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Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.
John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

The Founders of this nation intended to establish Christianity. In order to make sure that the Civil Government would foster Christianity and not atheism, it was prohibited for any but Christians to hold political office. (If you want to create a Christian society, such a requirement only makes sense.)

Like virtually all the state constitutions, the Delaware constitution of 1776 established a Christian State by requiring:

Art. 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust . . . shall . . . make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: "I ________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, Blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scripture of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration."[1]

In other words, only Christians could hold any public office under the Delaware constitution. Delaware's oath of office is called a "test oath." It requires the one swearing to affirm - either explicitly or implicitly - a particular religious belief. This was the case in all of the states, in varying degrees of doctrinal specificity.[2] It was done because the Bible was understood to require it. Legislators used to insert Biblical references in the margins of the statute books to prove the validity of their laws.[3] In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court announced with pride that the purpose of the Founders of this land was "the establishment of the Christian religion,"[4] and this ideal was universally held. The men who signed the Constitution lived in this "Christian consensus."[5] They understood the Biblical requirements, and they acted in terms of them. I too want to publicly acknowledge those requirements.

Who Should You Vote For?

Before we can cast our vote for a candidate, does the Bible require that the candidate be a member of a particular political party, or does the Bible require that the candidate be a faithful believer?

I believe the Bible sets forth two general criteria for office-holders. First, he must be a Christian. Second, he must be able to take a Biblical oath of office. An atheist could not take the oath of office because (as we have seen) they cannot take an oath of any kind.

If the Bible says that all politicians must be Christians, then it logically follows that Christians can only vote for candidates who are Christian. In either case, the Bible ought to change the way Christians do politics. Here's what the Bible says (in a minute we'll look at what the Founding Fathers said):

Exodus 18:21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

Deuteronomy 1:15 So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and knowledgeable men, and made them heads over you, leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, leaders of tens, and officers for your tribes.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20 You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. {19} You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. {20} You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of an overseer, he desires a good work. {2} An overseer then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; {3} not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; {4} one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence {5} (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); {6} not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. {7} Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Titus 1:5-9 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you; {6} if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. {7} For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, {8} but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, {9} holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

Seldom in the recent past have Christians had the opportunity to vote for such men (or even such women!).

But do these verses have anything to do with who we vote for in the United States of America? The Founding Fathers understood these requirements to have abiding validity in our day.

Delivering an "Election Day Sermon" before the Massachusetts Legislature in 1791, Chandler Robbins declared,

How constantly do we find it inculcated in the sacred writings, that rulers be "just men -- fearers of God -- haters of covetousness." That they "shake their hands from holding bribes," because a gift blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous."[6]

From the Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper, May 24, 1800 [7]:

On Monday last the Circuit Court of the United States was opened in this town. The Hon Judge [Supreme Court Justice] Paterson presided. After the Jury were impaneled, the Judge delivered a most elegant and appropriate charge . . . . Religion and morality were pleasingly inculcated and enforced as being necessary to good government, good order, and good laws, for "when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice" [Proverbs 29:2] . . .
After the charge was delivered, the Rev. Mr. [Timothy] Alden addressed the Throne of Grace in an excellent, well-adapted prayer.

The New York Times would undoubtedly not find this news "fit to print." Supreme Court Justices are not as likely to be quoting Scripture, either.

Public schools taught what Noah Webster wrote in his textbooks:

When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands and elect bad men to make and administer the laws. [8]

And in another text,

In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate -- look to his character. . . . It is alleged by men of loose principles or defective views of the subject that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations. But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine. They direct that rulers should be men "who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness" [Exodus 18:21] . . . [I]t is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breaches of trust, peculations [white-collar larceny] and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves; which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government.[9]

Sam Adams would be appalled at those in our day who say a leader's "private life" should play no part in our evaluation of him as a political leader:

He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. [P]rivate and public vices are in reality . . . connected. . . . Nothing is more essential . . . than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the [private] characters of public men.[10]

Gouverneur Morris signed the Constitution believing that

There must be religion. When that ligament is torn, society is disjointed and its members perish. The nation is exposed to foreign violence and domestic convulsion. Vicious rulers, chosen by vicious people, turn back the current of corruption to its source. Placed in a situation where they can exercise authority for their own emolument, they betray their trust. They take bribes. They sell statutes and decrees. They sell honor and office. They sell their conscience. They sell their country. . . . But the most important of all lessons is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion. [11]

