From the Values Voter Summit: Values, Citizenship and Hope
I write from Washington D.C. where I have been participating in the Values Voter Summit cosponsored by numerous organizations, associations and alliances dedicated to the moral values which ensure a truly free society.
I was invited to participate by my friend, a heroic Christian and outstanding constitutional lawyer named Mat Staver. Mat and his wife Anita founded Liberty Counsel and its associated organizations and outreaches. The work in which they are engaged is vital at this historic moment. I am honored to stand with them.
I believe that Mat and I have been brought together by the Lord in this time for many reasons which will unfold. He is an evangelical Protestant Christian and I am a Catholic Christian. However, we know that we must stand together in solidarity precisely because we are Christians.
We acknowledge that differences exist between us on important matters of religious doctrine and practice. However, what binds us together is greater, our common faith in Jesus Christ and our Baptism into Him. We also know the duty incumbent upon us as citizens of a Nation that we deeply love.
It was our common Savior who said “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16) Just as we do not choose our natural family, we have not chosen our Christian family.
We sense that we have been brought together, and are being joined to others, at a critical time in the history of the United States of America for a purpose. As a nation, we have lost our moral compass. As a direct result, we are losing our freedom.
It is time for Christians, other people of faith and people of good will concerned about this Nation to clearly -and unapologetically- affirm together that there is a moral basis to a free society.
In 1941, the late Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote: “Whence comes the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Read the Declaration of Independence and there find the answer: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Sheen continued, “Notice these words: The Creator has endowed men with rights and liberties; men got them from God! In other words, we are dependent on God, and that initial dependence is the foundation of our independence.” (A Declaration of Dependence, pp. 121-122).
The birth certificate of this nation was called a Declaration of Independence because it declared independence from an unjust civil ruler. It did not declare independence from a just God.
We live in an age which has been deceived by a counterfeit notion of freedom as giving people the right to do whatever they want, rather than being the right to choose to do what is right, good and true. We have succumbed to the siren song of relativism and secularism.
The roots of the crisis we face as a Nation is no different than the sentiment expressed in the profound and prophetic statement of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the recipient of the Templeton prize in 1983. “Men Have Forgotten God.”
But the Good News is that God has not – and never will – forget us.
However, the mistaken idea that the exercise of freedom can ever be divorced from the moral norms necessary to govern our choices and guide our behavior is wrong. It will never bring authentic freedom and will never promote the true common good. It must be rejected.
When there is nothing objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of a common life then there is no freedom. Instead, we teeter on the brink of anarchy. That is the sordid fruit of relativism and secularism.
We must also reject the notion that one can separate moral issues from economic or international issues. There is a moral basis to every social concern. That is because there is a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women because it is written on the human heart. It can be discerned through the exercise of reason. It must inform our life together.
The existence of such a Natural Moral Law is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. This Natural Moral Law gives us the norms with which we can build a truly free and just society and govern ourselves. It must also inform the positive or civil law of our Nation or we become lawless and risk devolving into anarchy.
The American founders spoke of the pursuit of happiness with reference to an understanding of virtue as a key to living a happy life. The struggle we face in the West involves a rejection of our roots. Those roots informed our worldview and enabled us to once rise to greatness. A recovery of those roots is essential for any recovery of freedom.
What is needed is an embrace of the classical Jewish and Christian worldview and the social vision which influenced the American founders, whether they were religious or not. We need leaders who are unafraid to say that – and qualified to lead us in a spiritual and national recovery.
This conference has been an encouraging experience for me. I have stood at the intersection of faith and culture for decades. Many of the people participating in the event I have not seen for decades. I was encouraged to see them working so hard steer the ship of this Nation on a path of freedom after all these years. However, it was all the young people who gave me the most hope.
I also met some true leaders.
I had the joy of connecting with a friend, a truly great man and sincere Christian leader, Rick Santorum. My readers know the admiration I have for him, his wife Karen, and their beautiful family. What a good and gifted man Rick is.
