“We were a nation founded upon, not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Constitution.”
So said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at the second Conservative Political Action Conference held this year with the theme “Awake, Not Woke.”
The conference was held Aug. 4-7 in Dallas and featured a who’s who of conservative politics — including Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, Steve Bannon, Lauren Boebert, Ben Carson, Matt Gaetz, Sarah Palin, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and many more.
While one might assume Patrick’s views are out of the mainstream, polling data suggest otherwise.
“48.3% of Republican evangelical Protestants … believe that ‘The U.S. Constitution was inspired by God and reflects God’s vision for America.'”
According to Pew Research Center, 72% of Republican Mormons, 56.3% of Republican Orthodox, 48.3% of Republican evangelical Protestants, and 28% of Republican Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants believe that “The U.S. Constitution was inspired by God and reflects God’s vision for America.”
‘A divinely inspired document’
This theme of the U.S. Constitution being divinely inspired is not new to conservative gatherings. At a local “Appeal to Heaven Rally” in my hometown of Greenville, S.C., a local businessman named Mark Lynch prayed, “We’ve dishonored you, Lord, by not standing for our own United States Constitution that you divinely wrote for us.”
Josh Mandel, who served as treasurer of Ohio from 2011 to 2018 and ran for U.S. Senate in 2022, tweeted, “The Bible and the Constitution are not supposed to be separate,” and added that, if elected, he would vote “with the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.”
Michael Flynn, a former National Security Adviser to Donald Trump, said in an interview: “About 75% to 80% of the Constitution was created, and I use that word specifically, by the Bible itself. … The Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments are the promises that we make to each other. When you really dig in and you list and you read the Bill of Rights and you list and read the Ten Commandments, those are promises that we make. And then the fulfillment of those promises are the Constitution and the Bible. That’s how we get fulfillment of those promises.”
During a hearing of the January 6 Select House Committee, Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers testified, “It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired.”
And even Rep. Liz Cheney, who has been considered a more moderate voice of reason within the Republican Party, affirmed: “We also have been reminded what it means to take an oath under God to the Constitution, what it means to defend the Constitution. … And we were reminded by Speaker Bowers that our Constitution is indeed a divinely inspired document.”
A report published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty cites a strong association between those who believe “the founding documents of the United States are divinely inspired” and those who believe “Black Lives Matter and Antifa started the violence and that President Donald Trump was not to blame” for the Jan. 6 insurrection. It also found that “Americans who embrace white Christian nationalism are more likely to … oppose any federal gun control restrictions due to belief that the Second Amendment is divinely inspired.”
And Alex Jones, the far-right conspiracy theorist who was ordered to pay $45.2 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim for defamation, said at a “Rally for Revival” event: “There is a God that inspired our republic.”
Paralleling the Constitution and the Bible
These ways of speaking about the Constitution and the Bible in similar language are not merely modern ideas that became mainstream after Trump’s time in office. They go back much further.
Alexander Campbell was a 19th century writer who led a Baptist association of churches, edited the Christian Baptist journal, and became famous for his leadership in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
In his book The Christian System, Campbell framed the kingdom of God with “constitutional elements,” paralleling covenants described in the Bible with the constitution of the United States.
Regarding the law in the Hebrew Bible, Campbell said: “A constitution, political, moral and religious, was submitted to the people; and on their adoption of it, they became the covenanted people of God. This constitutional kingdom was built upon precepts and promises; and its worship when fully developed was little more than the extension of the family worship to one great national family. They had one king, one high priest, one national altar, one national house of God, one morning and evening service, one great national sacrifice, and one great annual atonement. The nation was a family of families, and whatever pertained to a single family in its family worship was extended and accommodated to this great confederate family.”
He said when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, he spoke of being born again. And so Campbell talked about “political regeneration” and illustrated it in a pretend conversation between Columbus and an immigrant called A.B., paralleling Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:
A.B. — “Born again!” said he, in a disappointed tone to Columbus. … “What do you mean by being born again?”
Columbus — “You must be naturalized, or adopted as a citizen; or, what we call born again.”
A.B. — “I do not understand you. How can a man be born when he is grown?”
Columbus — “That which is born of Great Britain is British, and that which is born of America is American. If, then, you would be an American citizen, you must be born of America.”
You can imagine how the rest of the conversation goes.
Contrasting the Constitution and the Bible
Once the Twitterverse realized what Patrick had said at CPAC, the responses were swift and strong.
Robert Briggs, president of Reformed Baptist Seminary, wrote, “Let’s be clear! The Constitution was not written by God. Good as it is, ONLY the BIBLE is the word of God. This is simply a ridiculous statement.”
Lisa Spencer of Reformed Margins added, “The only God-breathed document is the Bible.”
“This is not conservativism. It’s blasphemy.”
Jeff Weisner, pastor of North Point Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, tweeted: “If you ‘Amen’ this, you may not be a Christian. God has spoken exclusively through his creation (Ps 19:1-6), his inscripturated Word (2 Tim 3:16), and his Son (Heb. 1:2). The U.S. Constitution is NOT a divinely inspired document. This is not conservativism. It’s blasphemy.”
