How Black Political Leaders Misrepresent History to Exploit Their Own People
Here’s my hypothesis about people who use slavery to trash the Founders: They have contempt for our constitutional guarantees of liberty. Slavery is merely a convenient moral posturing tool as they try to reduce respect for our Constitution.
—Walter E. Williams—
This article is available in an expanded version here. Part 4 is available here.
We concluded part 3 of this series two weeks ago with this You Tube video. At the outset of his presentation, host Dan Willoughby offers this intriguing analogy. A headline reads, “Man Pushes Old Woman to the Ground,” and from the story we learn that the mayor gives him a medal! What’s happened? When we dig to find out, we learn the man pushed the woman out of the way of an oncoming bus and saved her life. Things weren’t as they initially appeared.
With this illustration in mind, consider this excerpt from a news article we cited in last week’s post. The following is from an article by S. Davis and appearing on August 4, 2016.
In addition to blacks being owned in this land of the free they had the glory of being counted as three-fifths of a person in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, section 2). Over time the clause has been misinterpreted to mean that blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person or three-fifths of a complete citizen of the country—although I clearly see why anyone could make that argument. I won’t even dispute them. The clause was written to count enslaved blacks as three-fifths of their white counterparts for direct representation in Congress. Even with the correct explanation of the clause a simple question of, “Why aren’t all lives equal on a one-to-one basis?” can easily be posed. This is another instance of black lives being devalued.
Let’s take this same approach to the Three-Fifths Compromise (explained here) and apply it to the story cited in the video. Taking this approach, one might describe the news story this way.
A man pushed an elderly woman to the ground and received praise and recognition from the mayor’s office for doing so. When hearing about the incident, many people have misunderstood why the man tackled the woman—even when they hear he was pushing her out of the way of an oncoming bus. The man saved the woman’s life, but I still understand why they think this guy acted aggressively against her. I won’t even try to tell them they’re wrong. Even when you know the man saved the woman’s life, you still can ask the question, “Why in the world would this man be so abusive to a helpless old woman?” Here we have yet another example of a man roughing up a helpless senior adult and getting away with it!
I mean no disrespect to Mr. Davis, and there are clear differences between these two situations. However, in significant and relevant ways, the above description of the rescue parallels his description of the Three-Fifths Compromise. The two descriptions contrast sharply in part because in what was said about the Constitution, further explanation is needed to highlight the positive outcome—preserving the Union under the Constitution’s provisions eventually would be of great benefit to the slaves. With the rescue, there was an immediate and obvious happy ending. The negative outcome of the Three-Fifths Compromise—the continuation of slavery—is obvious; but the harsh reality was that slavery was going to continue whether compromise was reached or not.
To his credit, Mr. Davis acknowledged that the counting of slaves was for representation purposes, as did several of the writers we cited last week. Yet, even with this basic information, people don’t know all they need to know to understand that counting slaves fully would have been to the slaves’ disadvantage, and not counting them at all would have been to their advantage. Recall that a full count would translate into more advocates for slavery in the House of Representatives and not numbering them would mean fewer.
It doesn’t take an expert in human relations to see that some leaders intentionally are fueling anger and resentment in the black community for their own personal gain.
It doesn’t take an expert in human relations to see that some leaders intentionally are fueling anger and resentment in the black community for their own personal gain.
Imagine a black leader declaring to his or her African-American audience something like this: “You never have been able to get a fair shake in this country, because when the Constitution was drafted at the dawn of America’s existence, each of your ancestors was considered only three-fifths of a human being! The Liberty Bell didn’t ring out for you! It rang out only for white folks!”
Racism can and sometimes does exist among whites, of course, and it should be condemned by blacks and whites alike. There is a difference, however, between appropriate condemnations of racism and the rhetoric in which some black leaders engage. Black leaders are guilty of racism when they stir up resentment among blacks toward whites because of the egregious sin of slavery. No one in the audiences of these leaders ever was an American slave. This doesn’t excuse racist acts of any kind committed against blacks today or earlier. Some of these have truly been brutal and inhuman. Still, the issue of slavery has been settled. The very country Jesse Jackson and others malign ended slavery permanently within its borders with a bloody civil war. Yet they continue to mislead their people.
In this environment, we need to make sure we know and can present the truth about what happened when America was founded and in the years that followed.
Join me next week for an eye-opening journey into the past.
The Pervasive Myth of Maniacal Racism Among America’s Founders
If I assume the “truth” to be negotiable based on whether or not it serves my agenda, then my agenda has become my “truth.” And the “truth” of the matter is, when I do this I’ve chosen to take a treacherous path through some very deep woods where neither path nor woods exist.
—Craig D. Lounsbrough—
History as well as life itself is complicated—neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.
—Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed—
In early 2013, Dr. James Wagner, president of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote an article in the university’s magazine about compromise. In it, he cited the Three-Fifths Compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a positive example.
One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.
Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.
A furor erupted. At minimum, President Wagner, unwisely, had praised the Three-Fifths Compromise without sufficiently clarifying or qualifying his statements (even though he offered a more thorough explanation of the background of the compromise than usually is given). Wagner also made a mistake when he used the phrase “to form a more perfect union” as he discussed the decision that gave Southern slave states more political clout than the North initially said they should have. This left a negative impression as well. All of this notwithstanding, history records that the Three-Fifths Compromise was indeed a compromise. Because of it, Southern states’ influence in the House of Representatives was less than their delegates originally wanted.
President Wagner apologized. An update posted Sunday, February 24, 2013 on Emory Magazine’s website carried his statement:
A number of people have raised questions regarding part of my essay in the most recent issue of Emory Magazine. Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman. I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay. I am sorry for the hurt caused by not communicating more clearly my own beliefs. To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me.
On February 23—the day prior—Emory history professor Leslie Harris appeared on NPR News, Weekend Edition, to discuss the issue. Dr. Harris’ full title is associate professor of history and African American Studies. President Wagner already had apologized at this point, but the controversy still was raging. Don Gonyea, the host, interviewed Harris. When he asked Dr. Harris about her reaction when she initially read the president’s article, Harris said,
My first response was that it was a misreading of the three-fifths compromise and of what a successful compromise could be. In addition to the sort of strict historical interpretation of that compromise, the way that popular culture, and particularly African-Americans- see that compromise is that it is a way of counting African-Americans as three-fifths of a person, three-fifths of a human being. So, I knew that even if the historical interpretation of popular culture was wrong, it would strike a very bad chord among African-Americans and among others. I mean, I want to emphasize that this is something that is not an idea that’s simply bound by race. But I knew that in terms of African-Americans, it would be particularly striking that he use that as an example of compromise.
With all due respect to Dr. Harris, she did very little in the interview to help people understand what the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the Three-Fifths Clause, actually did. Here is a history professor who was given a ripe opportunity to open people’s eyes about a widely misunderstood historical matter, yet she bypassed that favorable moment to reinforce perspectives formed largely by emotional impressions shaped in a 21st-century American culture. “Clear thinking,” writes A. J. Hoover, “involves many things, but one of the most important things it involves is learning to control your emotions.”1
This is not to say that President Wagner’s article warranted no criticism. Even so, Dr. Harris could have offered appropriate, constructive criticism while also explaining some of the realities of the world of 1787 and some of the tough challenges confronting the new nation.
I suspect Dr. Harris responded as she did because, apparently, she sees the Three-Fifths Compromise as increasing the South’s power to officially strengthen and maintain slavery. A few moments earlier in the interview, Dr. Harris had said, “[B]y keeping slavery in the Constitution, by protecting slavery through the three-fifths compromise, in fact, we held onto slavery, which ultimately led us into civil war with the bloodiest loss of life.”
This ignores several important and undeniable realities.
First, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had not gathered in Philadelphia to deal with the issue of slavery, but to create a document that would serve as a foundation for the new nation’s government.
Second, if delegates from the North had told their Southern counterparts, “We will eliminate slavery in the new nation, and on this issue we will not compromise,” Southern states would have formed their own country with a government that fully sanctioned the practice.
Third, it would have been to the slaves’ advantage not to be counted in the census at all (as the North wanted), and to their disadvantage to be fully counted (as the South wanted). Why? Because the larger the population count in a state, the more representatives that state would have in the House of Representatives. Southern delegates were all too eager to fully count slaves, who would not be allowed to vote, to boost the pro-slavery forces in the House.
Finally, the Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise; neither the North nor the South got all it wanted. Specifically, from the perspective of Southern state delegates, the South got fewer representatives than it would have had slaves been numbered one for one. Remember that Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an African-American whom we studied last week, was born into slavery. He experienced it firsthand. He escaped from bondage and eventually became a national leader and statesman. He also became a staunch defender of the US Constitution. Douglass said of the Three-Fifths Clause, “It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States…[Thus,] taking it at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.”
It therefore is misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst, to point—directly or indirectly—to the Three-Fifths Compromise as evidence the Framers saw individual slaves or blacks as less than a complete human being. This misconception, even in 2016, is having a devastating effect. As we said in our initial post in this series, “A great deal is at stake here. The belief that the Framers…wanted slavery to continue forever understandably will make it harder for blacks to trust governmental authorities, including police. Yet, if we dig deeper and come to understand many of the relevant historical details, we just might discover truths that can help ease some of today’s racial tensions and conflicts.”
It is misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst, to point—directly or indirectly—to the Three-Fifths Compromise as evidence the Framers saw individual slaves or blacks as less than a complete human being.
Unfortunately, not only does the myth of rabid racism on the part of the Founders persist; it’s also extremely pervasive—especially in the black community. Furthermore, it’s constantly reinforced. For proof, all one needs to do is to conduct an Internet search using the phrase “Black Lives Matter Three-Fifths.” Here is a sampling of the results of such a search, from most recent to earliest. Emphases, reflected in bold face type, have been added.
The “founding fathers” of the United States…wrote into the U.S. Constitution the so-called “three-fifths clause” counting enslaved Africans as equivalent to three-fifths of a full human being for census purposes. As we can see, then, black lives certainly did not matter.
S. Davis in an article titled “Black Lives Matter” August 4, 2016
In addition to blacks being owned in this land of the free they had the glory of being counted as three-fifths of a person in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, section 2). Over time the clause has been misinterpreted to mean that blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person or three-fifths of a complete citizen of the country—although I clearly see why anyone could make that argument. I won’t even dispute them. The clause was written to count enslaved blacks as three-fifths of their white counterparts for direct representation in Congress. Even with the correct explanation of the clause a simple question of, “Why aren’t all lives equal on a one-to-one basis?” can easily be posed. This is another instance of black lives being devalued.
But here in America, “black” life historically has meant less than “white” life—from slavery, to once being deemed by the U.S. Constitution as three-fifths of a person, to Jim Crow. And now, amid the illusion of a post-racial America, comes the declaration: “Black lives matter!”
One of the most blatant and significant political enshrinements of Black lives mattering less than White lives is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution, commonly known as the “three-fifths compromise” that defined the value or worth of those in bondage (largely enslaved Blacks) as only three fifths of free people (almost entirely White).
…another unpleasant historical parallel is with the U.S. Constitution’snotorious Three-Fifths Clause (whereby three-fifths of the South’s slaves population counted towards the congressional representation of the Slave states).
Although the word “slave” appeared nowhere in the document, the original Constitution nevertheless accommodated slavery. Indeed, the Constitution based representation in the House of Representatives on the population of “free Persons” and three-fifths “of all other Persons” in each state. In other words, despite the Declaration of Independence’s majestic pronouncement that “all men are created equal,” the original Constitution took a very different view. The 13th Amendment righted that wrong and made clear that black lives do matter, and matter equally.
Civil rights has arguably been the American story, in a country where the Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal,” yet the original Constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and denied women the vote. “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America,” the late writer Molly Ivins once put it.
Our relationship to this country as Black folks has been playing the role of currency, property and resource. The three-fifths compromise during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention was a political debate focused squarely on determining the worth of our humanity for the purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The intrinsic belief that we were property was not up for discussion, rather [what was was (sic) up for discussion was] how much we as property were worth to White men. Our worth has always been in question in this country. No presidential candidate has ever centered their agenda around the worth of Black lives. We are committed to redefining our worth as Black people and holding our country’s representatives accountable.
Asserting that Black Lives Matter is to rebut the inherent supposition that Black lives do not matter. Black lives have been devalued since the development of our Constitution when it counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a person. To proclaim that Black Lives Matter is to rebut this constitutional flaw. We still live with the legacy of enslavement, when Black folks were other people’s property. Black folks aren’t property now (unless they are the much-exploited convict laborers), but unequal treatment is not just historical—it still happens. That’s why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.
Posted by David Love at Atlanta Blackstar, July 22, 2015
The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal” at a time when Africans were held in bondage. In that seminal document, “all lives mattered” in theory, or at least on paper, but Black lives really did not matter. In practice, the American experiment has been built on the affirmation of white lives, bolstered by the legal system and reinforced in every corner of society, at the expense of Black lives. The Constitution made us three-fifths of a person, a part of the badge of slavery that rendered us a criminal element in the eyes of white America, by heredity and in perpetuity.
And Black people find themselves in the same predicament today, viewed as less than human. Due to white supremacy, we are paid less and die younger, and not unlike the days of slavery and Jim Crow, navigate through life under the constant threat of death. #BlackLivesMatter is a struggle against the violence Black people face, but it also is an attempt to place the Black narrative on the front burner.
As long as there have been black people in America, the issue of how much black lives matter, and why, has always been contested. Under slavery, you could literally count the value of black life in dollars and cents, while black black [sic] slaves were constitutionally quantified as three fifths of a person. Abolition got rid of the institution but did little to change the rationale that underpinned it.
Those who participated [in the Black Lives Matter rally] also read the names of people who, according to [rally organizer Benjamin] Evans, died at the hands of police since 1975.
As they recited those names, [Everett] Hoagland [professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and New Bedford’s poet laureate emeritus,] added a name that wasn’t on the list: Morris Pina, a New Bedford man who died in a city police cell in 1990. Pina’s family eventually won a wrongful death suit against the New Bedford Police Department after a multi-year fight, Hoagland said.
“It starts systematically in this country way back in the 1780s, with the Constitution, when in the country African-Americans were considered three-fifths of a human being. Their lives don’t matter as fully as privileged white lives,” Hoagland said.
