Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice said, "The Unite...

ON NOV. 20,

November 26, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ON NOV. 20, Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice said, "The Unite States of America is a Christian nation."

A lot of commentators denounced him on the grounds that this nation is neutral when it comes to religion.

But also on Nov. 20, an ignored President Bush issued a clearly religious document proclaiming today an official religious national holiday. It contains phrases "one nation under God," "the goodness of our Creator," "our indebtedness to the Almighty," "give thanks to God" and "divine commission." (See next page.)

The president also said, "I urge all Americans to gather in their homes and in places of worship to offer thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings that He has granted us as individuals and as a nation." And this: "The liberty that we enjoy today is clearly rooted in our nation's Judeo-Christian moral heritage and in the timeless values that have united Americans of all religions and all FTC walks of life."

It's pretty clear to me that in this country all religions are equal, but some religions are more equal than others. That in fact, the social and political lessons implied or asserted in the history and literature of Christianity and Judaism are what shaped this nation's governmental institutions, including the public schools, and its leaders, even the ones who were not Christian or Jewish, and thus the national mind.

It is nonsense to think otherwise on this day. Presidents have been proclaiming a Thursday in November a national day of officially giving thanks to God since that famous non-church member Abraham Lincoln first declared such a holiday.

As early as George Washington, presidents had occasionally suggested some such national rite. Every president has been religious one way or another, and all have drawn on Judeo-Christian ethics and doctrine to guide them.

Thus Lincoln could say, "That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures." And, of course, his armies fought the armies defending slavery to the tune of, "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free."

Thomas Jefferson, a Deist who is best known for his insistence on a "wall of separation" between church and state, is the president most often invoked by journalists when attacking Fordice-type statements. But Tom also once said, "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus."

And another Founding Father, John Adams, once said, "The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion." Now, that's about as Judeo and Christian as you can get.

Why does the press get so excited about religious statements by politicians like Fordice? Probably because we are not as a group a very religious bunch. Harry Truman knew journalists pretty well. When Franklin Roosevelt died, Harry said to reporters covering him, "Boys, if you ever prayed, which I doubt greatly, you had better pray for me."

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