Christian Men's Breakfast

Presentation by Chuck Esposito

July 1, 2006

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“America’s Christian roots”

 

Thank you I.T., and good morning gentlemen.

I’m going to begin this morning by telling you a story about a young minister who was asked by a funeral director to hold a graveside service in a new cemetery for a vagrant man who had died while traveling through the area. The cemetery was in a remote part of the mountains and this vagrant man would be the first to be laid to rest at this new cemetery. The minister was not familiar with the backwoods area, and soon became lost. Being a typical man he didn't stop to ask for directions.

When he finally arrived an hour late, he saw a crew and a backhoe, but the hearse was nowhere in sight. The workmen were eating lunch. The minister apologized for his tardiness, but the workers just looked puzzled. The minister stepped to the side of the open grave, to find the vault lid already in place. He assured the workers he would not hold them long, but insisted that this was the proper thing to do.

As the workers gathered around, still eating their lunch, the minister poured out his heart and soul. As he preached, the workers began to say "Amen," and "Praise the Lord." He preached, and preached, like he'd never preached before. He began from Genesis and worked all the way through to Revelation. He preached for 45 minutes. It was a long service, but finally, he closed in prayer and it was finished.

As he was walking to his car, he felt that he had done his duty and he would leave with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication, in spite of his tardiness. As he was opening the car door and taking off his coat, he overheard one of the workers saying to another ...

"Ya know, I've been doing this work for 20 years, but I ain't never seen such a fuss over putting in a septic tank.”

Those of you who have heard me speak here before may recall that a recurring theme of mine has been the Christian roots of the founding of our nation; and this morning, recognizing that in three days we will celebrate Independence Day, marking America’s 230th birthday, I think it is entirely appropriate that I return to that theme.

Perhaps the best way to observe our nation's birthday is to re-read and re-examine our Declaration of Independence, and to re-acquaint ourselves with the principles of our nation's founding document. I’m not going to take your time this morning to read all 1,337 words of the Declaration, but I am going to focus on a few lines that reflect our nation's religious roots.

But before I get to that, I want to comment on the popular, but erroneous, belief that the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was anti-religious. I don’t think so, and neither did the religious leadership of his day. To illustrate, here is something you might not have known about him:

On Jan. 1, 1802, President Jefferson stood, dressed in a black suit, in a doorway of the White House, watching a bizarre spectacle. Two horses were pulling a dray carrying a 1,235-pound cheese—just for him. Measuring 4 feet in diameter and 17 inches in height, this cheese was the work of 900 cows.

More impressive than the size of the cheese was its eloquence. Painted on the red crust was the inscription: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese was a gift from religious leaders in western Massachusetts.

In the modern context, the most remarkable thing about the cheese is that it came from evangelical Christians. It was the brainchild of the Rev. John Leland—a Baptist. Even though Jefferson was labeled anti-religion by some, he had become a hero to evangelicals—not in spite of his views on separation of church and state, but because of them. Because Baptists and other evangelicals had been persecuted and harassed by the majority faiths—the Anglicans in the South and the Puritan-influenced Congregationalists in the North—these religious minorities had concluded that their freedom would only be guaranteed when majority faiths could not use the power of the state to promote their theology and institutions. They knew that Jefferson was one of the nation’s foremost advocates of freedom of religion, and he respected the religious beliefs of all. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to Miles King:

“…we have heard it said that there is not a Quaker or a Baptist, a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian, a Catholic or a Protestant in heaven; that on entering that gate, we leave those badges of schism behind … Let us not be uneasy about the different roads we may pursue, as believing them the shortest, to that our last abode; but following the guidance of a good conscience, let us be happy in the hope that by these different paths we shall all meet in the end. “

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made several references to God, and I would like to review them with you.

In the very first paragraph, the Declaration mentions God as a law giver, as the author of "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

The second paragraph begins, “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...” So God is acknowledged as the "Creator" who made us all equal. This means equally endowed with unalienable rights. It does not mean that we all are born with equal capabilities, as obviously we are not. Nor does it mean that all of us can be made equal, as Communist dogma alleges. The Declaration proclaims that life and liberty are the unalienable gifts of God - natural rights - which no person or government can rightfully take away, and it affirms that the purpose of government is to secure our God-given unalienable individual rights, and that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.

In the final paragraph, we find God acknowledged as, "the Supreme Judge of the world."

And in the last sentence, the Founders pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in support of the Declaration and, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”

Concerning the specific religious affiliations of the Founders who signed the Declaration, here’s how they break out:

19 Episcopalians

11 Congregationalists

11 Presbyterians

9 Anglicans

3 Deists

1 Roman Catholics … and

1 Quaker

The last thing I’d like to share with you this morning about the Declaration is, a quote from one of the signatories, Samuel Adams, who said,

"Courage, then, my countrymen, our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty."

Every time I have been before you I have concluded with a prayer for our military, and I would like to do the same today. Please bow your heads and join me:

Dear Lord,
Today there are about half a million , American men and women –
stationed in 150 countries around the world.

We pray You keep them safe,
we pray You keep them strong,
we pray You send them safely home ...

Bless those who await their safe return.

And Bless the friends and relatives who mourn the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan:

And Bless the friends and relatives who mourn the casualties in Iraq: The MIAs, the more than 18000* wounded, and the more than 2500* Killed In Action.

In Jesus name we ask ... Amen.

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