Khalil Coleman, founder and executive director of the Milwaukee-based Changing Lives Through Literature, and history professor Robert Smith University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, at a Black Lives Matter forum on January 30, 2015, as reported by Media Trackers on February 4, 2015
…[T]he reason why black lives don’t matter in America is because still to this day in the United States Constitution there is a three-fifths clause that says that if you are a black life still to this day in 2015 you are still considered to be three-fifths a person by the United States Constitution.
Smith, a history professor, does not correct Coleman’s error about the three-fifths clause’s still being in effect, nor does he provide any information about the historical context of the clause:
And that in fact what makes us particularly unique as a nation is that we have the capability we have the voices and we have the means and we have the constitutional protection to, to stand up and resist and exercise your right and as brother Khalil mentioned the constitution does include the three-fifths clause…
The Three-Fifths Compromise was included in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution counting African-American slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation in Congress. The infamous provision was rescinded by constitutional amendments that ended slavery after the Civil War, ironically pushed by the Republican Party.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., as a US congressman, on the floor of the US House of Representatives, speaking about the reading of the Constitution in the House and objecting to the exclusion of portions that had been superseded by amendments, including the Three-Fifths Clause, in a youtube.com video uploaded January 6, 2011
When the Founders wrote the Constitution, Blacks were considered three-fifths human. In a compromise at the constitutional convention, the Constitution was written to allow slave states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the census and for elections. Slaves couldn’t vote, but they could increase the population and thus the representation of slave states.
The sentence we’ve emphasized in the quote from Rev. Jackson is more than misleading. It is blatantly false, because race wasn’t mentioned in the Constitution at all.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is another possible source for some of the writers and speakers cited above. Even if he isn’t a source, the theme of racism among the Founders is common ground. Before watching this YouTube video of Farrakhan, be forewarned that it contains inappropriate language. Viewer/listener discretion is advised.
The question arises, Why would black leaders, journalists, educators, and others want to perpetuate the myth that the Three-Fifths Clause proves the Founders saw slaves or blacks as less than human? While some who spread this idea may be ignorant of the truth, surely not everyone is. History professors and black leaders, in particular, have no excuses. What are they thinking? We’ll examine this question to some extent next week, but for now, recall with me these words from Walter Williams, a conservative African-American journalist and columnist. We quoted Williams at the end of part 3 of this series. He observed,
Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. Their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution in order to gain greater control over our lives. Their main targets are the nation’s youths. The teaching establishment, at our public schools and colleges, is being used to undermine American values.
Remember, there is a great deal at stake when we seek to interpret these historical events. It’s vital that we get them right!
Years After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in the Throes of the Civil War, America’s Leaders Look to the Founders—and the Constitution—to Guide the Nation out of Slavery
It is often said that the Constitution is “a bundle of compromises,” implying that those who wrote the document abandoned principle in favor of cutting eighteenth-century backroom deals whenever possible to protect their own interests.…But the presence of compromise—often simply splitting the difference—does not necessarily prove the principle was thrown by the wayside.…In some cases, accepting compromise might be the wise course in order to preserve principles that might be fully achieved only with the passage of time. Which is to say that any compromise must be understood in light of the larger principles at issue.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is “perhaps the most famous speech ever—and it took two minutes.” Yet many do not know the details about the ceremony at which Lincoln spoke. They are worthy of our consideration today. We begin with background information about the two Civil War battles that led up to that ceremony.
On July 1–3, 1863, Union and Confederate troops engaged in a conflict that resulted in the highest number of casualties of any of the battles of the American Civil War. Fighting occurred in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia against Union troops commanded by Major General George Meade. Lee hoped to capitalize on the success Confederate forces had seen at Chancellorsville, in northern Virginia, on April 30–May 6. That victory had come at the cost of heavy casualties, however. On the Confederate side, 10,746 troops were killed or wounded, and on the Union side, 11,368. Significantly for the South, Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was fatally shot on May 2 by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. Jackson died several days later, on May 10. While Lee was encouraged by the victory at Chancellorsville, Jackson’s death was a severe blow. Lee described the loss as being akin to his losing his right arm.
Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, in the latter part of June, General Lee resolved to go on the offensive, and he led army into south-central Pennsylvania. On Wednesday,
July 1, the advancing Confederates clashed with the Union’s Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George G. Meade, at the crossroads town of Gettysburg. The next day saw even heavier fighting, as the Confederates attacked the Federals on both left and right. On July 3, Lee ordered an attack by fewer than 15,000 troops on the enemy’s center at Cemetery Ridge. The assault, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” [pictured at the top] managed to pierce the Union lines but eventually failed, at the cost of thousands of rebel casualties, and Lee was forced to withdraw his battered army toward Virginia on July 4.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the American Civil War. Combined casualties—the dead and wounded on both sides—numbered from 46,000 to 51,000.
Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg
Just over four months after the pivotal battle, in a public ceremony on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated. A month earlier, efforts had begun to relocate the bodies of slain soldiers from the battlefield, where they had been buried initially, to the cemetery. David Wills, representing the committee in charge of the ceremony, invited President Lincoln to speak. Wills wrote, “It is the desire, that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.”
“The oration” was to be delivered by featured speaker Edward Everett. Well known, eloquent, and very articulate, Everett had served in numerous public leadership positions, including governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, a US Representative, a US Senator, and US Secretary of State. Lengthy speeches were typical at dedication ceremonies during this time period, and Everett’s speech on this occasion was no exception. He crafted and delivered from memory an oration “full of beautiful language and logic, that explained the significance and the tragedy of the Battle of Gettysburg, the standoff during the Civil War with the most causalities, often [now] thought of as a turning point.” Everett talked for two hours. You can read his complete speech here. The featured speaker concluded with these words.
Surely I would do no injustice to the other noble achievements of the war, which have reflected such honor on both arms of the service, and have entitled the armies and the navy of the United States, their officers and men, to the warmest thanks and the richest rewards which a grateful people can pay. But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates The Battles of Gettysburg.
After Everett finished speaking, the Baltimore Glee Club sang a hymn. Then President Lincoln rose and spoke very briefly. Delivering what we now know as his “Gettysburg Address,” the president wasted no time in honing in on the purpose for which the nation had been founded “four score and seven years” earlier: The Founders “brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln highlighted a similar theme as he concluded his brief remarks, challenging his hearers “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln (highlighted in sepia) at Gettysburg. This is one of two confirmed photos of the president on this occasion.
Among those deeply moved by Lincoln’s remarks was Edward Everett himself. The next day, he wrote to the president and said, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Echoing the Nation’s Founders
In two minutes and with words that we still remember today, Lincoln reunited in Americans’ minds the war effort and the principles upon on the nation had been founded. He reaffirmed “liberty…and…the proposition that all men [—people—] are created equal.” And although the Founders did not use these words in the founding documents, Lincoln upheld their ideal of government “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” Eleven months earlier, commensurate with these principles, the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation which, with “a single stroke,…changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslave people in the designated areas of the South from ‘slave’ to ‘free.’”
Meet Frederick Douglass
President Lincoln wasn’t alone in affirming the founding principles of America as the nation moved to end the scourge of slavery, but perhaps no one became a more articulate defender of the US Constitution than Frederick Douglass.
We present a brief summary of Douglass’ early years here to demonstrate that he knew all about slavery, for he experienced it firsthand. He was no mere observer or bystander. His insights on slavery and racism in relation to the Constitution, therefore, need to be appreciated and heeded in our day. In fact, I believe they need to be rediscovered and showcased for everyone to hear and understand.
Born into Slavery
On a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February, 1818—we’re uncertain of the exact day—as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. It was rumored that his father was his master, but he was unable to verify the rumor. Young Frederick never knew his mother, for he was separated from her early on, and she died when Frederick was ten. He lived with his maternal grandmother for several years, then at age seven was separated from her.
Frederick was moved several times in during his childhood and finally was sent to Baltimore to serve Hugh and Sophia Auld in that city. Sophia began to teach 12-year old Frederick the alphabet, but Hugh disapproved and eventually convinced his wife slaves ought not to be educated. Fortunately, it was too late! Frederick now knew the alphabet, and he worked to teach himself to read and write. By observing both children and adults and by practicing reading whenever he could, he was able to master these skills. As he read newspapers, books, brochures, the Bible, and other literature, the young man was able to formulate his own perspectives on slavery and other issues. He later said that The Columbian Orator, a textbook for school children published in 1797, heavily influenced his thinking.
At thirteen, Frederick learned from a white Methodist preacher that God loved him in a personal and life-changing way. Later, Frederick recalled,
He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were by nature rebels against his government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ.
He also described the change that took place in his own heart.
Though for weeks I was a poor broken-hearted mourner traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.
Still a slave, Frederick was sent to work for William Freeland. On Feeeland’s plantation, Frederick taught his fellow slaves to read the New Testament at weekly Sunday Bible study. The class grew to more than 40. Mr. Freeland did not resist Frederick’s effort, but plantation owners nearby became uneasy and even angry over the idea of educating slaves. They raided Frederick’s class and put an end to the Bible and reading lessons the young slave was giving.
In 1833 Frederick turned 15. He was placed under the authority and in the service of Edward Covey, a man with a reputation of treating slaves harshly. Soon Frederick turned 16, and Mr. Covey was using his “slave-breaking” approach against Frederick with abandon. He routinely whipped and beat the teenager, who almost gave up in despair. Frederick began to resist physically, though, and Covey stopped beating him after Frederick overpowered him in a fight.
On several occasions, Frederick attempted to escape to freedom. He was unsuccessful until September 3, 1838. In less than a full day, he made his way to New York City and freedom. Later he would describe the feelings he had when he arrived on free soil. His statement, a portion of which we present below, showcases his expert communication skills.
My free life began on the third of September, 1838. On the morning of the fourth of that month, after an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a FREE MAN—one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway. Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand, my thoughts could not be much withdrawn from my strange situation. For the moment, the dreams of my youth and the hopes of my manhood were completely fulfilled. The bonds that had held me to “old master” were broken. No man now had a right to call me his slave or assert mastery over me. I was in the rough and tumble of an outdoor world, to take my chance with the rest of its busy number. I have often been asked how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath and the “quick round of blood,” I lived more in that one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: “I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.” Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.
In 1837, several months before arriving in New York, Frederick had met a free black woman in Baltimore. Anna Murray captivated his heart. He sent for her after obtaining his freedom, and the two were married just days later, on September 15, 1838. Their marriage would last until her death nearly 44 years later. To avoid being caught, the couple initially used the surname Johnson. Soon they would arrive and settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts and would stay for a while with an abolitionist couple named Nathan and Mary Johnson. It was then they began introducing themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass.
Advocate for Liberty
In 1841, Douglass metWilliam Lloyd Garrison and John A. Collins—two prominent abolitionists—at an anti-slavery convention. Collins suggested Douglass become a paid speaker for the anti-slavery cause, and Douglass agreed to do so for three months. He was so well-received by audiences that the arrangement lasted for four years!
In many speeches, Douglass told of his life as a slave. In 1845 he used those presentations as the starting point for an autobiography of his life. In both America and Europe, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was wildly popular, but many challenged the idea that a former slave could become such an excellent writer—especially without formal training. According to cliffnotes.com, “Some thought that the text was a clever counterfeit document produced by abolitionists and passed off as Douglass’ writing. In fact, Douglass was so frequently confronted by such skeptics in the North that he had to finally demonstrate his oratory skills in order to prove his intellectual capacity.”
History.com summarizes Douglass’ life as an advocate for freedom this way:
Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For 16 years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics and preached his own brand of American ideals.
Defender of the Constitution
Indeed, Douglass was a powerful force for the cause of freedom and liberty for all. Yet we must understand that his “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. This point is at the heart of this article.
Douglass’ “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. In fact, it affirmed them.
It was widely known that abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison believed the Constitution upheld and sanctioned slavery in the United States: “Calling the Constitution a ‘covenant with death’ and ‘an agreement with Hell,’ he refused to participate in American electoral politics because to do so meant supporting ‘the pro-slavery, war sanctioning Constitution of the United States.’ Instead, under the slogan ‘No Union with Slaveholders,’ the Garrisonians repeatedly argued for a dissolution of the Union.”
Initially Douglass agreed with these abolitionists because of the compromises on slavery the Framers of the Constitution had forged when they met in 1787. Eventually, though, he studied the matter for himself and was compelled to break with the Garrisonians. He concluded the Constitution actually was an anti-slavery document. In his 1855 autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass recalled,
[W]hen I escaped from slavery, into contact with a class of abolitionists regarding the constitution as a slaveholding instrument, and finding their views supported by the united and entire history of every department of the government, it is not strange that I assumed the constitution to be just what their interpretation made it. I was bound, not only by their superior knowledge, to take their opinions as the true ones, in respect to the subject, but also because I had no means of showing their unsoundness. But for the responsibility of conducting a public journal, and the necessity imposed upon me of meeting opposite views from abolitionists in this state, I should in all probability have remained as firm in my disunion views as any other disciple of William Lloyd Garrison.
My new circumstances compelled me to re-think the whole subject, and to study, with some care, not only the just and proper rules of legal interpretation, but the origin, design, nature, rights, powers, and duties of civil government, and also the relations which human beings sustain to it. By such a course of thought and reading, I was conducted to the conclusion that the constitution of the United States—inaugurated “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty”—could not well have been designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine and murder, like slavery; especially, as not one word can be found in the constitution to authorize such a belief. Then, again, if the declared purposes of an instrument are to govern the meaning of all its parts and details, as they clearly should, the constitution of our country is our warrant for the abolition of slavery in every state in the American Union.
Historian David Barton recounts Douglass’ quest and affirms his conclusions.
As we have seen, Douglass understood a great deal more than the background behind the Three-Fifths Clause; he understood the Constitution as a whole, and he sought to make his findings known to all Americans. Here are a few more of his insights.
Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
Abolish slavery tomorrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim, of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed.
The Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a state and a citizen of the United States.
Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the constitution is a Glorious Liberty Document!
There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.
