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Centennial Review

Principled Ideas from the Centennial Institute Volume 1, Number 6 • November 2009

By Kevin Miller America as a virtuous society and America as a free society: citizens have held to these two ideals from our earliest days. The aspiration to freedom or to virtue—or to a confluence of both—was crucial in the founding of the British colonies, including the establishment of Rhode Island by Roger Williams. It can be seen in the Declaration of Independence as well as in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It came to white heat in the Civil War. It inspired great reform movements such as Progressivism, the New Deal, and Civil Rights. It has driven moral struggles from the anti-vice Comstock Laws and Prohibition in past generations to abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage today. Is there a way for communal righteousness and personal liberty to coexist in national policy? This is a thorny question for any of us who seek to be not only good citizens, but also faithful adherents to Scripture. If some Christians assume that the two ideals blend seamlessly into a single practical world view, they oversimplify. There is increasing evidence that freedom and virtue are on a collision course in America, with unpleasant consequences already here or coming soon. Consider:
■ When Catholic bishops officially assert that government-

POINT: Virtue Should Be the National Policy Priority
Face it, virtue is merely freedom exercised in a principled fashion. And the one thing that has truly set America apart for a couple of hundred years is the pursuit of virtue. From correcting slavery and other wrongs in their own culture, to fighting Nazis and other would-be oppressors in world wars, to rebuilding just-recent-enemies’ economies through the Marshall Plan, to meeting the needs of neighbors in periods of strife or natural disaster, Americans have long pursued a unique virtue worldwide through action, often sacrificial action. To the extent that America is not considered virtuous, for example by Muslim leaders who assert we are the Great Satan for allowing businesses to freely export pornography, it is not for lack of desire by Christians to historically fight such vice. And even when such efforts fall short—as they often will in a free society—it is well worth the good fight in order to draw a line for standards, classic standards that every society should strive after. - See “Why Virtue” on Page 2

COUNTERPOINT: Freedom Should Be the National Policy Priority
Let’s be realistic. Virtue has never manifested in this country, or any other country, by national mandate or policy. (One must never mistake mere compliance for genuine virtue.) In fact, when Christians try to foster virtue via national policy, that not only hasn’t worked, but it also backfires in crucial ways. One need only look to the decline of Europe. Where Christian ideals have become “the culture” via government action (as with the welfare state), the ideology of big-G government has been the ultimate “winner” and the church has significantly faded in influence. This is the Catholic teaching of “solidarity” in action, an emotionally seductive idea for many that, when applied as - See “Why Freedom” on Page 3
FROM THE EDITOR: The teaching of citizenship, part of our mission at the Centennial Institute, requires thinking about thinking. What does it mean to think clearly? Centennial Fellow Kevin Miller confronted this in a CCU seminar on August 28, 2009. The present essay, based on his talk, thinks through both sides of an issue where too many people hold an unthinking position. Miller is a former dean of the CCU School of Business who is now building a technology company and chairs the Vanguard Forum, a discussion circle for biblical perspectives on current affairs. – John Andrews

provided health care is the right of every American, is this a step toward making us a more virtuous society? Or does it infringe upon the freedom of individuals by taxing one to pay for another’s “right”?
■ When no-fault divorce is deemed acceptable by more and

more churches in the United States, is this a wholesome affirmation of individual liberty? Or is it an unwholesome debasement of societal virtue?
■ When two persons of the same sex are not legally free to

enter into a civil marriage, due to the opposition of many Christians (as well as Muslims), is this a defense of America’s virtue as historically understood? Or is it a trap waiting to be sprung against religious believers someday soon, when secularists may try to pass laws branding opposite-sex marriage as a “hate” institution? - See “Lead Article” on Page 2

In other words, how well is either the body of believers or the body politic really served by today’s anomalous situation where so many Christians, as citizens, declaim for “preserving marriage” and fight against same-sex unions—even while those same Christians, as private individuals, go with the cultural flow on cohabitation, disposable vows, and serial marriage?
Lead Article: From Page 1

So we need to ask ourselves whether it’s really practical to hope that biblical standards could constrain the scope of individual liberty for everyone in our republican democracy. Believers are enjoined to freedom-in-Christ, which allows a wide realm of choice but disallows self-destructive behavior. They live under those constraints by choice if they so choose. For the populace at large, however, perhaps civil law ought to be content with a broader common freedom in which personal indulgences such as substance use and sexual expression have more latitude. And perhaps in the pluralistic America of 2010 it will be found wise to define this latitude more leniently than our stern forefathers did in 1910 or 1810. Trends and Trade-Offs Freedom-in-Christ clearly limits the common freedom desired and expected by millions of American citizens (including many Christians). Maybe even now it is a majority of Americans who want common freedom far more than freedom-in-Christ. And perhaps even Christians should now consider it crucial to the success of the church for common freedom, rather than freedom-in-Christ, to be accessible in everyday life. When some Christians argue that requiring everyone to practice (or at least strive for) freedom-in-Christ makes for a more virtuous society, they may well be right. But, whether they acknowledge it or not, virtue truly pursued (and enforced) exacts a price on the common freedom of someone—whether it’s the church-going husband and wife seeking an easy (read: unbiblical) divorce, or the student seeking a secular-humanist (read: prayerless) school to attend, or the two men seeking to marry each other. Many Christians seem to have convinced themselves that no tension exists in this worldview. They believe national policy in 2010 can still pursue both virtue and freedom, under the theory that the community is willing to give up some freedoms on behalf of achieving some meaningful measure of (a traditional understanding of) virtue. But whether they are right or wrong, their children (and perhaps even they) will not likely enjoy the luxury of that fading construct, since traditional virtues have already been eclipsed in many areas

