america & the 10 commandments

With all the hub-bub about the 10 Commandments, I’d like to weigh in with some thoughts. First, the CNN report is here. The website for the US Supreme Court has the Texas and Kentucky decisions in pdf format. A commentary from Sojourners, a Christian group with a broad spectrum of theological persuasions, is here. An article at Christianity Today online is here. Christianity Today’s weblog has lots of related links here.

The 10 Commandments are fully and completely embedded within a covenant between YHWH and the people of Israel. Because of this, they are not “general moral principles” that are universal. To read them as such is to divorce them from the Story of God and his people. Not that some of the items are not taught as morals within other religions (particularly #’s 6-10, suggesting general hard-wiring of some sort possibly?) or that God wouldn’t like all peoples to come under them. But this is not the case as we have them. The commandments presuppose a community’s life in relationship with the living God.

Americans live together in community (even though we buy into the myth of individualism–hmm, where except from the community did we get the idea of individualism?), which means, among other things, that we live under the rule of law designed to balance the will of the majority while protecting those in the minority from any tyranny of the majority. As such, we are a pluralistic society.

A frustration I have with Christians who are politically conservative is that some of them confuse the issue and end up secularizing the gospel they hope to promote by forcing it into the public square in ways that are not in concert with the gospel’s essence, in this case the 10 Commandments.

The issue of the place of the 10 Commandments in the public sphere highlights a serious need in America to develop our understanding of what it means to live in a pluralistic community. This includes the dual citizenship tension with which Christians grapple (citizens of God’s Kingdom and of our earthly nation), and brings it in conversation with persons of other religious communities, non-religious communites, and those with no involvement in a community of a distinctly religious or non-religious character (I’m considering secularism a non-religious community, since that perspective is distinctive enough to have a stake in national dialogue–Christianity Today has an excellent article about the “religious dogma” of secularism here.) who share the dual citizenship dilemma to the degree that their dogmatic commitments are at odds with a thorough-going pluralism. We must find a way to live with the reality of pluralistic America without worshiping pluralism. Specific issues like the role of and public display of the 10 Commandments are manifestations of this broader concern.

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