Frederick Douglass’ Legacy
As this last statement from Frederick Douglass attests, Americans have not always lived up to the principles upon which their country was founded or to the US Constitution. Dr. Martin Luther King said as much at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
While Dr. King was right to point out that white Americans had failed to treat blacks as their equals, he also was right in echoing Frederick Douglass’ confidence in the Founders of America and in the Constitution they drafted. The principles on which this country was founded and the US Constitution continue to pull us back to our obligation to fulfill the promise to let every individual, regardless of race, live as a free individual in an ordered society. It’s true that a great Civil War should not have had to occur to end slavery; and it’s equally true that blacks should not have had to endure the struggles they faced during the Civil Rights era just to be treated fairly. Yet it is not true that slaves automatically would have been better off if the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention had drawn a line in the sand and refused to budge on the issue of slavery. Progressives are wont to imply anti-slavery delegates at the convention ought to be blamed for allowing slavery to continue because they did not give the pro-slavery delegates an ultimatum. Walter Williams writes,
A question that we might ask those academic hustlers who use slavery to attack and criticize the legitimacy of our founding is: Would black Americans, yesteryear and today, have been better off if the Constitution had not been ratified—with the Northern states having gone their way and the Southern states having gone theirs—and, as a consequence, no union had been created? I think not.
It is clear that like Mr. Williams, Frederick Douglass keenly understood that preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off. With freedom they were afforded equality and rights, at least as far as the founding documents were concerned. And there was no better place to start than with the founding principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—the supreme law of the land.
Preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off.
This video not only provides a review of our excursion into history in this series thus far; it also helps us understand the harsh realities the Framers knew they would face if the colonies, now independent states, did not remain united.2
Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. Their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution in order to gain greater control over our lives. Their main targets are the nation’s youths. The teaching establishment, at our public schools and colleges, is being used to undermine American values.
To counter this misinformation, we must teach our children and their peers the truth about leaders who understood both the value and the price of authentic liberty.
1Matthew Spalding, We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), 130.
2I noticed one error in this presentation. At 6 minutes, 50 seconds in, the host of the program, Dan Willoughby, states, “Two provisions were put into the Constitution that might lend a hand to the abolitionists’ cause. First was a clause that would not allow slave importation into the states after a period of 20 years, and the other tied federal taxation to population in the same way representation was linked.” The underlined portion is not entirely correct. While the Slave Trade Clauseprohibited Congress from ending the slave trade until 1808 (and permitted it to do so as of January 1 of that year), the clause itself did not end it, nor did it require Congress to end it. On March 2, 1807, Congress passed, and president Jefferson signed into law, a provision to end the trade effective January 1, 1808.
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Examining the Evidence: Do Racist and Pro-Slavery Elements Exist in the Constitution of 1787?
I do not expect to get near the worth of him; but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being.
—James Madison, a Founding Father and a slaveholder, in a letter to his father, obviously troubled about the institution of slavery as he explained he would have to sell the slave who had been accompanying him—
Man is either governed by his own laws—freedom—or the laws of another—slavery. Are you willing to become slaves? Will you give up your freedom, your life and your property without a single struggle? No man has a right to rule over his fellow creatures.
—Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and a non-slaveholder—
On May 25, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention began their deliberations. Charged with crafting a governing document for the then 11-year old nation, they knew the task before them would be formidable. They met at the Pennsylvania State House, which later became known as Independence Hall. The Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787. The delegates from the states talked, shared ideas, argued, debated, compromised, and in the end were able to draft a document that, indeed, would serve as the foundation for governing a stable and free nation for more than two hundred years. The US Constitution is “the oldest written constitution still in use today.”
Much has been written about the compromises forged during those hot months in Philadelphia in 1787. Probably no issue was more contentious than slavery. In the end, the Constitution that emerged permitted it—but did it condone it? This and numerous other related questions are at the heart of this post.
Last time, we considered one of the compromises relating to slavery—the Three-Fifths Clause. This week we’ll give further consideration to this clause and will examine two others. We’ll also discuss other issues relating to slavery in the United States in the late eighteenth century and the delegates’ perspectives on the institution’s future. Fasten your seat belts! Here goes!
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.
ARTICLE I, SECTION 2, CLAUSE 3
(Read the clause in context here.)
To determine the number of representatives a state would have in the House of Representatives, as well as the amount of money a state would pay in taxes to the federal government, the population of that state (and of every other state) had to be determined. The Three-Fifths Clause established that this number would be derived by adding
the total number of free persons in a state, plus
the total number servants who performed their duties on a contract basis, plus
three-fifths of “all other persons.”
Indians, who were not taxed, were excluded entirely from the count. Nor were their number reflected in a state’s representation in the House.
The phrase “all other persons” was a reference to slaves. The fact that the Three-Fifths Clause mentions other classes of people specifically—free individuals, bondservants, and Indians—and does not explicitly mention slaves “proves the reluctance of the Founders to include slavery in the Constitution.” More on this a bit later.
Delegates from the South wanted to include slaves in their states’ population counts to strengthen their influence in the House of Representatives, but delegates from the North wanted slaves not to be counted at all, to minimize Southern states’ influence in the House. The two sides compromised; each state’s population number included three-fifths of its slaves.
Slaves in 17th-century Virginia working the tobacco crop
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention addressed other issues related to slavery as well. Near the end of the Convention, the Framers dealt with the issue of fugitive slaves, although, again, they avoided using the word “slave” or “slaves” in the resulting provision. States that permitted slavery
wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance [on July 13 of 1787], it [included] a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
ARTICLE IV, SECTION 2, CLAUSE 3
(Read the clause in context here.)
The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding explains,
In Dred Scott v. Sandford [decided on March 6, 1957], Chief Justice Roger B. Taney attempted to use this clause, along with the so-called Slave Trade Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1), as evidence that slaves were not citizens but were to be considered property according to the Constitution. By this clause, Taney argued, “the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the right of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service.”
The more generally accepted interpretation, however, is that this clause did not speak to the issue of citizenship at all, but was a necessary accommodation to existing slavery interests in particular states, required for the sake of establishing the Constitution…. This point is underscored by the fact that, although slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment (see the Thirteenth Amendment), not one word of the original text had to be amended or deleted.
Delegates also dealt with the slave trade. Earlier in their deliberations—even before hammering out the Fugitive Slave Clause—the Framers had agreed “that Congress would not be able to prohibit the importation of slaves before 1808,” but that it could levy taxes on such importation. Article I, section 9 carried this provision. Here is the wording.
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
ARTICLE I, SECTION 9, CLAUSE 1
(Read the clause in context here.)
You may remember that this 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was mentioned in this quote at the end of last week’s article1: “Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.”2 Actually, it wasn’t entirely true that Congress had no way to restrict the trade, since the Slave Trade Clause permitted Congress to tax “such Importation” in the amount of up to “ten dollars for each Person.” Taxation certainly can be considered a form of restriction.
THE BURNING QUESTION
Still, putting this point aside for the moment, we are prompted to ask, Does the Constitution’s slave trade provision, as well as the other clauses addressing slavery, really indicate that “the new nation’s founding document sanctioned” it?
Did the Framers of the Constitution and the document they produced really sanction slavery?
It isn’t hard to find articles on the Internet that make the case that they did. Here is a small sampling of quotes.
Despite these perspectives, as we said last week, the fact that slavery continued in America for many years beyond the ratification of the Constitution may not tell the whole story. To find out more, we need to reach beyond a surface understanding of what happened in Philadelphia in 1787.
THE WORLD OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
The founders were born into a world where slavery was a part of the fabric of life. The evil of slavery came to America nearly 200 years before the Founders lived, so they cannot be held responsible for introducing it to America. While some of the Founders indeed were slaveholders, not all were, and many—even some of those who owned slaves—were troubled by the injustices of the institution. (Consider the James Madison quote cited at the top.) In fact, a majority opposed it: “It is clear that all but a tiny few of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention morally disapproved of slavery.”3 Some expressed their opposition in more than words; John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin lent their support to the growing effort to end the practice.
John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He observed that before the American Revolution and the establishment of a stable government for the independent states, very little had been done to pry the institution of slavery from American life.
It’s significant that in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included this grievance against King George III.
He [the King] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
This item was replaced in the final draft of the Declaration: “Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Still, it reflects a perspective on slavery that was quite evident among numerous delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
Many would call some of the Founders hypocrites for owning slaves, and they might even call all of them hypocrites for upholding the ideals of equality and liberty for everyone without working harder to eliminate the glaring evil around them. While I recognize the tension between belief and practice, I also believe we need to appreciate the Framers’ opposition to slavery in a world where the institution was a part of the normal course of life.
Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. The same can be said of certain personal bad habits, as well.
Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. (The same can be said of certain bad personal habits, as well.) Moreover, while eliminating slavery and the slave trade was a concern at the Constitutional Convention, it wasn’t the core purpose for which the delegates had gathered. We need to appreciate their efforts to at least forge a Constitution that, on balance, would not hinder anti-slavery efforts—one that even could pave the way for slavery’s demise.
It’s true that the Constitution of 1787 did not immediately terminate slavery in the United States, and it even allowed it to continue for the time being—but did it did not endorse slavery, either. For one thing, “not a word of the Constitution would have to be changed if the states continued to emancipate the slaves on their own.”4
There’s even more evidence along these lines. Let’s take a look. The evidence falls into several different categories, some of which we’ve already discussed.
First, any state genuinely interested in increasing its influence in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college could bolster it because of the Three-Fifths Clause. States that freed their slaves would increase their political strength; former slaves—individuals who now were free—would be fully counted.
Second, progressives can write and talk forever about how the Three-Fifths Clause strengthened the South’s representation in the House of Representatives and how it thus enhanced its ability to preserve slavery. One writer says outright, “The three-fifths compromise increased the South’s representation in Congress and the Electoral College.” (Go here for another example).
Here’s the problem. Their point is valid only if the representation afforded the South by the Three-Fifths Clause is contrasted to what the slave states’ influence would have been had slaves not been numbered in population counts at all, as delegates from the North had wished. The Three-Fifths Compromise saddled the states in the South with a weaker presence in the House of Representatives than they wanted. Gary DeMar writes,
If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as the pro-slave states wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, the slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position—47 percent.
Nowhere does the Declaration or the Constitution, for that matter, classify human beings according to the color of their skin.
Far from the principle of equality being a product of racism, it actually struck at the heart of slavery. By making equality the defining principle of the nation, the Founders hoped to put slavery on the course of its ultimate extinction.
While some of the Founders held slaves, they knew that blacks were human beings.
In a rough draft of the Declaration, Jefferson charged King George III with waging “cruel war against human nature itself” by keeping “open a market where men should be bought & sold.” [Earlier we cited the larger quote of which these phrases are a part.] By calling slaves men, Jefferson clearly recognized their humanity.
Not only did the Founders think that blacks were human beings, but they also acknowledged the wrongness of slavery in principle.
The Constitution—and, for that matter, the Declaration of Independence—are not racist documents.
Fourth, the three-fifths formula was not pulled out of thin air. Here’s the background.
It was derived from a mechanism adopted in 1783 to apportion requisitions (the national government’s only revenue source under the Articles of Confederation) among the states. That rule was intended to provide rough equality between the North and the South, and when the idea first appeared at the Convention, no one suggested that another fraction would be more appropriate.
Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, painted about 1862
People need to know the background of the final draft of this provision. The clause ensured
the return upon claim of any “Person held to Service or Labour” in one state who had escaped to another state. At the last minute, the phrase “Person legally held to Service or Labour in one state” was amended to read “Person held to Service or Labour in one state, under the Laws thereof.” This revision emphasized that slaves were held according to the laws of individual states and, as the historian Don Fehrenbacher has noted, “made it impossible to infer from the passage that the Constitution itself legally sanctioned slavery.” Indeed, none of these clauses recognized slavery as having any legitimacy from the point of view of federal law.
The wording of the Fugitive Slave Clause was carefully crafted to make it clear that slaveholding states—not the federal government—authorized slavery.
DIGGING DEEPER TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE EFFECT OF THE SLAVE TRADE CLAUSE ARTICLE I, SECTION 9, CLAUSE 1
(Read the clause in context here.)
Consider these points.
First, however terrible the 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was, it had a benefit; it established a date when Congress could act to end it. You may know that the Federalist Papers were written by several of America’s Founders to promote the ratification of the Constitution. In Federalist #38 James Madison defended this stipulation with these words: “Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old [the Articles of Confederation], it is permitted forever.”
Matthew Spalding writes, “Although protection of the slave trade was a major concession demanded by pro-slavery delegates, the final clause was only a temporary exemption from a recognized federal power for the existing states.” Furthermore, while it was true that the provision did not require Congress to pass legislation eliminating the slave trade in 1808 but permitted it to do so, on March 2, 1807, Congress did just that, and President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law. The act took effect on January 1, 1808.
Third, we should note that the final version of this guideline “limits the Congressional prohibition to the existing States thus inviting the future restriction of slavery in the territories. In this regard, it is important to note that the Confederation Congress restricted slavery in the Northwest Territories in exchange for the return of fugitive slaves. The delegates adopt this Ordinance solution as part of Article IV.” This provision read, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” See Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 in context.
NO MENTION OF SLAVERY AND NO CLASSIFICATION OF PEOPLE BY RACE IN THE CONSTITUTION
that the words “slave” and “slavery” were kept out of the Constitution. Madison recorded in his notes that the delegates “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.” This seemingly minor distinction of insisting on the use of the word “person” rather than “property” was not a euphemism to hide the hypocrisy of slavery but was of the utmost importance. Madison explained this in Federalist No. 54:
But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another—the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others—the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.
Second, it is disingenuous to claim the delegates to the Convention didn’t explicitly mention slaves or slavery in the Constitution because they were trying to preserve the practice. It is equally disingenuous to call this approach “damage control,” as one writer has.
One effect of the refusal of the delegates to explicitly mention slaves was that the Constitution referred to them as “persons,” not even as Negroes or blacks. An essay from the Heritage Foundation about the Three-Fifths Clause observes, “Even though slaves were property under the laws of the Southern states, the Constitution itself acknowledged that they were persons. In addition, by tying both representation and direct taxation to apportionment, the Framers removed any sectional benefit, and thus any proslavery taint, from the special counting rule.”
THE PROBLEM WITH DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND
It is unrealistic to assume that the Southern states would have joined the Union if delegates from Northern states had had refused to compromise and had demanded a total end to slavery in the new nation. Thus, demanding an end to slavery in the year that produced the Declaration would have put an end to the Revolution, and demanding an end to it in the year that gave rise to the Constitution would have derailed efforts to establish a unified nation. It likely would have thwarted efforts to form a nation at all. When the delegates to the Convention adjourned in September, they had reached a consensus on most of the pressing concerns. Despite their differences, they had managed to work together to complete the task they’d gathered to accomplish. No one got everything he wanted, but everyone, on occasion, got something.5 “The framers were highly focused only on Republic building, acting on the assumption that the Union was the highest good, and that ultimately all problems, including slavery, would be resolved if they could keep the country together long enough.”6
Remember too that the delegates, who now had spent months meeting at what we now know as Independence Hall, were well aware that their deliberations were only the first step in a long, difficult process. If they succeeded in offering a proposal to the states, the new nation might be established, but if the train didn’t even leave the station, so to speak, the United States of America was certain to splinter and die.