For better or worse, the dominant playing field for establishing virtue is now at the national policy level. Therefore, Christian citizens must work diligently on every significant social issue that promotes virtue (or at least helps retard the decline of virtue). To not do so in the name of preserving some individual freedoms, freedoms that in truth actually decay society, is an abdication of responsibility. Liberty—absent the boundaries of classic, important virtues—is indeed merely license.
Why Virtue: From Page 1

Christians are called to be “salt and light” to the surrounding culture. To vacate the arena of national-policy social issues —just as power continues to inexorably accumulate at the national level in a very powerful country—is folly at the highest level. Just as the Apostle Paul knew, Rome is where the determinative action often is, and Christians who deliberately decline to play at such an important level have fallen vitally short of the fullness of what “salt and light” means. A final note. Mark Twain, speaking through the actions of his fictional Tom Sawyer, understood well one of the most sophisticated approaches to being effective. Young Tom, you will recall, persuaded his friends that it was in their personal interests to do his work of whitewashing the fence. Similarly, Christians impact the culture by convincing atheists, agnostics, and every other non-Christian that, indeed, America’s job is to meet the needs of all their neighbors—a uniquely Christian worldview and action. Now, (look at ’em!) the convinced non-Christians (who wouldn’t get caught dead doing anything else Christianly) assume leadership and meet those needs with the treasure of all Americans. As a result, Christians’ time and treasure are freed up for the freshly prioritized investment: evangelization and material assistance worldwide. Hence we can see that from every perspective, pursuing virtue is the right strategic priority for exercising astute Christian citizenship. ■ by progressive ideas of virtue. And in either case, an enforced national virtue, whether “traditional” or “progressive,” that goes beyond the core enforcement of crimes against property (e.g., theft) and persons (e.g., murder, rape, abortion) will end up in unpleasant—and probably unsustainable—tension with common freedom in both the economic and religious dimensions. As power vests everincreasingly in government at the national level, Christians along with other interested citizens naturally have gravitated toward working for their policy goals at that level. But should virtue or freedom be the priority? Decide for yourself from the accompanying case statements. ■
End Lead Article, from left

CENTENNIAL REVIEW is published monthly by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. Publisher, William L. Armstrong. Editor, John Andrews. Designer, Danielle Hull. Illustrator, Benjamin Hummel. Subscriptions free upon request. Write to: Centennial Institute, 8787 W. Alameda, Lakewood, CO 80226. Call 800.44.FAITH. Or visit us online at Centennial Institute sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation. By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776. Tax-deductible contributions from friends make possible the Institute’s outreach and all of Colorado Christian University’s educational work. We invite your support at the above mailing address, or via our Web site at Centennial Review, November 2009 ▪ 2

national government initiative (which of course consistently becomes deeply entrenched), is gravely flawed. One’s second look should be at the results of “national policy” virtue-initiatives here at home. For decades, centuries even, Christians have fought prostitution (Comstock and later efforts), pornography (again, Comstock and later efforts), imbibing of alcohol (Prohibition), gambling, etc. from the top down via national policy.
Why Freedom: From Page 1

Voices of C C U

By Gregory Schaller
“The right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That’s what liberty means, according to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade. This suggests that, in the area of political morality, there are no transcending universal truths and we are each free to determine what is right for ourselves. Yet such a view is far from the Founders’ understanding as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. There our source of liberty is declared, and the limits and ordering of liberty are defined, on the basis of self-evident truths that we are able to recognize through human reason. The Declaration affirms these fundamentals: 1) God is the source of our rights; 2) all men are created equal; 3) based on the Creator and our equality, we have certain inalienable rights which our civil society is obliged to protect. When these concepts are properly understood, we see that liberty is not the freedom for each of us to define our own concept of existence. Rather, liberty is ordered by the Creator and limited by our shared common nature. According to the order and limits, we have a duty to respect the rights of others. Our Founders rejected the idea that one was born in a position to rule over others. The authority of government rests in the consent of the equal members of society. We can see through the lens of equality, which demands a respect for the rights of others, that liberty is in fact limited and ordered. This morally rigorous conception of liberty leads to a very different way of thinking about the free society from that of the Supreme Court’s solipsistic interpretation in Casey. ■
Gregory Schaller is assistant professor of political science at Colorado Christian University. He is completing his Ph.D. at Temple University, having earned an M.A. at Villanova University and a B.A. at Eastern University.