Even Bill Kristol, a conservative writer and former chief of staff to the vice president, weighed in: “Nope. We the people wrote the Constitution: ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, [etc.], do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’ Word not found in the text of the Constitution: God.”
The Bible, the Constitution and slavery
While the approach of many conservatives was to contrast the divine inspiration of the Bible with the human writing of the Constitution, the approach of other conservatives and progressives was to focus on the ethical dilemma surrounding slavery in the Constitution.
Zack Lambert, a progressive pastor who serves at Restore Austin in Texas, tweeted: “My God didn’t write the 3/5ths Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Clause, the Indian Commerce Clause, or any other part of the Constitution. And y’all wonder why people, especially millennials and gen z folks, are leaving the church in droves.”
“My God didn’t write the 3/5ths Compromise, the Fugitive Slave Clause, the Indian Commerce Clause, or any other part of the Constitution.”
Joel Rainey, a conservative pastor from Covenant Church in West Virginia, echoed Lambert’s concerns: “God doesn’t write things that: states some people only count as 3/5 of a person; has to be repeatedly amended (i.e. corrected) over a short 230 yr. period.”
Both these responses are breaths of fresh air compared to John MacArthur’s view that slavery is “the perfect scenario.”
But do these statements accurately reflect what the Bible says or how the Bible was written?
While the Bible may not label slaves as 3/5ths human, it does call slaves “property.”
While the Bible may not grant rights to capture escaped slaves, it does call for the killing of everyone but 32,000 virgin girls who can be taken as booty. In Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?: Wrestling with Troubling War Texts, authors William Webb and Gordan Oeste admit that this passage is speaking of war rape but claim they’ve discovered “some surprisingly positive developments around war rape” because the rape didn’t happen during battle, wasn’t glorified in art and didn’t reduce the rape victims to prostitution.
While the Bible may not have been repeatedly amended over a short 230-year period, its theology was re-imagined over an approximately 1,300-year period. Even conservatives admit this in their own way, while branding its evolution as “progressive revelation” or as “different dispensations.” More progressive theologians, such as Peter Enns, chalk up these inconsistencies to “the cultural language used for God at the time,” pointing to differences between the books of Jonah and Nahum or between the books of Chronicles and the books of 1 Samuel through 2 Kings as written during different times with different questions in relation to the Babylonian exile.
The fact is that the Bible and the U.S. Constitution carry far more similar problems than many Christians are willing to admit.
“The fact is that the Bible and the U.S. Constitution carry far more similar problems than many Christians are willing to admit.”
Comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart said on his show The Problem With Jon Stewart: “This is an ideology in search of a justification. And the reason they call themselves originalists is the same reason they quote the Bible. It’s dogma. It’s dead people. It’s people that you cannot argue with. It’s fundamentalism. It’s saying, ‘This text is sacrosanct.’”
It’s easy to jump on Christian nationalists who claim God wrote the Constitution. What is more difficult for Christians, however, is looking in the mirror to reflect on how we view ancient documents as static authorities in light of the evolution of the cosmos.
Adapting to survive
In her book The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey, Ilia Delio says: “The narrative of nature can be summed up in one word: evolution. We are evolutionary nature on the level of self-consciousness. … Consciousness has rapidly complexified, giving rise to new integrated levels that can now be identified as global consciousness and planetary consciousness. While computer technology has enhanced the rate of evolution, most human support systems, including religious, educational and political systems, are still structured according to a static, fixed model of closed systems, the Newtonian paradigm of the autonomous individual.”
On the surface, what we are seeing in the white evangelical theological conversation today is a debate about whether the U.S. Constitution is inspired like the Bible is. But what’s really going on at a much deeper level is a struggle of complexifying consciousness that is evolving its understanding of whether or not or how ancient documents are authoritative while religious, educational and political systems attempt to remain static.
Peter Enns illustrates how Delio’s view of evolution is reflected in the Bible itself in his book How the Bible Actually Works. He says adapting over time “is part of the biblical fabric, baked into its pages, and a crucial yet overlooked aspect of the Bible’s character as a book of wisdom rather than a once-for-all book of rules and static information. The Bible in that respect is more like a living organism than a carved tablet.”
As a result of what the Bible’s authors model for us in their wrestling with God and the questions of their time, Enns says: “We follow the lead of these writers not by simply reproducing how they imagined God for their time, but by reimagining God for ourselves in our time. … The idea of reimagining God as times and circumstances change should, therefore, not strike us as odd or the least bit troubling — our Bible is full of reimagining. Without it, there wouldn’t be a ‘New’ Testament or a Christian faith tradition. The entire history of the Christian church is defined by moments of reimagining God to speak here and now.’”
What doesn’t evolve eventually dies. Lambert is correct in pointing to the mass exodus of young people from white evangelical churches. But the reasons we’re leaving go deeper than Republican politics and Christian nationalist views of the U.S. Constitution being inspired. The reason we’re leaving is that our consciousness is evolving beyond where static interpretations of ancient documents by hierarchical institutions are willing to go.
Perhaps the path forward is not simply to condemn the statements of Christian nationalists while idolizing the Bible as a static document, but to consider both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution within the broader relational, evolutionary and far more ancient story that the United States, Christianity and the Bible all have been participating and evolving in for thousands of years.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.
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