What would have been the prospects for ending slavery in the South then?
This question is among those we will consider next week.
2The editors of Time, The Making of America, (New York: Time, Inc., 2005), 83.
3William Bennett, America, the Last Best Hope: Volume 1: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, (Nashville: Nelson, 2006), 123.
5Most of the unquoted statements in this paragraph comprise a paraphrase of statements in Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, (New York: Sentinel, 2004), 116.
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Understanding the Historical Context Is Essential to Understanding the Historical Event, and Understanding the Event Is Essential to Rightly Interpreting the Present and Navigating the Future
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
―Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark―
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
― Aldous HuxleyCollected Essays―
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
On Monday, May 14, 1804, a group of more than thirty volunteers who became known as the Corps of Discovery departed in three boats from Camp Dubois in Indiana Territory for St. Charles, Missouri. There they would join Captain Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the expedition of which they had agreed to be a part. Second-in-command was Second Lieutenant William Clark.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
On May 21, the group headed west by following the Missouri River. Their mission was to explore the vast area of land the United States had acquired through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. This investment is considered one of President Thomas Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition ended 28 months after it began—on September 23, 1806, when the men returned to St. Louis. From that city, Lewis, Clark, and their companions had journeyed up the Missouri River, “across the Rocky Mountains, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.” When travel on the water was too dangerous, the explorers carried their boats on land. Sacajawea, a Native American woman they met on their journey, helped them by serving as a guide. During the expedition, the explorers and observers recorded their findings. They kept journals, drew maps, and collected samples of various plants, all of which helped to make the effort a resounding success. Having walked, hiked, ridden horses, and rowed boats, the pioneers traveled about 8,000 miles. The painting at the top was painted by by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and is titled Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition is all the more fascinating because it really happened. Yet suppose I told you that after they’d collected several unusual plant samples, Lewis and Clark sent them back to President Jefferson by Federal Express. Ridiculous? Absolutely! Even so, such an idea is no less ridiculous than some modern interpretations of past events that fail to consider the contexts of those events—the social and cultural climates of the times. It’s too bad the ridiculous nature of many modern interpretations usually is subtle, almost to the point of being undetectable. Were it more blatant, fewer people would be duped.
Many modern interpretations of historical events are just as ridiculous as the suggestion that Lewis and Clark were able, on their expedition, to send plant samples back to President Jefferson by Federal Express.
Quite often, as sloppy historians interpret the past through the lens of modern perspectives on everything from medicine to the economy to social status, they also make a multitude of unwarranted and often condescending judgments. H. L. Mencken, a writer known for his own brand of sensationalism, once said that a historian is “an unsuccessful novelist.” Unfortunately, he was all too accurate. Note as well the quotes showcased at the top of this article. As much as I disagree with Carl Sagan on a host of issues, he was absolutely right about being bamboozled. We need to realize people are bamboozled by sloppy and agenda-driven historians as well as politicians.
When studying history, follow these important guidelines: Learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do. If we will seek to do these things, the lessons we derive from history’s vaults will be far more accurate than they otherwise would.
When studying history, learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do.
In this post and the next (and possibly other posts as well) I want to consider the issue of slavery in the United States—specifically the approach the architects of the US Constitution took in dealing with this divisive and sensitive issue. I do this in part because of the recent escalation of racial tensions and incidents of violence in our country. Did our Founders intend to perpetuate slavery based on race, or did they in fact set the stage for it eventually to be eradicated? Is the Constitution a racist document, or does it reflect the Declaration’s core principles that “all men [persons, human beings] 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”?
Obviously, slavery continued in America for many years after the Constitution took effect, but this fact alone may not tell the entire story. A great deal is at stake here. The belief that the Framers of the Constitution wanted slavery to continue forever understandably will make it harder for blacks to trust governmental authorities, including police. Yet, if we dig deeper and come to understand many of the relevant historical details, we just might discover truths that can help ease some of today’s racial tensions and conflicts.
We alluded to the issues of slavery and its relationship to the Constitution in a previous post but did not have opportunity to explore it in any significant detail. Perhaps no provision in the Constitution as it was originally drafted is more misunderstood than the “Three-Fifths Clause,” which resulted from the “Three-Fifths Compromise.” While it is technically correct to say the Constitution originally authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person, this leaves the erroneous impression that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the Founders of America believed that a slave was less than a human being.
I first want to debunk the myth that the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Cause, in and of itself, is clear evidence that the Constitution’s Framers considered a black man or woman as less than a person. Then we’ll examine the Three-Fifths Clause in some detail, as well as the context in which it was adopted. I believe you’ll find our historical discoveries extremely enlightening. They will bolster your faith in the founding of our country, and in the Constitution as well.
Here’s a portion of what we said earlier about the dawn of the US government under the Constitution (not all original citations have been included here).
After the American Revolution, the thirteen states rejoiced over their independence, but they still were thirteen individual states, each of which, in many ways, acted as an individual country. Previously the war against Great Britain had united these Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and the residents of the other states, but now other matters confronted the new nation. How could the states work together? Could they establish a central government that would acknowledge states’ sovereignty, yet unify the states to address the issues that would confront them all?
An attempt was made in the Articles of Confederation. This document was drafted under the authority of the Second Continental Congress, which appointed a committee to begin the work on July 12, 1776. In the latter part of 1777, a document was sent to the states for ratification. All the states had approved it in the early part of 1781. The states now had a new central government, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. The national government was too weak. It had no executive authority and no judiciary. Too high a hurdle had been established for the passage of laws. Furthermore, the states had their own monetary systems, so understandably, buying and selling across state lines became difficult. Without free trade between the states, the national economy was severely hindered.…
Accordingly, the states were asked to send their representatives to Philadelphia in May of 1787. This meeting become the Constitutional Convention. Delegates soon realized they shouldn’t try to fix the Articles of Confederation but needed to replace it altogether. The Convention met from May 25 to September 17, 1787.
According to Article VII of the proposed Constitution, the document would become binding on all thirteen states after it had been ratified by nine. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on Saturday, June 21, 1788. The remaining states followed, but after New Hampshire’s decisive vote it was “agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.” Thus, the last two states to ratify, North Carolina and Rhode Island, did so after the Constitution already had taken effect. On November 21, 1789, North Carolina officially embraced the Constitution, and on May 29, 1790, by just two votes, Rhode Island joined the rest of the original colonies, making it unanimous.
When the Constitution was being drafted in 1787, however, ratification of the thirteenth of thirteen states was three years and a great many debates away. As they hammered out the details, delegates crafted a Constitution that differed from the Articles of Confederation in a large number of ways. One of these related to the legislative body. Some delegates, principally those from small states, felt each state should have an equal share of lawmakers. Others, mainly those from the larger states, believed that representation in the legislative body should reflect each state’s population. The Articles of Confederation had set up just one legislative body, but the new Constitution established two—the Senate and the House of Representatives. This arrangement affirmed both perspectives. In the Senate, each state, regardless of size, would have two Senators. In the House, the number of representatives from each state would be determined by that state’s population. Thus, in the House, the larger states would have more representatives than the smaller ones. For a bill to become law, it would have to pass both houses of Congress. This truly was was a brilliant approach.
Having agreed to this model, the delegates then had to adopt a formula for determining the number of representatives each state would have in the House. Delegates resolved that each state would get one Representative for every 30,000 people. Even though only men could vote, women and children were counted along with them. But how should slaves be counted? Gary DeMar writes, “The Northern states did not want to count slaves. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics in order to acquire additional representation in Congress to advance their political [pro-slavery] position.” In the end, it was agreed that in slave states, a Representative would be added for every 50,000 slaves rather than 30,000. In mathematical terms, this effectively meant that that every five slaves would count as three persons for representation purposes, so each individual slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person. This same count also was used to determine amounts states would pay in taxes as well.
As insensitive and as cruel as this may sound in our day, this was not at all about the worth of a slave as a person. Had the Southern states gotten what they wanted, every slave would have been counted as one individual. This would have resulted in a stronger pro-slavery contingent in the House. Had the Northern states gotten their way, no slaves would have been counted at all, and the anti-slavery position in the House of Representatives would have been strengthened to the greatest degree possible. Neither side prevailed. A compromise was reached.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
ARTICLE I, SECTION 2, CLAUSE 3
So, contrary to first impressions, the pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! Again, the decision to number slaves in the manner described in the Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.
The pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! The Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.
Overcoming the impression one gets when he or she hears that the Constitution authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person is difficult enough, but even many of the sources that acknowledge the Three-Fifths Clause was about counting slaves for representative and taxation purposes don’t explain what this actually meant in practical terms (as we have here). Moreover, the sources often go on to condemn, either directly or by implication, the Founders for refusing to draw a line in the sand to end slavery altogether. Consider this description of the Three-Fifths Compromise in “The Making of America: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Nation.”
The Southern states insisted that their slave populations would be counted when assigning seats in the House of Representatives, even though no one seriously considered giving the right to vote to anyone other than white men. This resulted in the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” in which 60% of a state’s slave population would be added to its free population when assigning seats in the House. Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.1
This makes it sound as if the Southern states got everything they wanted, but, in fact (as we already have said), they did not. Next week, we’ll learn even more about slavery and the Constitution at the founding of America. Among other things, we’ll consider why the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention didn’t give their pro-slavery counterparts an ultimatum.
I venture to say that anyone who gives our discussion a fair hearing will find it enlightening and eye-opening. Stay tuned.
A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age. Robert Frost
I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.
Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.
—Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament—
I love the book of Proverbs. The second to last chapter—the 30th—showcases the wisdom of Agur. This is a powerful and insightful series of sayings. Tucked away in this set of 33 verses is this gem, a prayer that makes a great deal of sense. Obviously it was prayed by a man who wanted to honor God more than he wanted to acquire wealth.
7 Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God (Prov. 30:7-9).
This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth
and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
The concluding verses of Proverbs 30 (vv. 32-33) present a much needed warning against pride.
32 If you play the fool and exalt yourself,
or if you plan evil,
clap your hand over your mouth!
33 For as churning cream produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife.
My favorite saying in the chapter, though, comes from verses 18-19:
18 There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.”
Obviously no one can trace the path of an eagle through the air, the way a snake has moved across rock, or the specific route a ship has traveled on an ocean. The sky, rock, and sea do not offer evidence of these journeys. Similarly, “the way of a man with a young woman” is mysterious and special. Inherent in these verses is a treasure trove of implied truths about men, women, and relationships between a man and a woman. Here are a few of these truths.
God created both men and women in His image, as free moral agents.
Each person is a unique individual.
Especially in male-female relationships, every person should be treated with dignity and respect. No one should be violated.
Men and women are equal in value.
Men and women are different.
Men and women complement each other.
Men and women are mysteries to each other. Just when one thinks he or she has figured the other out, that person learns such is not the case. Here might be a good place to briefly describe how this natural curiosity might bypass a boy and set the stage for same-sex attraction. Go here for a very brief summary.
In the natural order of a male-female relationship, generally speaking, the man initiates and the woman responds. This does not mean that a woman never initiates or that a man never responds, but we’re speaking here in general terms.
The reality reflected in item 8 notwithstanding, the way of a man with a young woman isn’t the only mystery; the way of a woman with a man is a mystery as well. This is especially true of the way of a wife with her husband!
A man and a woman were meant to be together, and marriage—the lifelong commitment between him and her—is the proper context for them to experience the greatest degree of satisfaction and fulfillment in their relationship.
Marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman for life should be honored by all.
These last two points are not meant to disparage single adults or imply that they are less than persons within themselves. Even so, it was on the cusp of the first wedding that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). Probably to make Adam aware that no creature God already had made was suitable for him, the Lord let Adam examine and name each one. The first man found no living being that could complement him and help him adequately. Therefore, God caused him to sleep deeply, and while he was sleeping, formed a woman from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam was pleased and said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23). Then Scripture says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:24-25).
For centuries, stable societies have honored these and other qualities evident in men and women, and they’ve respected these and other inherent dynamics in male-female relationships. Marriage was affirmed and families were supported in local communities and in nations. Children were seen as assets and avenues for making the world better and the future brighter, so sacrifice for them and investment in them was an expected part of family life. Not all was perfect, but at least government was not trying overtly to thwart what was clearly evident in nature itself.
This is no longer the case in America. It is clear that the Obama administration is wielding its authority to run roughshod over the realities of the sexes, realities that, as we have said, were for many years widely accepted and respected in this country. Unless these efforts are thwarted, the damage will be akin to the destructive power of a wildfire.
In his July newsletter to Family Talk supporters, Dr. James Dobson addresses one aspect of the Obama administration’s assault on sexual normalcy—the push for bathroom policies that open the doors of restrooms both sexes. We’ve addressed this issue in numerous earlier posts, but here I want to zero in on the apparent end game of this effort. Dr. Dobson writes,
Obama, acting like a king, is wielding dictatorial powers never envisioned in the law. He is determined to change the way males and females relate to one another, and worse, how children perceive themselves.…
Barack Obama…is a tyrant in many ways. How dare he assault centuries of modesty and moral beliefs! By what authority does he tell parents and school officials what to teach children under their care? Christian parents, does this outrageous order violate something deep within your sense of propriety? The President has already maneuvered the courts to undermine a 5,000-year-old definition of marriage, after experiencing his infamous epiphany. Now he is determined to change Western civilization forever. He becomes more reckless and defiant as his second term comes to an end. Never has an American president been so absorbed with the use and abuse of power, and unfortunately, he still has seven months to go. What’s next?
I grew up respecting the authority and dignity of the nation’s presidents. Each of them was tasked to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to protect our rights as citizens. That is what I was taught. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Harris, described for us the three branches of government, and how each division has the authority to restrain the other two according to a principle known as “checks and balances.” It made America unique among nations. But, with the complete refusal of the U.S. Congress to restrain the presidency or to curtail a runaway judiciary that is itself drunk with power, “we the people” are victimized by those who steal our freedom. Our Founding Fathers would be shocked to learn how the safeguards on our freedom have been abandoned.