John Witherspoon signed a Declaration of Independence from Britain, not from God:

Those, therefore, who pay no regard to religion and sobriety in the persons whom they send to the legislature of any State are guilty of the greatest absurdity and will soon pay dear for their folly.[12]

But not just the voters. Innocent victims may suffer abuse from those we send to Washington. Assuming Monica Lewinsky was a person of good morals, did Christians do her a favor by putting Bill Clinton in the Oval Office? How will hundreds of millions of people experience the consequences of Clinton's sell-out to the Chinese government for contributions to the Democratic Party?

John Jay was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, and was appointed first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Washington. He accurately summed up the meaning of God's commandments:

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." [13]

James Madison, declared in 1785:

"Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe. . . ."[14]

If the Bible says that all politicians must be Christians, then it logically follows that Christians can only vote for candidates who are Christian (or they would be saying "NO" to God's requirements). Chief Justice Jay's suggestion is so politically incorrect that even most Christians don't agree with it. I have heard respected Christians -- following Martin Luther -- say they would rather vote for a "politically competent" unbeliever than a "politically incompetent" Christian. This is idolatrous nonsense. No matter what kind of Constitutions and laws we have, secular men will secularize them. This should be the most obvious lesson of American history. We often hear it said that ours is a "government of laws, not of men." This is a fallacy. Bad men corrupt good laws. Good men will rule well in the absence of good laws. A man of integrity, virtue, and the Character of Christ with little political experience is to be preferred over a "seasoned politician" who is a Secular Humanist. The Bible says this; the Founding Fathers said this; Secular Humanists disagree. Guess what . . . ?

. . . let's not care what Secular Humanists think anymore.

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1. Delaware Constitution, Art. 22 (adopted Sept. 20, 1776), 1 Del. Code Ann. 117 (Michie, 1975). Commended by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rector, etc., of Holy Trinity Church v. U.S., 143 U.S. 457 at 469-70, 12 S.Ct. 511 at 516 (1892). The Constitutions of All the States According to the Latest Amendments, Lexington: Thomas T. Skillman, 1817, p. 181, cited in D. Barton, The Myth of Separation, 23 (6th ed., 1992).  [Back to text]

2. Some states required membership in a specific denomination; others just required a belief in Protestantism or Christianity in general.  [Back to text]

3. For an example, see John Cotton, "An Abstract of the Laws of New England, as they are Now Established, Printed in London in 1641," Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1798); reprint of 1835 in 2 The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 117 (No. 2; Winter, 1975-76, "Symposium on Biblical Law").  [Back to text]

4. Rector, etc., of Holy Trinity Church v. U.S., 143 U.S. 457 at 466, 12 S.Ct. 511 at 514, 36 L.Ed. 226 (1892).  [Back to text]

5. F. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture 110 (1976).  [Back to text]

6. Chandler Robbins, A Sermon Preached Before His Excellency John Hancock, Esq and the Honourable the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, May 25, 1791, Being the Day of General Election (Boston: Thomas Adams, 1791), p. 18.  [Return to text]

7. United States Oracle, see also The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800, Maeva Marcus, ed., (NY: Columbia Univ. Press, 1988) vol. III, p. 436. For a discussion of the Founding Fathers' views on the "private lives" of candidates, see David Barton, Original Intent, (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilders, 1996) pp. 330ff.  [Return to text]

8. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832) p.6.  [Return to text]

9. Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education (New Haven, S. Converse, 1823) pp. 18-19, Letter 1.  [Return to text]

10. Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907), vol III, pp. 236-37, to James Warren on Nov. 4, 1775.  [Return to text]

11. Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (NY: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821) pp. 32,34, from "An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris, (President,) 4th September, 1816."  [Return to text]

12. Witherspoon, Works, Edinburgh, J. Ogle, 1815, IV:266-67, from "A Sermon Delivered at a Public Thanksgiving after Peace."  [Return to text]

13. The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, ed., New York: Burt Franklin, 1970, 4:393 [to John Murray, Jr., October 12, 1816].  [Return to Top]  [Return to text]

14. The Papers of James Madison, Robert Rutland, ed., Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1973, Vol. 8, pp. 299, 304, June 20, 1785; cited in Barton, p. 120.  [Back to text]

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