But, “by their fruits you shall know them.” How effective have these efforts truly been? Ineffective for certain, by virtually any measure, and many people have turned against the Christian faith because their resulting street-level perception of Christ is as a “social-issues naysayer” rather than as the grace-offering Savior of the World. Meanwhile, individual freedoms, hardwon and all too uncommon around the world, steadily erode. It’s really Christianity 101: The New Testament teaches that even biblical law doesn’t create righteousness; only Christ can. If biblical law cannot create righteousness, how much more powerless is civil law to create it? But the really critical fact is this: Whenever emphasizing virtue as a legitimate pursuit for national policy, virtue-focused Christians have simply opened the door for the politically correct mandates now creeping into our national way of life and for the kinds of Islamic practices and prohibitions that more and more of Europe is acquiescing to. Such Christians who insist on national requirements for virtue and then later lose the battles for just what virtues are enforced… well, they are following in the strategic footsteps of Haman and will be hung on their own gallows. No, the overriding purposes of national government are to defend the country and protect individual freedoms. Where’s Our Trust?

Many Christians who think themselves believers in freedom Colorado Christian University are caught in a paradox of their own making: They believe in free markets for economic liberty but apparently do not believe in free markets when it comes to religious liberty. of such totalitarian ideologies as Communism or radical These Christians should reorient toward the primacy of sharing Islam). Thus, the Christian foundationally should work for the faith; nothing will defeat the power of the Gospel (as long the common freedom of all: economic liberty and religious as the laborers are not too few). liberty for everyone—the Buddhist, the Christian, the modOf all people, Christians should be willing to have a truly level erate Muslim, the secularist, the agnostic. playing field (of religious freedom for everyone) on which to then demonstrate the power of the Gospel; hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide would covet such a level playing field for sharing their faith.

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But there is no free lunch here: The Christian then must work very hard for real freedom via subsidiarity—securing common-freedom vehicles, such as school vouchers, and then robustly exercising those common freedoms. This vision of freedom was what the Founders forged and secured. But it is increasingly difficult to hold on to because this is not a passive libertarianism—rather, it is a daily, neverceasing fight to stop national policy which would erode or eradicate precious everyday, common freedoms exercised at the local level.
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The Catholic teaching of subsidiarity is the ideal application for freedom here. Or if you will, Edmund Burke’s “little platoons,” where local groups (families, places of worship, local schools, neighborhoods, local communities) have self-directed latitude to forge their groups as they see fit, as long as the foundations of the country are not threatened (as they are by the stated goals

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Centennial Review
November 2009

Virtue, Freedom, and Christian Citizenship
by Kevin Miller

■ Point: Virtue Should Be the National Policy Priority ■ Counterpoint: Freedom Should Be the National Policy Priority

Liberty’s Moral Dimension
by Gregory Schaller is your online resource for this and previous issues of Centennial Review, news of Institute events, and daily updates on faith, family, and freedom at our ’76 Blog. Tax-deductible contributions from friends make possible the Institute’s outreach and all of Colorado Christian University’s educational work. We invite your support via our Web site at or at the above mailing address.

St. Augustine clearly and wisely delineated between the City of God and the City of Man. We need to recover that wisdom. Our faith will only be differentiated (and successful) when it does not allow the typical American to believe that the Christian faith is synonymous with laws and rules that limit common freedom. Why are American Christian leaders bemoaning the rise of a post-Christian culture? Partly because they themselves, following Europe, have led the “virtue movements” that help speed the lapse of the faith into cultural Christianity, effectively eroding the authentic reality of the Christian faith. Christians should well take heed: Our best course is to pursue individual freedom at every opportunity with regard to national policy, to diligently fight the constant encroachment of national policies limiting individual freedom (including the “virtue mandates” of Christians and political correctness alike), and to work unceasingly at applying the principle of subsidiarity, influencing every platoon where God has placed us. ■

The tension between enforcing national virtue and promoting common individual freedom is certainly not new. But Christian citizens in the America of 2010 must contend with a very different set of realities for the church, of mores for the nation as a whole, from those confronting believers in 1910 or 1810. Does the application of biblical principles and timeless wisdom call for the same priorities now as then, regardless of the era, its agreed-upon values, its aspirations, its failings? Or does each age call for a different priority derived from those same biblical principles, yet with timeless wisdom adjusted in light of 200 years’ more experience in our own country and many others? What ultimately best serves the body of believers as well as the body politic: pursuing virtue at a national policy level or pursuing common freedom? ■

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) is depicted in this vintage manuscript engraving.

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