My friend, Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council recently said he often is asked, “Why is the Obama administration trying to mainstream ‘transgenderism’ and force schools to accommodate students who want to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex?” Tony’s answer gets to the heart of the motive: “It’s all part of a radical movement trying to destroy the fact that God created man and woman—and somehow people can choose what gender they want to be. The ultimate goal is to break down all sexual inhibition and morality—a goal that would result in social chaos.”
The effort to mainstream “transgenderism” is part of a radical movement trying to destroy the fact that God created man and woman—and somehow people can choose what gender they want to be. The ultimate goal is to break down all sexual inhibition and morality—a goal that would result in social chaos. —Tony Perkins—
We must not miss the weight of Tony Perkins’s insight. While some might be tempted to disbelieve the Obama administration really is working toward this goal, it is difficult to conclude otherwise, given its actions in recent months.
The administration’s efforts to tear down the barriers between the sexes reached a fever pitch with the Pentagon’s announcement on June 30 that transgenders now will be allowed to serve openly in the military. We cannot dismiss the near certainty that now that the ban is lifted, the US military will fund sex change therapy and even surgery for people with gender dysphoria. This will be the case despite evidence that such surgery is counterproductive and even harmful to the individual involved. In the military, of course, many others will be affected as well, and we see no evidence that their viewpoints will be respected. An official has acknowledged that since some military personnel will be experiencing this kind of transition, bathrooms, showers, barracks, and locker rooms will be places where “mixed genitalia” are present.
Thus, not only does this policy use the military as a vehicle to accomplish agendas it never was intended to take on, it also works to destroy the core purpose of the military itself. Defense expert Elaine Donneley said,
For the Department of Defense to focus on a tiny, tiny, minority and disregard the concerns of the majority of people in the armed forces is more than irresponsible. The secretary of defense is instituting a policy that will encourage indiscipline and sexual tension and a range of problems that have nothing to do with strengthening the Armed Forces. There’s no excuse for it.
Here’s how former Lt. General Jerry Boykin begins the article in which he responds to the policy.
The announcement by Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the ban on transgenders in the military has been lifted is simply one of the greatest examples of how there is no focus on military readiness in this administration.
The US military has been at war for fifteen years and has experienced fatigue and frustration due in part to a lack of attention to their needs by the Congress as well as the Commander-in-Chief. Operating with no clear strategy to win, our military is beginning to question why they are even fighting. At a time when leaders in Congress and the White House should be moving heaven and earth to enhance readiness and providing a strategic plan for success on the battle field, the focus has shifted to social experiments with the concomitant training and education that accompanies these new programs.
Secretary Carter made no coherent case for how this will enhance the readiness of our armed forces to perform their single mission: to fight and win the nation’s wars. This will result in a distraction for commanders at all levels as they spend precious time implementing this policy.
I encourage you to read General Boykin’s entire article here. As bad as all this is, there’s even more. The new policy is poised obliterate religious liberty in the armed services. Suppose a doctor or nurse working for the military has religious objections to participating in sex change therapy or surgeries. A Pentagon official was asked about this and “replied that it’s the responsibility of [a] medical professional to serve military persons.”
Ron Crews, who is the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, responded, “It’s an understatement to say that this raises serious religious liberty concerns. The Department of Defense must ensure a service member is not forced to violate his or her conscience and that doctors and nurses who hold to a biblical view of human sexuality can serve in today’s military.” Crews also said, “Americans need to know the extreme implications of this policy. Do we want our sons and daughters to be forced to share showers and sleeping spaces in a ‘mixed genitalia’ environment with no recourse for objections of conscience?”
Tony Perkins’s observation about the administration’s push for transgender bathroom policies comes readily to mind. What could be a more effective formula for social chaos than this campaign for gender confusion in the armed forces? The military, after all, is a place where a soldier doesn’t have any say at all. He has to follow orders. She has to do her duty. Even with guidelines to preserve order, these policies will do their destructive work in breaking down the effectiveness of our national defense. Moreover, typically, social policy in the military eventually becomes public policy throughout the country.
We need to understand that Barak Obama, and Hillary Clinton as well, are both disciples of activist Saul Alinsky.
Alinsky said, “The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community.” He also said, “Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.” We see these elements in the Obama administration’s disruption and manipulation of laws and customs that have, for over two centuries, fostered stability in America. It is noteworthy that Alinsky dedicated his signature work, Rules for Radicals, to Satan himself.
Writing at Red State, Donald Ayotte reviewedRules for Radicals. He warns “every conservative or constitution minded person” to become familiar with the tactics and strategies of Alinsky’s followers. “Buy and read this book. Your adversaries have memorized it and are using the principles within tis covers to destroy our great republic. Make no mistake, the Progressive Liberals or Radicals’ goal is to tear down the republic and shred the Constitution. The problem is, they have nothing to replace it with; they are only bent on destruction.”
How, then, should we respond to the challenges we currently are facing? I believe that Dr. Dobson’s letter offers keen insight along these lines. Regarding the push to enshrine into public policy the “right” of biological men to enter women’s restrooms, Dr. Dobson writes this.
If you are a married man with any gumption, surely you will defend your wife’s privacy and security in restroom facilities. Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed like a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment? What should be done to the pervert who was using mirrors to watch women and girls in their stalls? If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!…
What is the solution to deliberate attempts to foster gender confusion and to destroy distinctions between the sexes? Not coincidentally, it largely will involve the constructive assertion of true male leadership. If the country can see this, then it will be given a golden opportunity and incentive to reject gender confusion and to affirm sex roles that align with authentic masculinity and genuine femininity. That will be liberating, indeed! Of course, women as well as men must be involved in this effort, but men, especially husbands and fathers, must step up to the plate to protect women and children—their wives, their sons, and their daughters—from the devastation that sexual anarchy surely will bring.
What is the solution to deliberate attempts to foster gender confusion and to destroy distinctions between the sexes? Not coincidentally, it largely will involve the constructive assertion of true male leadership.
Dobson continues (hyperlink has been added for clarity),
Clearly, there are serious implications here for mothers and fathers [as well]. I urge you to protect your boys and girls from those who are espousing these views. Shield them from gender feminism and from those who would confuse their sexuality. They will be under increasing political pressure in years to come.
It is also important for us as adults to understand our own sexual identities. If we don’t know who we are, our kids will be doubly confused about who they are. Any uncertainty, any ambiguity in that assignment must be seen as damaging not only to our sons and daughters but also to the long-term stability of society itself.
Finally, I urge you to base your teachings about sexuality on the Scriptures, which tell us, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Jesus, who was the first Jewish leader to give dignity and status to women, said, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” and, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5). That is the divine plan. It leaves no doubt that the Creator made not one sex but two, each beautifully crafted to “fit with” and meet the needs of the other. Any effort to teach children differently is certain to produce turmoil in the soul of a child.
We must fight to protect our homes and families from politically correct politicians who would create new entitlements that take away our liberties. There is no time to lose. Our children hang in the balance.
As I wrote in Word Foundations two weeks ago, I “believe there needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles…much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement.” Please read this post if you haven’t already, and review again if you have.
There needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles…much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement.
Only as we speak out and stand unyieldingly for the principles upon which this country was founded will we return as a nation to embrace those principles once again. While the road before us will be difficult and while the task before us may seem impossible, our God specializes in genuine miracles. With God, all things are possible—even bringing a nation back to a posture of respect for the natural mystery of “the way of a man with a young woman” (Prov. 30:18-19).
May God honor us by using us to make this miracle happen, and may we honor Him by dedicating ourselves and our resources to this noble cause. The future of our country is at stake.
A condensed version of this article is available here.
When I was growing up in the 60s, one of my favorite television shows was Lost in Space.
It must have been no surprise to my parents when I asked for a toy Lost in Space Robot for Christmas. Here is a video highlighting the features of this really cool toy.
That same Christmas, my younger sister was given a sweater that turned out to be a size or two larger than she needed. Piggy-backing on my excitement over receiving the robot, my sister wandered through the house with her arms flailing. “Warning! Warning! Too big! Too big!” she cried.
The Lost in Space Robot, of course, is known for issuing warnings.
What would Lost in Space have been like were it not for the Robot and his warnings? I’m glad we didn’t ever know!
While Lost in Space showcased warnings that had great entertainment value, some warnings are dead serious—as is the responsibility Christians have to convey certain warnings clearly and in a timely manner. Last week I affirmed that as believers, “we have been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us.” Then I lamented, “Yet I fear we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically.”
It is this need for Christians to speak prophetically that I will endeavor to address today. The need is real at both the individual and corporate levels, but for reform to be ignited, pastors will need to provide the initial spark in their pulpits. As we said last week, “we now need a host of spokesmen who will uphold God-ordained marriage!” If you are a pastor, I want to encourage you to remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word. This includes encouraging your people to love others and meet needs in Jesus’ name, but it also includes equipping them to discern truth from error and training them to effectively make the case for marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. This will include warning the church and the culture about the ominous direction our nation currently is headed.
A God-Given Duty
The classic text highlighting the responsibility of God’s spokesperson to issue warnings is Ezekiel 33:1-9.
33:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
While this passage is specific to Ezekiel’s responsibility to warn those in the path of judgment, it also reflects the duty all believers have to sound the alarm and convey urgent messages from God. This calling has a rich history in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Consider these men whom God appointed to warn the people of their generation.
God’s Spokesmen Warned Their Contemporaries
Noah. Hebrews 11:7 tells us, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” We read this verse and we’re tempted to cringe, aren’t we? The culture has so drilled into our minds that we must not judge—and we most certainly must never condemn—that we feel a bit uncomfortable with this statement about Noah. While it’s true that Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He didn’t mean for His followers to make no judgments at all. Discernment is essential. Jesus actually was telling believers not to be hypocritically judgmental.
The word translated condemned means just that—to condemn, but it also means to make others’ sins evident and conspicuous by one’s own righteous example. In Hebrews 11:7, this latter definition applies. We must never think this means Noah was arrogant, or condescending, or prideful about his righteousness or about the wickedness prevalent among his contemporaries. On the contrary, I believe he grieved for them and encouraged them to repent. In 2 Peter 2:5, Peter referred to Noah as a “herald of righteousness.” Obviously Noah proclaimed righteousness through his pure life and by building the ark in obedience to God, but he surely also must have encouraged those around him to join him on the ark before God’s judgment fell. Sadly, however, only “a few, that is, eight persons [just Noah and his family], were brought safely through water” because they took refuge in the ark (1 Pet. 3:20).
Moses. God used Moses to warn Pharaoh repeatedly about divine judgment. He also used Moses to warn the Hebrews of the coming death angel and to encourage them to run to safety by placing blood on the sides and tops of the doorways of their homes according to God’s instructions. Hebrews 11:27-28 says of Moses, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”
Jonah. We learn from the Old Testament book that bear’s Jonah’s name, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah actually wanted God to condemn the Ninevites, but the Lord went out of His way to show Jonah that he needed to be an agent of divine mercy and grace (see vv. 3-17). How did God want Jonah to be such an agent? By warning the Ninevites of God’s coming judgment! After his experience inside the fish’s belly (see chapter 2), God instructed Jonah once more to preach to Nineveh (see 3:1-2). At last, he obeyed. Jonah 3:4-10 reads in part,
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.…10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
You’d think Jonah would have been pleased with such an overwhelming response to his preaching, but he hadn’t yet learned just how deep and how wide God’s love and grace really were. God put Jonah back in the classroom. While the Lord earlier had used an animal to teach Jonah, this time He used a plant. The plant offered Jonah much needed shade at first, but then it withered and died, and Jonah was baking in the sun. When Jonah complained about the demise of the plant, God said to him, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11).
Despite Jonah’s imperfections, God used this reluctant prophet to urge the Ninevites to repent of their sins and thereby experience God’s mercy and grace.
John the Baptist. John prepared the way for the Messiah’s arrival by warning the people to repent and to change their way of living. He
went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:3-14).
Let us not forget that John also warned Herod, telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). He paid for that action with his life, but he didn’t fail to declare the truth, even to a king.
Peter. At Pentecost, a mere seven weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter preached the good news of salvation to the people in Jerusalem. His message included warnings. You can read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36. After the people heard the fisherman-turned-evangelist preach,
37 they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (vv. 37-41).
Yes, Peter warned his hearers of God’s coming judgment and encouraged them to receive divine forgiveness for their sins. In fact, here’s how the translators of the New International Version rendered Acts 2:40: “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”
Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote, Christ “we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Warnings Are an Essential Part of Effective Evangelism
We must understand that the good news about Jesus Christ is as wonderful as it is because the bad news about sin is as terrible as it is. If people don’t understand how hopeless their situations are without Christ, they surely cannot comprehend how precious and priceless God’s gift of salvation really is. In fact, it’s so valuable it could only be secured by the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.
Accordingly, warnings aren’t just appropriate. They are necessary. They’re even more necessary in our day, because, looking over the landscape of sermons preached in recent decades, we see that these messages have been bereft of biblical warnings.
Please read last week’s post to learn even more about why divine warnings about marriage are so urgent today. We could summarize this by saying that if America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage (something it clearly is doing), then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued. Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.
If America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage, then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued.Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.
As a pastor, you can help the church regain its prophetic voice by making sure you do not neglect your duty to warn God’s people and the culture at large. But what should you preach?
For over a year, I’ve been writing articles and posting them at www.wordfoundations.com. Many of these have been Bible studies that a preacher can easily adapt and use for a morning or evening sermon. I’m highlighting seven such posts here. I encourage you to consider using them in your preaching ministry in the coming weeks and months. Along with the seven, I’m also highlighting three additional posts that provide important background information. While thoroughly consistent with biblical truth, these three posts aren’t Bible studies. Even so, you may find ways to convey the information to your people, as it will enhance their understanding of the times in which they live and how they need to conduct themselves in them.
The Importance of Seeing the Big Picture—Our culture has not swallowed lies about sexuality and about marriage in a vacuum. Almost unconsciously, it traded theistic presuppositions about life for atheistic ones. Now it is embracing the conclusions that flow from those presuppositions.
Discernment Needed—Christians cannot be effectively equipped to warn others if they don’t heed the divine warnings God gives in the Bible. This study showcases numerous warnings against falling prey to the lies of the world. Make sure you and the members of your church aren’t deceived.
