God in State Constitutions

First Things posts the preambles to state constitutions in the U.S.

Michael Novak and Ashley Morrow write:

The first amendment prohibited the federal government from making any laws “respecting” the establishment of religion (either for it or against it). Its intent was not to derogate from religion, but to signal its intense importance to the American people. Over the next 175 years or so, as new states entered the Union, the people of all but one of the states (Oregon) took care to give their belief in God prominence of place in the preambles of their state constitutions. Many of the preambles seem almost like opening prayers set before the text of the constitution of a free republic. They “invoke,” “recall,” “acknowledge with gratitude,” and express “reverence.” The reason for this appears to be that most Americans believe that liberty is a gift of God, and therefore that their opportunity to erect a republic is also a gift of God.

See the article here for the text of all the applicable preambles.

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Bonhoeffer’s Hundredth

The weekend religion page of the Kansas City Star notes that Saturday was the 100th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth. PBS airs a documentary on Bonhoeffer tonight at 9:00 (CST).

My mother-in-law gave me Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditations on Psalms for Christmas. One of the messages recorded in that book clearly displays Bonhoeffer’s pacifist beliefs in the early 1930’s. That’s understandable, given Germany’s experience in the Great War and the belligerency behind Germany’s rearming under Hitler. The Kansas City Star recalls, however, that Bonhoeffer eventually became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The article asks, “How Far Would You Go to Save Lives.” Bonhoeffer’s support of the allied war against Nazism and his involvement in the assassination plot put him squarely in the ethical realm of Christian realism, not Christian pacifism.

Many have objected – properly – to Pat Robertson’s recent call for the assassination of the Venezuelan president, but they’ve done so on the wrong grounds. The problem is that Robertson’s judgment is wrong, not that violence is never necessary or that Christian clergy should never countenance such a thing. Bonhoeffer reminds us that circumstances sometimes require killing. The question for Christian realists is, “Is violence required now? And if so, in what manner?” These are the jus ad bellum and jus in bello questions.

I see too many Christians mixing pacifist rhetoric with just war theory. Pick one. I find it hard to take seriously an argument that says, “All war is wrong and you’re fighting this one poorly.”


According to reports, the Vatican has decided to copyright all papal documents, It’s none of my business what Vatican does, but some of my own denomination’s copyright rules disturb me greatly. I’m all for the publishing house making a buck, but certain products of the church should be made freely available to all, among them:

  • the official worship services of the church
  • the Discipline (an official public record of the church’s faith and law)
  • Judicial Council decisions (an official public record of the church’s court decisions)

When I say “freely available,” I don’t mean that the publishing house shouldn’t charge for the dead-tree editions of these resources. Paper, ink and labor all cost money. What I mean is that the publishing house should not treat these official documents as their own possession. The words are products of the general church. They should not be hidden from the world; they express our very being as a church.

The words of our worship services should bless the world. They are holy things and gifts from God; we do not own them in the same way that Paul McCartney owns the words to “Yesterday.” Sell the paper and ink, but the words belong to God and he offers them to the world freely. So, I would bless you today:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you [all]. Amen.

Alas, the words of my would-be blessing are on page 53 of the United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) and I don’t have permission to use them. As an elder in an extension ministry, I would use them outside a United Methodist congregation and the copyright doesn’t allow that. Isn’t it great that the first words that people read in our book of worship are those written by lawyers? So, instead, I’ll say “Have a nice day.” I don’t think that’s copyrighted.

Oh, and by the way, all the words published here are copyright by me. © 2006. All rights reserved. See you in court.

A Duty to Remember

Soldier and blogger Shawn Richardson has returned to his keyboard following his return from Iraq and his first order of business is to remember the fallen from his squadron. Shawn says:

Christmas and New Years were excellent holidays that I feel unbelievably blessed to have experienced at home. But as enjoyable as they were, I could not fully engulf myself in happiness because of thoughts about fallen brothers in my unit.

Shawn remembers each of the fallen in words and pictures. Everyone who’s returned from the theater can identify with Shawn’s feelings on returning home – and with his need to remind us of those who gave their lives. We owe them a duty to remember their sacrifices. Be sure to read Shawn’s post, “Hard to Put into Words.” Exactly.