebuhr says that Lincoln represents Civil Religion at its best:  "Lincoln's religious convictions were superior in death and purity to those, not only of the political leaders of his day, but of the religious leaders of the era," Nevins, ed.  The Religion of Abraham Lincoln, New York, 1963, p. 24.


N. Civil Religion at the End of the 20th Century:  From the Revolution to the establishment of Democratic Institutions.  (Note and compare French Revolution was anti-Christian to the core—see H. Arendt, Revolution, pb).  The American Israel theme behind Kennedy's New Frontier and Johnson's Great Society.  Anti-establishment, Civil Rights Movements, John Birch Society, Free World, Our Side— Their Side, South Vietnam War, and Post-Nam situation, Near East-Israel-Arab, Petroleum Power Structure, Myth of Infinite Growth, etc.


0.  The Third Trial: (1) Independence, (2) Slavery, (3) Responsible action in a Revolutionary World.


P.  Fundamental Images Behind Civil Religion:  Biblical archetypes-Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, Sacrificial Death and Rebirth.  Are we, in Lincoln's fine phrase, an "almost chosen people"? as we move toward our American Heritages' Bicentennial celebration?  (See for imagery Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol. I, New York, 1950, pp. 467-8).


III. Search for Spiritual Style in Secular America


Decade of 1950's - Religious Revival

Decade of 1960's - Social Revolution

Decade of 1970's - Liberation—Search

Problem of newness in Old Wineskins - 1980's/90's


Truth, Freedom, and Salvation:


A. Critical Questions:


1.  Nature of Critical Knowledge, i.e., Dialectical Logic

2.  Relationship of Theory and Practice.

3.  Control and Liberation of Critical Consciousness (i.e., necessary condition for revolutionary social/cultural change)

4.  Labor and its relationship to man's Essence

5.  Industrial Technological Society and its impact on Liberation (Basis for non-aggressive, non-repressive society); Vested Interests, Values, and Repression, Domination and Aggression.


B. Methods and Consequences


1.  Kant's Epistemology

2.  Hegel's Dialectical Method (and Dialectical theory of Society)

3.  Phenomenology, critique of certain types of scientific models, and emphasis on primacy of life-world

4.  Hermeneutics and Historical interpretation of meaning (Heidegger-Bultmann; Dilthey - Gadamer - Hirsch and the Post-Bultmannians)

5.  M. Weber's theory of rationalization and its contribution to the development of one-dimensional society

6.  Adaptation of Freud's psychoanalytic theory as the basis of a radical social theory (esp. Marcuse and Habermas—and their philosophy of history and theory of knowledge)


C. Critical Theory, The Individual as agent of liberation. Structure of Communication, and the Nature of Technological Rationality.


1.  Habermas' three types of knowledge: natural science, cultural science, and critical science.

2.  The great failure in theories of knowledge and science—taking account of interests guiding modes of knowledge.

3.  Theory is not merely intellectual contemplation; it is also practice.


D.  The Word in a World of Dissident Voices (John 1:1-18)


1.  Data of Doom

2.  Spiritual Renewal or Marx' Creative Destruction

3.  Jesus the Revolutionary

4.  The Enemy of the People (Ebseh) - The Truth

5.  New Life - New Life Style - Pursuit of the Good Life; Life -Death - The Resurrection (Romans 6:1ff; John's Gospel)


IV. Freedom in a Technological Age: contra Technology, Science, Education in 90's


A. Freedom and Determinism


1.  Physics

2.  Psychology

3.  Socio-Economics


Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity; Crick's Men and Molecules; Monad's Chance and Necessity.


B. Freedom and Law - Human Rights and International Peach


1.  United Nations

2.  International School of Human Rights—Strasbourg, France

3.  Security and Freedom, e.g., FBI and CIA


C. Freedom and Focus in Church and Society; The Problem of Wineskins (Church Structure in a Technological Age - H. A. Snyder, IVP


1.  Spirit and Form - Cross Cultural Witnessing

2.  Freedom and Truth


D. Freedom and Political and Religious Totalitarianism - Examples:


1.  Russia

2.  Eastern Europe

3.  China

4.  The Muslim World

5.  Vat II - Schema on Religious Liberty




V. Christ Means Freedom: Christ and the Four Freedoms


"I am the Truth;" "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (1) Freedom of Speech, (2) Freedom of Press, (3) Freedom of Religion, and (4) Freedom to Assemble. The relationship between Truth and Freedom (Rom.l:18ff) Biblical images of a free person in relationship to God, self, others, and nature-history.  (R. N. Bellah, The Broken Covenant, NY:

Seabury Press, 1975).


CBS reportedly paid H. R. Halderman $25,000 to tell the American people the truth about Watergate (News Media, March 17, 1975). Judging from Halderman's numerous lapses of memory and 3 raps for perjury, a good portion of this money should have been spent on "truth serum" and "memory pills" (e.g. Ebsen's The Enemy of the People).


A. Discipleship and the Quest for Wholeness (Character and Career)


1.  Discovering the Truth as tourist, pioneer, and explorer

2.  Sharing the truth

3.  Doing the truth


B. Three Dimensions of Freedom (Jn. 8:31-34; Rom. 8:21; I Cor. 7:22).


1.  Natural

2.  Circumstantial

3.  Acquired


C. Truthfulness as a Demand of the Gospel (Mt. 15:8ff; Mk. 7:6ff; Isa. 29:13)


hyporisis - Greek theater term meaning "to play a role" Mt. 23 - The Great Lamentation — judgment on all dishonesty, falseness, and hypocrisy, Mt. 6:22ff


D.  Truth and Freedom - Old Testament, emet; New Testament altheia (II Cor. 4:2; II Cor. 6:7; Col. 1:5; Eph. 1:13; I Pet. 1:22; Gal. 5:7; Jn. 1:17, 8:32, 17:17, 14:6, 18:37)


E.  Christ, Truth, Freedom, and Cross-Cultural Witnessing - "Let the Whole Earth Hear his Voice"


Conclusion:  What of the Fate of Freedom: in our lives and our world? II Cor. 3:17:  "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty."


James D. Strauss