Clarity Needed—If you read, study, or preach just one of these messages, this is the one I hope you will choose. God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died—so for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.
If you read or preach just one of these messages, please choose “Clarity Needed.” God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died—so for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.
Esse quam videri—Esse quam videri is a Latin phrase that means “to be rather than to seem.” This article explores the ominous nature of a lie and the deadly destination to which it leads. How do we combat lies? We must counter them with the truth!
Compassion’s Mandate—Christians are told on nearly every front that refusing to accept and celebrate homosexuality and same-sex marriage is bigoted and hateful. Not so! Would a doctor who knows his patient has a deadly disease be compassionate to withhold that information? Of course not. Compassion’s mandate is to declare the truth in love.
The Supreme Court…Isn’t: Six Things the Bible Tells Us About the State—Christians need to know what the Bible teaches about government and governmental authority. This Bible study explores these teachings. Such authority is delegated by God and can be misused and abused. When government acts outside it’s God-given authority, believers have a duty to hold it accountable.
Reflections on Repentance—Repentance is seen everywhere as confining, restrictive, and burdensome. Of all people, we as believers know that on the other side of repentance is true freedom. As we present the truth to our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, we need to pray that God would open their eyes to see how refusing to repent means staying in bondage, and how repenting opens up a fresh, new world of liberty.
Keep Cultivating and Don’t Lose Heart—Declaring the truth in this culture is risky. This Bible study encourages believers to remember the eternal value of the principles they stand for over against the temporal nature of those things they are tempted to hold with a tight grip. Presenting the truth may require sacrifice, but God will bless with things far more valuable. Never give up!
Keep in mind that all of these posts were written in 2015, and many were written before the Supreme Court issued its marriage ruling. Adaptations still can easily be made. Be aware too that some internet links no longer are valid, but the material in each article still is.
I pray that this post will find its way into many pastors’ studies and many Bible study leaders’ homes. Please use this material to warn God’s people and the culture at large about the perils of the direction in which America is headed.
The writer of Hebrews issued this command and this warning to his readers—including you and me: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). If we would honor marriage, we will never withhold the truth about it from a culture that is confused and misinformed. Nor will we fail to warn people.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. —Hebrews 13:4—
Realistically, the initial sparks that will ignite reform in our country will most likely be generated by pastors. Pastor, will you fulfill your duty?
The only real security that you can have for all your important rights must be in the nature of your government. If you suffer any man to govern you who is not strongly interested in supporting your privileges, you will certainly lose them.
—Founding FatherRoger Sherman—
Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.
—Mike S. Adams, university professor, author, free speech advocate—
A woman went to her lawyer and told him she wanted to divorce her husband. “Do you have grounds?” the lawyer asked.
“Yeah, we’ve got about two acres. We have our house on it, and a garden. It’s really nice.”
The lawyer tried again. “Do you have a grudge?”
“Yes. We have a two-car garage. We keep our cars in it, as well as the mower and some tools to keep the yard up.”
The lawyer couldn’t believe what he was hearing and decided to take yet another approach. “Does your husband beat you up?”
“It depends on what’s going on,” responded the woman. “Sometimes I get up before he does and sometimes he gets up before I do. Neither one of us is much of a morning person.”
Maybe a more direct approach will work, thought the lawyer. “OK” he said, “Let me ask you this. Why do you want to divorce your husband?”
The woman threw up her arms in exasperation and cried, “Well, you just can’t communicate with the guy!”
This story is both humorous and sad, but it also reflects the cultural divide that exists in America today with regard to rights and liberty. On one side you have the liberals—or the progressives, as they like to be called—vying for “equality” and “rights.” On the other side are conservatives who only want things we also could call equality and rights—but to each side, these terms refer to different things. I am not saying that progressives or conservatives are as ditzy as was the woman who spoke to her lawyer. I am saying that when you have a situation where the same words mean different things to parties on opposite sides of an issue, the impasse that likely already exists is strengthened even more.
When a God-fearing, religious individual who is, say, a baker or a photographer, wants merely to be able to politely opt out of an opportunity to do work at or for a same-sex wedding, he or she might say to the individual requesting services, “I’m sorry, I don’t do gay weddings. The business two blocks down the street does, and it would do a great job for you.” In explaining the decision, the business owner almost certainly would affirm, “I will gladly do business with gays and lesbians in other contexts, but I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I have a right to follow my conscience and my religious convictions. It’s my First Amendment right.”
Well, the same-sex couple planning to “marry” may hear this explanation with their ears, but here is what many believe the vendor is really saying: I have a right to discriminate against you and to treat you in a manner different from my other customers. The customer concludes that hate has driven the vendor to refuse him or her the service requested. After all, what else could? Refusing to do business for a gay wedding can’t be tolerated, because everyone must tolerate—and here the definition of tolerate also means to affirm and even to celebrate—the lifestyle the ceremony is highlighting.
Why would a gay or lesbian individual respond this way? In a previous post, we observed (citations have been omitted),
[O]ne hundred years ago, people viewed homosexuality as a behavior. (By the way, this is exactly the way Scripture sees it and treats it.) Fifty years ago, society viewed it as a condition. Our culture today sees it as an identity. This is [a big] reason gays and lesbians have difficulty understanding Christians’ claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” A gay man believes, “If you hate homosexuality, you must hate me, because that’s who I am.”
Believers in man-woman marriage make a mistake when they fail to understand this perspective on the part of those working to incorporate the liberal perspective on rights into law and public policy. Understanding this point of view is not only foundational to showing genuine compassion; it’s also an essential part of effective efforts to secure conscience protections in the law. Having said that, we also must not be naïve. We have to understand that the progressive and conservative perspectives on rights and liberty cannot coexist long-term. One must emerge the winner; one must prevail over the other.
Despite what progressives believe, it isn’t hate that compels a Christian vendor to decline to do business for those wanting a same-sex wedding. Rather, it’s the vendor’s bedrock convictions about what marriage really is. Progressives make a mistake when they fail to understand this. A believer in man-woman marriage absolutely can respect gays and lesbians as persons and be a friend to them, yet disagree with them about the nature of marriage.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford are sterling examples of this perspective. Owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, they occasionally would allow their barn to be used as a wedding venue. Because of their religious beliefs, however, they turned down a lesbian couple who inquired about holding their same-sex ceremony at Liberty Ridge. The couple complained to the New York Division of Human Rights, which subsequently ruled the Giffords illegally had discriminated against the two women. The state agency levied a $10,000 fine on the Giffords, but that wasn’t all. It also ordered them to pay an additional $3,000 in damages and required them to implement classes to reeducate their staff on the definition of marriage. The content of the classes, of course, directly contradicted what the Giffords’ deeply held beliefs.
In November of 2015 when the Giffords appealed their case to a 5-judge panel at the New York Supreme Court, Cynthia said,
When the government tells you what to say and punishes you if you don’t, it’s very frightening. And all of us Americans should be scared about this, no matter where we stand on the issue.…We respect and care for everyone! We had an openly gay man working for us this past season. We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.
Unfortunately, early this year, the panel upheld the ruling of the state agency. A few weeks later, after considering the matter thoroughly, the Giffords elected not to appeal the ruling.
Do not miss what has happened here. Keep in mind that Liberty Ridge Farm is not only the Giffords’ private property, it’s also their home.1 Moreover, Cynthia and Robert Gifford don’t discriminate against homosexuals. They even had a gay man working for them! If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods. Live and let live. Isn’t this what we’ve heard from gay-rights activists for decades? Now we see that their way is really a one-way street. Only the conservative perspective allows for a true live-and-let-live approach.
If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods.
Let’s put it another way. To a large extent, at its core, this debate is about the nature of rights. If you haven’t yet read the previous post on two kinds of rights, be aware it contains information you must know to clearly understand the current debate. It is undeniable that progressives (not all, but at least some and perhaps most), are demanding that everyone agree with them and celebrate with them. Those who don’t join willingly will have to be coerced. This is how they acquire the positive rights they seek, “rights” that align with the contemporary, liberal view of rights. How different the conservative approach is! It isn’t just respectful of all, it’s consistent with the beliefs of America’s Founders. Religious business owners only want their negative rights to be honored, not just with regard to marriage, but also life. “If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one!” we’ve been told for years. Now pharmacists—even those with convictions against abortion—are being told they must dispense abortifacient drugs. And the Supreme Court, apparently, is all too willing to go along! This does not portend well for religious liberty!
A Horrific Event Rightly Sparks Outrage
An event from the early days of the civil rights movement is instructive for us with regard to these issues today. Have you heard of Emmett Till? Born in 1941, he was an African-American from Chicago. When he was 14 years old, he was visiting family in a small town called Money, Mississippi. As we might expect, the racism in the area was more intense than Till had encountered in Chicago, even though Emmett had been a student at a racially segregated elementary school in the Windy City. Till’s mother had encouraged her son to exercise caution, but his love of practical jokes caused him to make some very bad decisions.
On August 24, 1955, a Wednesday, Emmett was hanging out with some cousins and friends outside a store in the small Mississippi town. Emmett told his buddies he had a white girlfriend back home. Responding with disbelief, they dared him to go into the store and to flirt with the white woman behind the counter. On his way out of the store after buying candy, Emmett is reported to have spoken to her, saying, “Bye, baby.” The woman behind the counter was Carolyn Bryant, the store owner’s wife. She subsequently accused Till of making advances to her and of whistling at her as he strolled out of the store.
Several days later Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband, returned from a business trip. Outraged to learn about what had occurred, Bryant and a relative, J. W. Milam, went over to the home of Emmett’s great-uncle, Moses Wright, where the young man was staying. This occurred during the dark of night, at around 2:30 in the morning on August 28. They kidnapped Emmett, forced him into their car, and drove off. The men “beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water.”
Three days later, Emmett’s remains were found in the Tallahatchie River. His great-uncle was able to identify him only because the teenager had been wearing a special ring that once had belonged to Emmett’s father. History.com reports,
Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it be sent back to Chicago. After seeing the mutilated remains, she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that all the world could see what racist murderers had done to her only son. Jet, an African American weekly magazine, published a photo of Emmett’s corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up on the story.
Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murdering Emmett Till in September of 1955. Since they couldn’t be retried, they later publicly admitted they had killed the young man. The murder was even the subject of an interview in Look magazine in 1956. While the town initially supported the two men, after the Look article was published, Bryant and Milam were shunned by the community.
Emmett Till’s murder is considered to be an important catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in its early days. It occurred just one year after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools must end.
Also, biography.com notes that just one hundred days after Till’s death, Rosa Parks remained in her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama rather than surrendering it to a white passenger. Parks later said, “I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn’t go back [to the back of the bus].”
What Needs to Happen
I need to be very careful here, because my use of the story of Emmett Till’s terrible murder easily can be misunderstood. How does the Till case relate to marriage? My point is not that all progressives have had vindictive and hateful motives like those of Emmett’s killers—even though some really do want to destroy marriage and have admitted as much. I’m sure in their minds, many believe they are contending for a noble cause. The harsh reality, however, is that the results of their efforts are extremely destructive—for families, for authentic liberty, for children’s well-being, and for societal stability.
With regard to the life issue, claims to support abortion for the “noble cause” of women’s health increasingly ring hollow. How can Texas lawmakers’ efforts to enhance women’s health standards when abortions are performed be considered an “undue burden”? Well, in making abortion safe for women, the law was deemed to make an abortion of any kind harder to obtain. Are abortion advocates really in favor of unsafe abortions? One has reason to wonder.
Mamie Bradley, Emmett Till’s mother, courageously ordered an open casket at her son’s memorial service to expose the horrific results of racism. She is a model for us! We need leaders in the conservative movement who will be as bold as she was, leaders who will highlight and expose the harmful effects of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the “rights” flowing from same-sex unions, including parenting (see also this webpage). Fortunately, the number of such leaders for life has been increasing in recent years, but we now need a host of spokesmen who will uphold God-ordained marriage!
We have said that the debate over marriage is one about rights. This conflict pits those favoring limited government against those advocating increased government intervention. It is significant that the Supreme Court would, on the one hand, uphold government regulations requiring pharmacists to violate their conscience rights, yet, on the other, strike down regulations meant to protect the safety of women. We need no more evidence than this that the government has turned completely away from the Founders’ perspective on rights and is promoting the opposite of what they advocated. We’re facing tyranny because of it, and—again—we need leaders who are willing to expose this in all its ugliness!
Elections are important, and of course I believe we must elect leaders who will work diligently to return America to its founding principles (see the quote from Founding Father Roger Sherman at the top of this post). However, now more than ever, we need to see an uprising from the people themselves. It needs to be a godly uprising and a peaceful uprising, but it must be an uprising, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights era, and the likes of which gave birth to this country in the first place.
As Christians, we have been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us. Yet I fear we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically. The quote at the top from Dr. Mike Adams bears repeating here: “Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.”
Drastic Measures Required
Our Founders were eloquent, yet they were clear about citizens’ responsibilities when faced with living under an illegitimate government. This coming Monday we honor their commitment to these words and to the country they were so instrumental in founding.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
The Founders went on to say (I’m paraphrasing here) that while no steps should be taken lightly, there comes a time to take action. I’m certainly not advocating overthrowing the United States government, but I do believe there needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles—again, much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement. Some laws must be peacefully resisted through civil disobedience.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about how an otherwise law-abiding citizen could advocate breaking some laws, even as he or she obeyed others. King explained that “there are two kinds of laws: just laws…and unjust laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Pastors must help their people understand these and a host of other related biblical principles. Government has authority, but not absolute authority. Because the state’s authority is delegated, government is capable of abusing its power. It must be held accountable. Christians have duties to obey God and government, but when these two duties conflict, they must obey God. (Here is a Bible study exploring the Christian’s duty before God to the state.) By the way, in a recent book, Dr. King’s niece, Alveda King, wrote of how her uncle would be an advocate for life and natural marriage if he were alive today.
Francis Schaeffer wrote, “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation to such a tyrannical usurping of power.”
Pastors must be on the front lines of the effort to restore America to its founding principles.
Despite the potential cost, we also need more “ordinary people” who are willing to step up to the plate and stand true to their convictions, just as Cynthia and Robert Gifford, as well as others, have done. And we need to support these godly men and women and stand with them—praying for them, encouraging them, and giving to help them financially.
Of course, there are additional things we can do to set the stage for this movement.
