My Facebook status for the Fourth of July will read as it did last year: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stood…”
Why the past tense? The first step to victory is to be honest and clear about what the goal of the mission is. As Americans who care about our country, it is no longer about preserving our form of government, but restoring it. To do this many reforms will be necessary, the most important of which is restoring a cultural climate in which grammatico-historical exegesis makes sense again. In other words, until we care again about what the authors of old documents (from the Bible to the Constitution to the literary classics) were actually trying to communicate, and believe them capable of doing it, the Constitution will mean anything that a 51% majority of the voters or any five Supreme Court justices want it to mean. And as long as that is the case, what Francis Schaeffer called “the outward forms of constitutionality” actually count for nothing. We have just been reminded by SCOTUS how true this is: as in Roe v. Wade the court has once again created a ” constitutional right” (to same-sex marriage) out of nothing. Most people just shrug their shoulders or accept the claim that the “right” is in the 14th amendment despite its complete absence from the wording or the intention of the framers as discerned by historical context. Why? Because they have been taught that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, to them the Constitution really does mean what 51% of the voters or five out of nine people in black robes think they need or want it to mean.
Until this changes, we can get nowhere. Any tinkering with structures or rules, even any replacing of elected (or appointed) officials, will mean nothing until this deeper cultural reformation of our philosophy of reading is achieved in our homes, schools, and churches. And it will be an uphill battle only winnable by God’s intervention in a new Renaissance, Reformation, and Revival that go beyond anything we can engineer ourselves. Whether that comes or not, let us be found faithful. Clarity about what the problem is–rebellion against God’s authority, our Author, and therefore also the authority even of human authors made in His image–is the first step.
Was the Constitution perfect? No. But it did provide a possibility of checks and balances in the separation of powers that was better than any other nation has devised, and which gave us the chance at a republic–as Franklin said, “If you can keep it.” We didn’t. In the republic the Framers envisioned, for example, the HHS Mandate, the courts taking it upon themselves to redefine marriage or create a right to murder one’s own children, congress passing bills no one has read, etc., would have been unthinkable. Now such things are routine. Unelected judges and bureaucrats have power they were never intended to have, and our elected officials are impotent to rein them in, because they do not even understand the monster they have created.
Why didn’t we keep our republic? Because the church did not do its job of evangelism and discipleship. Even when we won converts we did not teach them the biblical world view. We let their minds be formed by the Enemy. We let the culture around us slide into decadence, and as long as our churches were full we didn’t care. Then we were shocked when things turned against us. Even if the Constitution were perfect, it would be no protection in a world in which antirealist philosophy, subjectivist hermeneutics, and relativist ethics rule the educational system, the media, and pop culture. When it is no longer considered self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, then the republic founded on that bedrock cannot survive as the same entity. We should not be surprised that it has not.
This is not ultimately a political problem: it is a cultural problem, and beneath that, a religious problem. When we start making progress there, only then will we see real progress on the political front. Or maybe we will see a new Dark Ages. That would be horrible in many ways, and we should do everything we can to prevent it—but if it comes, the dark just makes the light shine brighter.
Donald T. Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College. He is the author of nine books, including Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd edition, revised and expanded, all from Lantern Hollow Press. To order, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.