Religious tests and anti-creedal bodies...

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[Note from TB: Brian Lee is an R2K pastor in the United Reformed Church who serves a congregation in Washington D.C. Recently, Pastor Lee was invited to be guest chaplain to the House of Representatives—an honor he shares with Lloyd John Ogilvie, Michael Jackson, Earl Palmer, Hassan Qazwini, Ben Haden, Alisa Lasater-Wailoo, Bloomington's own Tom Ellsworth, Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, Joel Osteen, and Jerry Falwell's son Jonathan Falwell.

The invitation put Pastor Lee in an awkward position. How could he, a minister of the Gospel called to serve the Church, move over into the house of the civil magistrate and lead him in prayer? Pastor Lee announced publicly that, after receiving the invitation, he was "torn, and proceeded to have a lively debate with myself." Of course he went ahead.]

In defending his recent prayer before the nation’s legislature, Pastor Brian Lee calls the United States Congress an “anti-creedal body.” I couldn’t decide whether that sounded more like an astronomical object or a microbiological organism. Either thing is about as relevant as “anti-creedal body” to the U.S. Constitution's Religious Test Clause, which the pastor used to justify the form and content of his prayer.

Here’s the relevant constitutional text, in full, from the third and final paragraph in Article VI:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The first thing you’ll note from the plain text is that the ban on religious tests has no special application to Congress as a body or to its members individually.

It applies to any office or public trust under the United States. This includes the executive and judicial officers, as well as senators and representatives. So, plainly, this means that however that ban is applied to members of Congress, it applies to other officers of the United States government. There is in this regard nothing special about Congress. 

The second thing you’ll notice is that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to” those offices. We can plainly and logically understand this to mean that a religious test cannot be imposed for a man to be elected to or hold “any office or public trust under the United States.” It says nothing about what religious commitments a man may have or religious practices a man may exercise as an officer of the United States. It does not actually forbid or require certain religious commitments or practices for office.

The third thing you’ll notice is that it does not forbid Congress from opening its session in prayer or from praying in the midst of its business or deliberations. It does not prescribe the form of prayers. It places no limitation upon prayers.

R2K men ignore the simple meaning of the text and remanufacture it to pile on obligations and prohibitions that appear nowhere in the U.S. Constitution itself. R2K men see the U.S. Constitution as a disadvantage to Christianity in the national lawmaking body. To the contrary, it’s their technical rules, which they falsely ascribe to the text, that disadvantage Christianity.  What they write makes you think that Congress must be opposed to any creeds, which is as illogical as it is ahistorical because a principled opposition to creeds is itself a creed.

They fail or refuse to see that the Constitution’s prohibition of religious tests for national office is a protection of true religion and conscience. It is an advantage to the True Religion. (The U.S. Constitution was drafted and ratified at a time when it was recognized that Christianity was the only religion known to the law.) Yes, of course, that text means one denomination must not get the upper hand and oppress men of other denominations and forbid them entry into the national councils. Perhaps more importantly, it protects men from falsely assenting to a particular creed to obtain office, from going along to get along. It protects Christian conscience. Even more importantly, it is a protection of True Religion itself. Officers of the United States may not, under the color or cover of Religion, sully it with political schemes and stratagems and ambitious advancement.   

Henry Whiting Warner wrote in 1838 of the political evils of his day in a little book called An Inquiry into the Moral and Religious Character of the American Government. The point here isn’t to harken back to an American Christian utopia of a bygone era--it was no utopia; it’s to free us from the R2K American Christian dystopia advancing today under several banners, one of which is the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Warner writes of the wise purposes of the Establishment and Religious Test Clauses, which were instituted for the protection of Religion not its disparagement:

Hypocrisy and falsehood are the first fruits [of religious tests]. The rewards of conformity are too enticing to be withstood by mere nominal Christians, men who have a form of godliness without its power; while multitudes who are alike strangers to both, take the bait with still greater facility. The cases of fact are various: in some the sacrifice seems greater than others; but in all, truth is the victim.

   And when this preliminary sacrifice is past, and the sanctum of a political church (for such it is) thrown open to the religionists of policy; the next development in due course is one of pride, vainglory and intolerance: beyond which, in circumstances allowing further progress, the step is natural and easy to persecution, the last villainy of church-and-state combinations. (page 28)

Mr. Warner’s main point in this section is that these are constitutional protections against the abuse of Religion. They are not protections from Religion itself. More to the point, they are not protections from Religion’s actuating influence in the lives and official work of the civil magistrate in halls of Congress. Why is that so difficult for Escondido men to understand?

When it comes to the work of Christians in the civil magistracy, it’s the Escondido men who are anti-creedal, not the fundamental law, spiritual or temporal.

 

Ezra Hale is the pseudonym of a man serving in an upper-level, executive branch position of state government. Ezra is a licensed attorney and for several years practiced law in state and federal courts. He is a graduate of ___________ School of Law, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review.