Pray that God would raise up leaders who will, in the likeness of the prophets of old, declare His truth to the masses.
Do not let a legitimate desire to express compassion and love overshadow your duty to declare and live out the truth.
Speak up! Share your convictions in appropriate ways with family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Teach your children about worldviews and that the biblical worldview is the only one that aligns with reality.
Learn about American history and the Founders’ views on government, liberty, and rights. Teach this history to your kids. WallBuilders is an excellent resource for you to use in this effort, as is WallBuilders Live!, the ministry’s daily radio program.
Teach your children to respect governmental authority, but
warn them about how government can abuse it. Government is inefficient, costly, and has an intoxicating effect on leaders and the public. Government may look like a benefactor, but it can offer only those resources it has taken from citizens and businesses through taxes and regulations. Despite appearances, government is not compassion, but force. Government’s good intentions often have very bad unintended consequences.
Using this series of posts, educate yourself and teach your children about the difference between positive and negative rights, the perils of the former, and the liberating qualities of the latter.
Resist government handouts. Never buy a lottery ticket. The lottery is legalized exploitation of the poor—and government is orchestrating it!
Participate in the political process. Become informed about candidates, and vote according to godly principles.
Take the pledge Franklin Graham is encouraging people nationwide to take on his Decision America Tour.
We are living in challenging times. Just today, June 30, 2016, the Obama administration made an important announcement about the military. It now will lift the ban on transgenders serving openly. Here is Tony Perkins’s take on this news, courtesy of the Family Research Council’s Washington Update
While terrorism’s latest victims overwhelm Turkish hospitals and airports everywhere lock down their security, our president is ensuring that America’s military will continue be too distracted and fractured to cope with any of these crises. In a move today—one that completes the administration’s long-term project of dismantling one of the latest bastions of American tradition—Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially welcomed the gender confused into the military’s fold at a press conference formally declaring open transgenderism in the ranks of the military. The world is facing some of the greatest evil ever unleashed on innocents and the President’s plan for combatting it is letting men dress like women (and vice-versa) in our fighting force? Is this his plan for striking fear in ISIS’s hearts?
Has our nation gone completely mad? Have its leaders? We have to point our country in the direction of recovery! Let’s elect wise leaders—yes—but let’s also initiate reform from the bottom up!
I do not believe God is through with America yet, but it’s hard to think of a time when prayer and repentance were more urgently needed than they are today. God’s people need to wake up, look up, and speak up!
Will you be a part of the movement to renew and reform America?
1One is reminded of the Third Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids government from housing troops in private homes during peacetime. Many details between the two situations are different, but the significant similarity is the issue of government’s forcing private citizens to use their homes in a particular way.
Eight Reasons Obergefell Has Derailed America
The Importance of Rediscovering the Authentic American Way
[F]or avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy…the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people. I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments.
—Gouverneur Morris, signer of the US Constitution, author of large sections of the Constitution—
As I write these words on Friday, June 24, 2016, this coming weekend is sandwiched between two all-American holidays—Father’s Day and Independence Day. Let’s consider each one briefly.
In the United States, the genesis of Father’s Day as a national holiday can be traced to several events taking place in the early 20th century. One of these was a heartbreaking tragedy. On Friday, December 6, 1907, an accident occurred Monongah, West Virginia that has been called “the worst mining disaster in American history.” At 10:28 a.m. an explosion tore through two mines owned by the Fairmont Coal Company. Inside were 367 men, most of whom perished instantly. Unfortunately, those who survived the initial blast had little chance of being rescued because the support timbers and ventilation systems in the mines also were severely damaged or destroyed. Moreover, in those days, rescuers did not have life-preserving oxygen masks, so they were exposed to toxic fumes as they labored to free trapped workers. Each rescue trip had a time limit of 15 minutes. Lacking the means to sufficiently clear the mines of toxic gasses, the town lost 362 men. Only one miner was rescued while four managed to escape.
Of those who died in the Monongah Mining disaster, 250 were fathers. Their children numbered at around 1,000. Mrs Grace Golden Clayton, daughter of a Methodist pastor, had lost her own father in 1896. Mrs. Clayton was deeply touched by these losses and the struggles their families were having in the weeks and months that followed. She suggested to her pastor, Dr. Robert T. Webb, that their church, located in nearby Fairmont, hold a service to honor fathers. Later recalling the request, Mrs. Clayton said, “It was partly the explosion that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time.”
The service was held on July 5, 1908, just three days before Rev. Golden’s July 8th birthday. Many years later, in 1962, an effort was gathering steam to place a day honoring fathers on the national calendar. West Virginia Congressman Arch Moore received a letter from a gentleman named Ward Downs. Mr. Downs wrote,
It has recently come to my attention of a movement establishing a Father’s Day by an act of Congress to be observed the same as Mother’s Day. It was my privilege to have attended the first Father’s Day Service July 5, 1908 at the Williams Memorial M.E. Church, South, now the Central United Methodist Church, Fairmont, WV. The sermon was preached by Dr. R. T. Webb at the request of Mrs. Charles Clayton, a member of that congregation, and daughter of a Methodist minister. I recall the occasion very distinctly as the pulpit was decorated by having ripened sheaves of wheat placed about it. Many favorable comments by the individuals and the press were made concerning the service at that time. Any assistance you can give this movement will be very much appreciated by me and all the Methodists in this part of the country.
Despite Mr. Downs’s fond memory of the service, other events in the area, including a 4th of July celebration and the death of a young woman, overshadowed it. City and state proclamations establishing a day to honor fathers, therefore, weren’t a top priority at the time.
Another effort to honor fathers was spearheaded by Sonora Smart Dodd in Spokane, Washington. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran. As a single dad he had raised six children. Having heard in 1909 about Anna Jarvis’s efforts to establish a special day honoring mothers, Dodd told her pastor she believed fathers should be similarly recognized. Because her father’s birthday was June 5, Dodd suggested that date. More time was needed for preparation of sermons, however, so the recognition was held on June 19, 1910. The Spokane YMCA hosted the event. Making it official, the mayor of Spokane and the Governor of Washington State issued proclamations.
Additional efforts were made at various times and places to set aside a day to honor fathers, but it wasn’t until 1966 that a presidential proclamation was issued establishing a national holiday called Father’s Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued that proclamation.
Six years later, on May 1 of 1972, President Nixon issued a proclamation echoing an April, 1972 joint resolution of Congress that from that point forward, Father’s Day would be commemorated nationwide every year on the third Sunday in June.
Consider these statements in Nixon’s proclamation.
To have a father—to be a father—is to come very near the heart of life itself.
In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity. In fatherhood we even sense the divine, as the Scriptural writers did who told of all good gifts coming “down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”—symbolism so challenging to each man who would give his own son or daughter a life of light without shadow.
Our identity in name and nature, our roots in home and family, our very standard of manhood—all this and more is the heritage our fathers share with us. It is a rich patrimony, one for which adequate thanks can hardly be offered in a lifetime, let alone a single day. Still it has long been our national custom to observe each year one special Sunday in honor of America’s fathers; and from this year forward, by a joint resolution of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, that custom carries the weight of law.
So, in the histories of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we see that honoring one’s parents and celebrating one’s family are authentic American traditions. Yet today, these holidays threaten the politically correct message that the Left wishes to promote. The conservative information site conservapedia.comstates of Father’s Day,
There has been liberal opposition to Father’s Day, wanting to replace it with “Family Day”. This concept was created in Canada due to the legislation of same-sex “marriage” as it was felt to be unfair to adopted children of same-sex couples. Such a move has been opposed by many normal parents who do not want to see this tradition being overtaken by political correctness. The Liberal opposition do not seem to care about honoring the role of the father, which is highly important for the support and the guidance for children.
Nor do the liberal opposition seem to care that same-sex marriage deprives children adopted by same-sex parents of either a mother or a father—by design! President Herbert Hoover was absolutely right when he observed, “Children are our greatest natural resource.” Walt Disney said something very similar: “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”
Because they are unnatural, the unions forged by same-sex marriage cannot bring children into the world. Moreover, depriving children of either a mother or a father by design will have severe repercussions for a nation’s future. I am not saying here that parents in same-sex unions cannot love their children; of course they can—and they do! What I am saying is that men and women are different. No man ever can be a mother, nor can any woman truly be a father.
What about single parents? They obviously meet their children’s needs as best they can, and many of them are fabulous parents. We who are not in their shoes may well wonder how they do all they do as well as they do in less-than-ideal situations. Even so, a single-parent home doesn’t eliminate the concept of a mom and dad! Same-sex marriage destroys that concept, to the detriment a nation’s children and that nation’s future. Together, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day affirm the absolute best design for the family. We have departed from it at great cost, and it is imperative that we return.
In the United States, Father’s Day can come as early as June 15 (19 days before Independence Day) or as late as June 21 (13 days prior).
Independence Day, of course, commemorates the ratification of the declaration of the American Colonies’ independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence showcases the date of July 4, 1776, although July 4 actually wasn’t the date signatures were affixed.
In the early days of the republic, Independence Day was not merely a national birthday celebration. It was a sacred day. Hear these words from an oration delivered in Newburyport, Massachusetts on July 4, 1837 by former President John Quincy Adams. At the time, Mr. Adams had already been president (1825-1829) and was representing Massachusetts’s 12th district in the US House of Representatives.
Why is it, Friends and Fellow Citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it, that, entering upon the sixty-second year of our national existence, you have honored with an invitation to address you from this place, a fellow citizen of a former age, bearing in the records of his memory, the warm and vivid affections which attached him, at the distance of a full half century, to your town, and to your forefathers, then the cherished associates of his youthful days? Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day?…
Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?
Cast your eyes backwards upon the progress of time, sixty-one years from this day; and in the midst of the horrors and desolations of civil war, you behold an assembly of Planters, Shopkeepers and Lawyers, the Representatives of the People of thirteen English Colonies in North America, sitting in the City of Philadelphia. These fifty-five men, on that day, unanimously adopt and publish to the world, a state paper under the simple title of ‘A DECLARATION.’
The object of this Declaration was two-fold.
First, to proclaim the People of the thirteen United Colonies, one People, and in their name, and by their authority, to dissolve the political bands which had connected them with another People, that is, the People of Great Britain.
Secondly, to assume, in the name of this one People, of the thirteen United Colonies, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the Laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God, entitled them.
You can read former President Adams’s complete speech here. We’ve quoted enough of it, however, to be reminded of the importance of this phrase in the Declaration of Independence: the laws of nature and of nature’s God. This phrase takes on even greater significance today, in 2016, as politically correct voices repudiate these two forces in both words and actions.
The One-Year Anniversary of an Ominous Event
It’s ironic that sandwiched in between Father’s Day and Independence Day—this year almost precisely in the middle—is June 26, the one-year anniversary of perhaps the most egregious overreach of the United States Supreme Court. As you are no doubt aware, on June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, striking down laws nationwide that limited the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ruling came just two days shy of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, an event that militant homosexual rights advocates point to as a turning point and an historical coalescing of their movement.
President Obama has designated June as LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Pride Month in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016—each year he has been in office. As one would expect, his most recent proclamation (2016) speaks of Obergefell in glowing terms.
Last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality in all 50 States was a historic victory for LGBT Americans, ensuring dignity for same-sex couples and greater equality across State lines. For every partnership that was not previously recognized under the law and for every American who was denied their basic civil rights, this monumental ruling instilled newfound hope, affirming the belief that we are all more free when we are treated as equals.
During the past several weeks, we have demonstrated that the “right” to same-sex marriage is based on a philosophy of rights that stands in direct opposition to the philosophy of rights embraced by America’s Founders. In summary, we can confidently say that man-woman marriage deprives no one of his or her civil rights, and to suggest that it does is to totally misrepresent the truth about marriage, the family unit, American history, liberty, authentic freedom, cohesiveness in society, and all the rights afforded to individuals by nature and nature’s God.
Man-woman marriage deprives no one of his or her civil rights, and to suggest that it does is to totally misrepresent the truth about marriage, the family unit, American history, liberty, authentic freedom, cohesiveness in society, and all the rights afforded to individuals by nature and nature’s God.
As you may recall, on the evening of June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell,the Obama administration went out of its way to express support for the decision by lighting the White House in rainbow colors.
We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness.’ Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld these ideals. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.
“Gay Pride” celebrations occur frequently in June, and many will be held this coming weekend, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, St. Petersburg, and Nashville. Please pray about these events and for those who participate in them, that they will come to see the truth and that they’ll recognize the perilous risk thrust upon America and America’s children by same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
Pray for another event as well. Thankfully, homosexual rights advocates aren’t the only ones expressing their point of view—but you’d never know this by listening to the mainstream press. On Saturday, June 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the annual March for Marriage will take place at the National Mall in Washington, DC. No amount of maneuvering on the part of government can change the reality that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, but pretending marriage is anything else will cause great harm, and we need to be unafraid to articulate this truth.
On this weekend marking the one year anniversary of Obergefell—a foreboding anniversary situated between the authentic American holidays of Father’s Day and Independence Day—I’d like to demonstrate that same-sex marriage and the positive rights flowing from it are wholly un-American. They’re even anti-American. Consider these eight realities.
First, the real American way embraces free speech and open debate in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, at the founding of the country, free speech and personal integrity were so cherished that no one thought of trying to adjust his or her position so as to attract a greater number.
Modern Americans are assaulted by misguided calls for “bipartisanship,” a code word for one side ceding its ideas to the party favored by the media. In fact, however, [Founding Father James] Madison detested compromise that involved abandoning principles, and, in any event, thought the Republic was best served when factions [groups with opposing viewpoints, especially political parties] presented extreme differences to the voters, rather than shading their positions toward the middle. The modern moderate voters—so highly praised in the media—would have been anathema to Madison, who wanted people to take sides as a means of creating checks and balances. 1
Thus, while at the time of the founding rigorous debate was considered healthy, with Obergefell, the Supreme Court effectively choked it off! As Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissent (citations have been omitted to enhance readability),
The majority [of this court making this decision] apparently disregards the political process as a protection for liberty. Although men, in forming a civil society, “give up all the power necessary to the ends for which they unite into society, to the majority of the community,” they reserve the authority to exercise natural liberty within the bounds of laws established by that society. To protect that liberty from arbitrary interference, they establish a process by which that society can adopt and enforce its laws. In our country, that process is primarily representative government at the state level, with the Federal Constitution serving as a backstop for that process. As a general matter, when the States act through their representative governments or by popular vote, the liberty of their residents is fully vindicated. This is no less true when some residents disagree with the result; indeed, it seems difficult to imagine any law on which all residents of a State would agree. What matters is that the process established by those who created the society has been honored.
