One of the notable inconsistencies of so-called social conservatives in the United States is the disparity between wanting government to legislate morality and wanting government to be small. This isnâ€™t simply a question of â€œgotchaâ€ politics, it is a serious matter of political theory and historical inquiry. Is the ideal of American government one of keeping the state under check, or is a far-reaching state fine as long as it supports and enforces the morality that I believe is good. A recent exchange at On Faith explores this tension within the ranks of the Tea Party. This populist effort seemingly favors limited government but if it attracts social conservatives who want the American government to enforce their moral convictions itâ€™s policies may not be so limited.
Contemporary conservative Protestants are equally implicated in this glaring problem. On the one hand, they long for a magistrate who will enforce both tables of Godâ€™s law. And shortly thereafter they will upbraid President Obama for violating American notions of limited government.
How can you possibly think you stand in continuity with the framers of the American political order who instituted checks and balances to guard freedom from tyranny and also believe, with the original Westminster Confession, that the magistrate has the power to â€œcall synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.â€ Letâ€™s get this straight. The magistrate has power to call synods of the church, and to ensure that whatever happens at them â€“ this from a lay person, no less â€“ conforms not to Scripture but to the â€œmind of God.â€ What magistrate has that kind of spiritual insight? What people wants to give a magistrate that kind of power? One obvious answer — not the American people, and that is why they have a Constitution that not only divides the magistracy up into executive, legislative, and judicial helpings, but also prevents the legislature from enacting laws that govern religion.
But despite the disparity between an Erastian magistrate and the American form of government, Presbyterians in the United States continue to think that their big magistrate in religious matters goes with a limited government over the rest of life. Take the example of the Baylys.
First, hereâ€™s an excerpt from a sermon which includes exhortations to President Obama from David Bayly (though it may have originated from Doug Wilson):
President Obama stands as our head. He is our representative not just under our federal form of government, not just in earthly terms, but in heavenly terms, before the throne of God. He stands before God for all the righteousness and wickedness of our nation. He either opposes the sins of the nation and reaps blessing from God, or stands in affirmation of them and reaps their judgment.
And in this regard I call on us to declare and President Obama to hear the Word of God.
President Obama, you have promised not to make abortion a litmus test in nominating judges to the Supreme Court. The King of kings, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, however, has declared the murder of innocents a high sin, a sin so vile that even after Manasseh repents of his butchery of the innocent and is followed by the righteous Josiah, God will not turn back his judgment on Judah. President Obama, you are not the first American political leader to embrace this slaughter. Others have gone before you in this. Others bear equal or greater responsibility. But you are president today. And you are the leader of a nation which is at war against God in this, President Obama. We have rejected the Word of God and the Lordship of Christ in this matter. You must oppose abortion in obedience to the King of kings for whom the murder of innocents is indeed a litmus test of righteous authority.
President Obama, in your declaration of June 1, 2009, â€œNOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third. BARACK OBAMA.â€
President Obama, you speak of â€œthe year of our Lord,â€ yet you honor what God despises, declaring a matter of pride that which is an abomination to God. In declaring good what God has judged wicked you are in rebellion against the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.
President Obama, in your speech in Cairo last Thursday you said, â€œAll of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.”
In that same speech you also said, â€œI consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.â€
But I say to you as a minister of the Gospel you claim to believe: Scripture tells us God hates all false gods and that Jesus is earthâ€™s sole Lord of lords. When Moses, Elijah and Jesus stood together on the mount of transfiguration and Peter suggested building tabernacles for all three, God thundered from heaven the unique authority of His Son. You proclaimed yourself a Christian in your speech. In so saying you claimed to accept the authority of Jesus Christ. Surely any Christian knows that Scripture teaches the unique authority of Jesus.
You, Barack Obama, by using your office to defend the impostor Mohammed, and to suggest that Jesus and Moses are equals, usurp the authority of Christ and are in rebellion against King Jesus.
Reading this youâ€™d almost think Obama was a king (of Israel, no less). But the American rebellion was against monarchical forms of government. Go figure.
And when figuring do take into account another Bayly post which faults Obama for not following the Constitution:
During his State of the Union Address with the justices sitting under his nose, President Obama shamed them for their recent decision overturning unconstitutional campaign reform laws. Note how little the Constitution matters to this former law professor at University of Chicago and editor of the law review at Harvard. His issue isn’t that their decision was wrong, constitutionally, but that its consequences are bad for America. He might have said “with all due respect First Amendment to the Constitution,” but he didn’t.
Whatever in the world happened to the Constitution? Among these public masters, finding submission to their vow to uphold the Constitution is like a “Where’s Waldo” game.
I know consistency is the hobgobblin of small minds, but wouldnâ€™t President Obama after reading the Baylys, be a tad confused about knowing when he is supposed to obey the Constitution and when heâ€™s not? Do the Baylys (and their defenders) really think you can have the Constitution without the First Amendment? Do they also think you can have the original Westminster Confession or Calvinâ€™s Geneva for that matter and have the Constitution of the United States? If the Baylys want to uphold limited government along the lines of the American founding, then how can they support an expansive government with power to pry into personal beliefs?
This is the plight of contemporary American political conservatism. It is populated by people who, thanks to their confusing the spiritual and temporal kingdoms, also confuse 1640s England with 1770s America. That leaves American Protestants of an allegedly conservative bent lurching for policies, laws, and officials that veer markedly from the limits that those not-so-Christian founders placed upon American government. Ironically enough, the sort of limited government practiced in the United States and upheld by political conservatives grants loud-mouthed ministers the freedom to mock and ridicule authorities instituted by the very God they profess to serve. And people think Obama is un-American!