Thanks to Denise Thompson for asking this question several years ago in response to a sermon regarding obeying the government.
Not a week goes by without seeing something posted on Facebook, quoting Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, or some other founding father regarding how a nation should be run or how God should be the foundation of the United States’ government. A lot of these are posted by Christians basically arguing that if we just got back to how the founding fathers thought and acted, we would be a lot better off and wouldn’t have problems like school shootings or wide-spread poverty and teen pregnancy.
I was educated in a Christian school using Abeka and Bob Jones curriculum. These conservative evangelical history books venerated the founding fathers about as much as they did the Biblical Patriarchs. The story of their decision to rebel against Great Britain and create their own country was told in the same tone as the story of Abram following God’s direction to leave Ur. I was fully steeped in the evangelical tradition of looking to our founding fathers as great men who founded our country on their belief in God and who taught loyalty to God and country.
I would fully agree that the founding fathers, those who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were pretty amazing people. They were inventors, multi-lingual, mostly self-educated and extremely well read. They were products and participants in the Age of Enlightenment, courageous, and enormously productive. Together they composed arguably the greatest constitution in history and I am incredibly grateful and daily utilize the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights they wrote.
However, just because they were amazingly brilliant men, does not mean they followed biblical principles or Jesus’ teaching and it does not mean that our country was founded on belief in God. What birthed our country was a refusal to pay taxes, something Jesus taught that as Christians we are obligated to do (Matthew 22:15-22). As Rachel Marie Stone points out in her blog “What if Jesus is Saying it’s Ok t,o Pay for Things That are Against Your Religion (Since you Probably Always Are)”, we are always paying for something we don’t morally agree with. When Jesus told his disciples to pay taxes, those taxes were used by the Roman Empire to pay for the conquest and enslavement of his own people, the building and funding of temples to Roman gods and eventually used to pay for the early Christian’s own martyrdom in the Coliseum. The Stamp Act, Sugar Act, and Tea Act enacted by the British Empire that the Founding Fathers rebelled against seem pretty minor in comparison, even if it violated their rights as Englishmen due to their right of no taxation without representation. In fact, all the taxes that the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies paid, added up to a paltry 2% of most people’s incomes, tiny compared to what we pay today.
Clearly the Revolutionaries were not following Jesus’ words when they revolted against the British Empire. When looking at their self-described religious beliefs, it is not hard to see what they were following was Reason, as espoused by the philosophers of Age of Enlightenment. There is more of John Locke’s writings in the Declaration of Independence than there is of the Bible. Ben Franklin was stated that he was a Deist, someone who believes that God started the universe, then stepped back, not interfering with the affairs of humankind. Thomas Jefferson, created his own version of the Bible, cutting out all the miracles and any reference to the deity of Jesus and George Washington only referred to Providence when speaking about God and stopped receiving communion when he did attend church.
Without going against the teachings of Christianity, the country would have never been founded. While it may be a Christian’s duty to vote where they have a right to and try to fight to legally change unfair or immoral laws, Jesus and later Paul, never gave Christian’s permission to rebel against a government, especially due to taxation. I don’t think that this lessens in any way the brilliance and importance of the founding fathers, but I don’t think it is fair to attribute to them ideas or beliefs that were not their own, as many people seem to try to do.
Instead, as a Christian it is important to remember that my highest allegiance does not belong to my country, but to Christ, remembering that whether or not our country or any country thrives or fails, our Hope is in Christ and the cause of Christ does not depend on patriotism or nationality or the constitution While the United States is governed by a superb constitution, written in accordance to the highest reason of humankind, the United States is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is much bigger than one small country with a short history.