That process has been honored here. The definition of marriage has been the subject of heated debate in the States. Legislatures have repeatedly taken up the matter on behalf of the People, and 35 States have put the question to the People themselves. In 32 of those 35 States, the People have opted to retain the traditional definition of marriage. That petitioners disagree with the result of that process does not make it any less legitimate. Their civil liberty has been vindicated.
Second, the debate over conscience rights isn’t a debate over whether or not same-sex couples will be allowed to “marry.” No same-sex couple wanting a ceremony has been or will be unable to arrange it; every gay and lesbian couple has complete freedom to orchestrate the outcome they want. Yet if they honor the conscience rights of religious vendors, they may not be able to have a particular vendor for one job or another. Is it truly the American way to single people out and force them to act against their most deeply held convictions? Of course not! As we noted last week, and as Founding Father James Madison declared, “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”
Third, generally speaking, those who have objected to hosting or otherwise participating in same-sex weddings or civil unions have not hesitated to do business with homosexuals in a wide variety of other contexts. Nevertheless, they believe it wrong to lend their talent and other resources for a “marriage” ceremony—or any ceremony, for that matter—solemnizing a same-sex union. Therefore, the debate isn’t about discrimination against a group of individuals, but about whether or not what one believes about marriage will prevent him or her from acting peacefully on that belief.
Fourth, conscience rights aren’t new, but a part of America’s heritage. Conscience rights are negative rights consistent with the Founders’ view of liberty and limited government. As Justice Thomas indicated in his dissent, the “right” of members of the same sex to “marry” involves government intervention inconsistent with Founding principles and with the Constitution. You may recall that Thomas wrote,
Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect.
Fifth, “Anti-discrimination” laws that essentially say any and all vendors must participate in a same-sex ceremony aren’t really anti-discrimination laws at all. As we have noted, in other contexts, those who object to participating in a same-sex ceremony will gladly and cheerfully do business with gays and lesbians. Thus, rather than leveling the playing field, such laws give homosexual activists carte blanche to target specific vendors and to force them to participate in ceremonies they find objectionable. This makes an absolute mockery of the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The positive “rights” flowing from Obergefell make a mockery of the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws.”
During the years that led up to the Supreme Court’s decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, proponents of same-sex marriage would repeatedly ask this rhetorical question: “Just how is my same-sex marriage going to affect you?” They were making the case that same-sex marriage is a private affair between two consenting adults. The denial of either a father or mother to every child adopted by a same-sex couple is a whole other issue, but activists were appealing to heterosexual adults and making the case that even if they didn’t agree with same-sex marriage, they personally would not be affected by it in any way.
Now we know that a growing number of people are being directly affected. Many are being threatened; some may even lose their livelihoods. Do not be fooled. Forced compliance to the militant gay agenda will not be limited to photographers, bakers, florists, artists, wedding planners, and venue operators. We ought to see this clearly now, especially in light of the push to give biological men who identify as women access to women’s restrooms. Where will it stop? We need to understand that unless we as a nation regain a solid moral footing, it won’t stop! This is blatantly un-American. In fact, it is tyranny.
Sixth, moral objections to homosexuality aren’t new, so homosexual activists can’t claim someone has recently invented a new rationale to discriminate against the gay community. As Eric Metaxas writes,
American freedom is, of course, nothing like pure and unmitigated freedom—which would indeed be anarchy and no freedom at all. True freedom just be an “ordered freedom,” at the center of which is what we call “self-government.” So to be clear: People would not have freedom from government, but would have freedom from tyrannous government, or from government that might easily become tyrannous.”2
Yet today, as we have seen, government has thrown off many of the constitutional restraints that otherwise would prevent it from acting in a tyrannical manner.
Seventh, evidence from the health sciences raises red flags about homosexual activity and, therefore, about legitimizing homosexuality through same-sex marriage. The American way of free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas is not prevailing on this issue today. In our politically correct climate, even professionals with proven track records have hit a brick wall in their efforts to uphold safety and good health by presenting the truth.
Eighth, the belief that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman has been upheld in the civilized world for thousands of years and never was considered a bigoted position until very recently. Furthermore, those who contend this is an unfairly discriminatory point of view can offer no real evidence that gays and lesbians have been harmed by this perspective. Advocates of same-sex marriage make emotional appeals when they claim “discrimination” and call those who disagree with them names. But the evidence is on the side of those who believe marriage to be a lifelong heterosexual union. Also, it is undeniablechildren do best when they are brought up in homes by their married moms and dads. Listen to this one-minute clip.
The burden of proof for the notion that man-woman marriage is a bigoted position should rest on advocates of same-sex marriage. Simply calling those who disagree with them bigots is no proof. The Supreme Court’s ruling shuts off spirited, healthy, substantive debate and effectively acts to shut up proponents on one side of this issue. Again, this is un-American.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recognize our country as the “land of the free and the home of the brave” (a quotation from the “Star-Spangled Banner”)—and to believe that she even remotely has the capacity to “confirm thy soul in self-control; thy liberty in law” (a quotation from “America the Beautiful”). It is imperative that we rediscover the authentic American way. We must never give up hope that we can return to the ideals embraced by America’s Founders. After all, our God is God of miracles.
Still, we must pray for America, because if God doesn’t act, things are looking pretty desperate.
Next week, in our eighth and final article in this series, we’ll consider ways that, with God’s help, we can lead our country back to the principles on which it was built.
How the Government Is Bulldozing Over Conscience Rights to Secure All the “Rights” Associated with Same-Sex Marriage
Our Constitution—like the Declaration of Independence before it—was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from—not provided by—the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside.
—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent on the Obergefell ruling—
Last week we began to examine Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Obergefell, the case in which five Supreme Court Justices—a razor-thin majority—struck down the all laws in the United States that limited the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Thomas’s dissent rests on the solid foundation of the Founders’ perspective on liberty and rights. For your convenience and review, here is the first paragraph of his dissent.
The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787 [when the Constitution of the United States was drafted and sent to the states for ratification], liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.
Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. —Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—
It is helpful here to recall our prior discussion about negative and positive rights. Negative rights are the rights we enjoy because government is restricted from forbidding or hindering personal activity. Positive rights are “rights” that are secured when government intervenes in citizens’ lives to give them resources or to otherwise enable them to do certain things. America’s Founders upheld the former and abhorred the latter, and they were right to do both. Accordingly, they drafted and ratified the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, which secured foundational rights of citizens through government limitations.
The Founders, you see, believed the number one purpose of government was to protect property. Really, they did—yet we need to understand all they meant when they used the word property. Historian David Barton, his son Tim Barton, and former Texas legislator Rick Green discuss this very issue on the May 17, 2016 broadcast of the radio program WallBuilders Live! The elder Barton first cites numerous examples in which individuals’ rights to speak and act according to their convictions are being trampled—and he points to the release of the 2016 edition of Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, which documents hundreds of examples in which people have been denied their Constitutional rights as Americans. The three-man broadcast team forcefully demonstrates that this is not the America our Founders established. (For your convenience, the entire program is available at the end of this post.)
Tim Barton: [Founding Father] James Madisonsaid government is instituted to protect property of every sort. So the reason government exists is to protect our property. And there are a whole slew of things that are identified as property. In fact, your money was something that was identified as that, as your own private property. So the government cannot come and take your money. That’s your private property. Well, James Madison said conscience is the most sacred of all property. So the property that was the most sacred, that government is instituted to protect…is your right of conscience.
David Barton: Now, consider that. The most sacred of all property is conscience, so while we look at a store being robbed, a kid going into a store and shoplifting, we say, get the kid, nail him, he can’t take private property. It’s not his property. It belongs to somebody else. We watch a kid take a baseball bat and whack at somebody else’s car, we say he’s got to pay for the damages; he can’t destroy somebody else’s property. We watch a robber go into a house with a gun; we say he can’t do that; that’s not his property. We yell when the government takes private property. Eminent domain. They can’t do that; they’re not allowed [to do that].
More important than all of that is the government can’t take away from you your right to hear from God, to believe what God told you, and to act on what God said. That’s more important than stopping a robber that comes into your home; protecting that right is more important than stopping a shoplifter; protecting that right is more important than keeping a kid at school from stealing stuff out of your locker or taking your billfold—but we don’t look at it that way. But that’s the way the Founding Fathers looked at it.…The number one purpose for government is to protect property, and the number one property to protect is the rights of conscience. Which means there should be no religious hostility going on—
Rick Green: But it’s happening!
David Barton: and yet we have it now [in abundance].
Conscience rights, therefore, are sacred; and they’re essentially rights to exercise your religious beliefs freely, without hindrance from the government. With the founding of America, especially through the First Amendment to the US Constitution, “government essentially said, Yes, be religious. We will not only tolerate it; we will respect it and we will encourage it. But we cannot take sides or put our thumbs on the scales. But the understanding of this has been lost to many in modern America.”1
Against this historical backdrop, we can better understand Justice Thomas’s dissent, and just how extreme and unconstitutional the Obergefell ruling really is. Thomas expounds eloquently and powerfully on his opening paragraph. He writes,
Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in same-sex relationships. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace. They have been able to hold civil marriage ceremonies in States that recognize same-sex marriages and private religious ceremonies in all States. They have been able to travel freely around the country, making their homes where they please. Far from being incarcerated or physically re- strained, petitioners have been left alone to order their lives as they see fit.
Nor, under the broader definition, can they claim that the States have restricted their ability to go about their daily lives as they would be able to absent governmental restrictions. Petitioners do not ask this Court to order the States to stop restricting their ability to enter same-sex relationships, to engage in intimate behavior, to make vows to their partners in public ceremonies, to engage in religious wedding ceremonies, to hold themselves out as married, or to raise children. The States have imposed no such restrictions. Nor have the States prevented petitioners from approximating a number of incidents of marriage through private legal means, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.
Instead, the States have refused to grant them governmental entitlements. Petitioners claim that as a matter of “liberty,” they are entitled to access privileges and benefits that exist solely because of the government. They want, for example, to receive the State’s imprimatur on their marriages—on state issued marriage licenses, death certificates, or other official forms. And they want to receive various monetary benefits, including reduced inheritance taxes upon the death of a spouse, compensation if a spouse dies as a result of a work-related injury, or loss of consortium damages in tort suits. But receiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of “liberty” that the Framers would have recognized.
Thus, same-sex marriage by itself violates the Framers’ concept of liberty and rights. This reality is bad enough, but as we have seen in the year since the Obergefell ruling was issued, enshrining this positive right into the practice of American culture has, more than any other governmental action, strengthened the movement for a whole host of additional counterfeit rights—positive rights that trample on the negative—and authentic—rights of ordinary citizens.
This truth was not lost on Justice Thomas (citations have been omitted to enhance readability).
Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.…
Numerous amici [legal briefs advising this Court]—even some not supporting the States—have cautioned the Court that its decision here will “have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty.” In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.
The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition.
Writing for the majority of justices in Obergefell, Justice Anthony Kennedy had said,
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.
What?! Advocate with utmost, sincere conviction?! Teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths?! The “proper protection” afforded in the First Amendment clearly allows citizens to do things far more substantive than these! Justice Thomas continued in his dissent, poking holes in Kennedy’s weak view of conscience rights and religious liberty.
Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons…as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.
On a side note, we need to be aware that it isn’t just the Supreme Court that is refusing to wholeheartedly affirm freedom of religion. Last year in New York City at the sixth annual Women in The World Summit, Hillary Clinton was talking about abortion when she declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so women can have increased access to “reproductive health care.” One cannot dismiss the idea she feels the same way about convictions that homosexuality is a sin, because she also said, “We move forward when gay and transgendered women are embraced as our colleagues and friends, not fired from their jobs because of who they love.”
Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find a growing number of examples of what Justice Thomas called “civil restraints…upon religious practice.” Let’s start with this video prepared by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen highlight a great many more examples in their book, You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe. In the first chapter alone, they tell the stories of
Julia Ward, a student at Eastern Michigan University.
Although the above list is long, it isn’t exhaustive. Moreover, defenders of religious liberty continue to join the front lines, even since the recent publication of You Will Be Made to Care on February 22 of this year. Read here and here about Brush and Nib Studio and its owners, Joanna Duka and Breanna Kossi. Thankfully, Alliance Defending Freedom works with clients in proactive strategies as well as defensive ones. In this particular case, ADF is standing in opposition to an unjust Phoenix, Arizona law before it is used against these talented business owners.
Truly, these are men, women, and ministries of whom the world is not worthy (see Heb. 11:37-38). We can thank God for their stands!
Nearly all of these cases are about sex. Erickson and Blankschaen are forthright in their assessment:
Progressives are rabidly committed to expanding the freedom to express oneself sexually without consequences and without criticism. In fact, their right to feel good about their sexual expression trumps your right to express your beliefs about it. You are required to approve and even help them celebrate—or you can lose your job, your business, your chosen career, your home, and even your dog. The sexual revolution ideology of the 1960s means that personal feelings outweigh the transhistorical truths that have fostered the flourishing of all humanity.…4
But where are the actual examples of attacks on the rights of gays—to earn a living, to own a business, to finish a college degree, to create and maintain organizations defined by their beliefs, or to work as a pharmacist, baker, or photographer? No sexual identity, no amount or degree of even the most “transgressive” sexual expression makes you unfit for those rights in America today. No right-wing Christian zealot is trying to take them away. The Left cries “discrimination: against homosexuals and makes wild comparisons to Jim Crow Laws—a logically incoherent comparison that insults the great civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. But no one can point to any real incident in which a person has been denied service because of his or her sexual orientation. Refusing to help celebrate a gay wedding or to provide a bed in one’s own home for lesbian sex is simply not the same things as discrimination against persons. It’s simply a refusal to be drafted onto the opposing side. An objection to being made to care.5
All of this is, of course, un-American. It’s even anti-American. Next week, we’ll elaborate on this point. We’ll list several specific ways same-sex marriage and the “rights” that are flowing from it are effectively working against genuine liberty and other American ideals—how they are pushing our nation toward tyranny. In one sense our discussion will be a review, but in another, it will help us put a “handle” on where we are as a nation.
If we understand and heed the warning signs, perhaps we can change course.