Monday, December 17, 2007

Huckabee -- Clergy and the Declaration of Independence

Myths of our Christian origins as a nation have proven important to those, who like Governor Mike Huckabee, wish to grab the "Christian vote." There is great fear in certain sectors of the nation that the Protestant (Judeo-Christian) hegemony is threatened with extinction. In response they retell the myths of a golden age when all were Christians.

Well, apparently in the recent GOP Debate Mike Huckabee made a bit of a goof the other day. In establishing his opposition to Abortion, he recounted the "Christian origins" of the nation -- insisting that that many of the Declaration's signers were clergy.

HUCKABEE: There are some real issues out there in this country we need to be fighting for on behalf of the people. Now, one of them, quite frankly, I do believe, is the sanctity of human life...

(APPLAUSE)

... because I do believe that it is one of the defining issues of our culture and civilization in that it expresses our understanding that every single human being in this society has intrinsic value and worth. When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them. I still believe that.

(APPLAUSE)


The truth is only Princeton President John Witherspoon was an ordained member of the clergy.
This little historical indiscretion is addressed in some detail at the Boston 1775 blog, which traces this statement to our friend David Barton (a truly self-proclaimed historian), who wrote in a piece for the CBN website (and likely elsewhere):

The Declaration of Independence was the birth certificate for this nation, but the men who signed it knew it could be their death warrant. The closing paragraph states, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance of the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." The 56 Founding Fathers, 27 of whom were trained as ministers, took their pledge seriously. On the morning of the signing, there was silence and gloom as each man was called up to the table of the President of Congress to sign the document, knowing that it could mean their death by hanging.


Again the truth is the colleges at the time were church related and theology would have been studied -- but that doesn't make one a member of the clergy!
My advice to Mike -- instead of reading David Barton read John Meacham's American Gospel or David Holmes The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.
Hat tip to John Fea and Religion in American History

5 comments:

Drew said...

It was actually John Witherspoon. He was, by the way, a political man of the Scottish common sense realist school of thought. I would think that many evangelicals today might have issue with some of those premises (see Hume and Reid over at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

But even if they were ministers, let's say, the used the word Creator and made no reference to Jesus, or God. That seems to get missed in all of the D. James Kennedy kind of rhetoric that Huck is espousing. It does nothing to change the fact that the 1st Amendment norm requires equal regard: no favoritism nor any persecution to any given religion. Moreover, it is clear to protect our beliefs, but not our actions on that belief.

Can one of these folks please take a course in Constitutional government at their local community college please?

BTW - there is a series of excellent podcasts from Princeton U that cover this issue at great length all available for free @ iTunes. If you don't have an iPod, just down load the iTunes software for free, download the podcasts and burn then to a CD. Very well worth it.

Peace.

Mystical Seeker said...

Does Huckabee actually think that the founders believed "that every single human being in this society has intrinsic value and worth?" I think the only way that could possibly be true is if the founders didn't consider slaves to be human beings.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Drew,

Thanks for the correction -- i will change Winthrop to Witherspoon -- a bit careless this morning.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mystical Seeker,

You ask the million dollar questn about our own legacy as a nation. All men created equal doesn't apply to either women or to non-white men. It is in its original context rather limited -- which is why "originalism" as a means of interpreting the Constitution is dangerous.

OneSmallStep said...

Didn't many or at least some of the Founding Fathers want to eliminate slavery then? I think I read somewhere that they couldn't afford to do so if they wanted to keep the nation intact right after the war. So they sacrificed the rights of the slaves for the preservation of the nation.

**Does Huckabee actually think that the founders believed "that every single human being in this society has intrinsic value and worth?" **

And isn't Huckabee's statement assuming that the Founding Fathers felt that a fetus was the same as a person already born?