The founding Fathers were lawyers. This is what Jenna Ellis reminded the group of pastors gathered at the meeting I went to yesterday. It is kind of an obvious point. I mean, I knew that many of them must have been lawyers. It turns out that a large percentage of them were professional lawyers and many of the others were trained as lawyers or had extensive lay knowledge of the subject.
So why does that matter? Well, lawyers have a specific way of looking at the world and at language. The documents that they produce are not merely literary or even philosophical they are ultimately legal documents.
The Constitution is a document that gets its framework and legitimacy from the Declaration of Independence (and to some degree the Federalist Papers which are a public discussion about the ramifications of the Declaration and how to build a government based on it). The Declaration of Independence is a document that gives the basic argument for the legitimacy of the Revolution and appeals to Divine Rights and Natural Law as the basis for opposing tyranny.
You see, the unique thing about the Declaration and therefore about this whole American experiment is that those seeking independence sought and found a legal justification for what they were doing. They didn't appeal to a previous agreement or to any precedent in human history. They appealed to the natural, God-given rights of men. They argue that just like the natural laws of science there are natural laws of politics that are not formed by men. Their argument was that since the king was ignoring the Divine Law when it came to governing the colonies it was their responsibility to break the bonds of government and form a new government that would seek to protect the natural rights of people.
Is your mind blown yet? My mind is blown because I've grown up being taught about how the American Revolution was mainly about Democracy. And yes, Democracy is a key element to the American idea and everything that came after that, but somehow I missed the pivotal fact that the Founding Fathers built their case for a democratic government on the fact that people have divinely appointed rights that are best protected when the people themselves have the biggest voice in forming their government. The argument wasn't that people have a right to rule themselves. The argument was that people have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; therefore, let's make a government where the people are responsible for protecting these rights themselves. They were applying laissez faire economics to the political process. Democratic government means breaking up political monopolies and, to use a contemporary term, crowdsourcing the influence of ideas through representation. This Divine Law isn't what they spend most of the time talking about in the founding documents, but it is the foundation for every assumption that comes after. As lawyers they found it important to have justification for everything they did. When you trace it back, every part of the governmental/legal framework they laid out comes back to the Natural Law established by our Creator.
There is no need to argue that all of the Founding Fathers were Evangelicals. They weren't. A few of them were even agnostics or non-Christian theists. Still, all of them signed on with the idea that there are Truths that are self-evident and unchanging. Contrast this with the Social Contract theory of government. The Social Contract theory is that the legitimacy of rule ultimately comes from the People. Under this assumption there is no objective Truth, only the will of the people. If the Founding Fathers had been operating under the Social Contract theory then they would not have bothered seeking a justification for their actions. The Declaration of Independence could have simply said,"We have decided that we no longer want to be ruled by the King. If you try to continue to rule us we will fight you. Good day."
The Fathers did propose a sort of social contract. They held that governments derive their powers from the consent of the people, but the people give consent under the guidance of the Natural Law. In other words people only have the right to assert their will because there are moral absolutes that give them legitimacy. The point that this brings me to is that we do have a responsibility. Every new scandal and controversy adds fuel to the voice that we have in our heads telling us that there is no point in even trying to stand up for Truth.
Stick with me. If there is a Natural Law that dictates that we are due certain rights as humans based on the will of our Creator, then it is our natural role and responsibility to stand for those rights. The conversation about what America is matters not because we need to convince more people to be on our side of the issues, but because we need to speak and defend the very idea that there is a such thing as human rights apart from any opinion of ruler or of the people. Abortion isn't wrong because most people think it is wrong. It is wrong because those innocent humans have a right to life. Government recognition of homosexual relationships as marriage isn't wrong because a lot of us disagree with it. It is wrong because it corrupts a moral understanding of what marriage is for in the first place (what the government's role should be is a whole other topic).
What Ellis advocates is a shift in the conversation. She would like for all of us to revisit our most basic assumptions about the nature of government. We must decide as a nation if we are going to hold on (and return) to our distinctive founding principal of Divine Law. Or, are we going to give ourselves over to the Social Contract and trust the future of our nation to the whims of human nature?
She's speaking tonight at Candlelight.