I was once again moved by the sincerity and gifts of the former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Back during the last Presidential election, I had the honor of interviewing him on several occasions. This is man is the real deal.
We need to face the piper. As a Nation we have lost our moral compass. We need leaders who will help us recover it and rebuild our moral infrastructure.
The idea that we can separate moral issues from fiscal or international issues is simply wrong. There is a moral basis to every political and social concern – that includes economics and foreign policy.
Making this claim is not reserved to religious people.
Such a claim acknowledges the existence of a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. That Natural Moral Law is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built.
The Natural Moral Law gives us norms needed to build just societies and govern ourselves efficiently, effectively and with genuine compassion and human goodness. It must inform the positive law of a Nation or it we devolve into anarchy.
We need men and women in to run for office and govern who are unafraid to acknowledge this fact.
They need to be strong enough to withstand the incessant effort to caricature, label and disparage them because they openly espouse such views. Truth does not change, people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for evil.
We need leaders who will speak clearly and courageously about this urgent hour and the need for national and spiritual renewal. These kind of men and women need to read what follows and not only understand it – but be unafraid to espouse it.
There is a hierarchy of rights, which begins with Life. When there is no recognition of a preeminent right to life, there follows an erosion of the entire structure of all human rights. Human rights do not exist in a vacuum; they are goods of the human person.
When a society fails to recognize that persons are more important than things, when it loses sight of the primacy of the inviolable dignity of every single human person at every age, every stage and of every size, it embraces a form of practical materialism, worshiping a new golden calf.
Without the freedom to be born, all of the talk about compassion for the poor as well as the promise of economic freedom is hollow.
Our failure as a Nation to recognize that our first neighbors in the womb have a right to be born and live a full life in our community is a foundational failure in our obligation in solidarity.
It is a rejection of the entire ethic of being our brothers (and sisters) keeper and its implications. There can be no enduring lasting solidarity upon which to build a secure future in a culture that kills its own children and actually calls it a right.
Freedom is more than a freedom from, it is a freedom for responsible and virtuous living. The early founders spoke of the pursuit of happiness with reference to just such an understanding of virtue as a key to living a happy life.
In addition to insisting upon the recognition by the State of the fundamental Human Right to Life we must also defend authentic marriage as between one man and one woman, intended for life, open to life and formative of the family.
Marriage is the first society into which children are to be born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish and take their role in families and communities. We can only be fully human – and experience human flourishing and freedom – in relationship with one another. We are by nature – and by grace – social creatures.
The effort to redefine marriage threatens our future as a free, virtuous and healthy people. Marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of creation and relation. In the words of the first book of the Bible we read “it is not good for man to be alone“.
It all begins with the family. We can only be fully human – and experience human flourishing and freedom – in relationship with one another. We are by nature – and by grace – social creatures.
Children have a right to a mother and a father. Of course we must care about the single parent family and the many broken homes. However, their existence does not change the norm necessary for grounding a stable and healthy society.
Intact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order.
Freedom brings with it obligations to care for others. We have an obligation in solidarity to one another and, in particular, to the poor. We are our brother and sisters keeper.
How we discharge that obligation is vital. Big government solutions, even if well intended in their outset, have an abysmal track record.
We need to again affirm the role of mediating institutions and associations, those little platoons to borrow that phrase from Edmund Burke. We need to empower them to do what they do best.
Larger governing entities must not usurp the rightful role of families and the mediating structures of society such as religious institutions, associations, charities and small self-governing structures between the family and the institutions of civil government.
Statism never works, whether of the rightist or the leftist version.
It squelches freedom, creativity, initiative and genuine human compassion. Not because government is somehow intrinsically evil, but because collectivism is simply not good government; it is tyranny.
In evaluating all government we need to ask whether it is good. That includes whether it is efficient and effective and whether it promotes freedom and human flourishing. That involves considering who does the governing, where it happens, and whether it reflects moral values.
The division between social thought and economic application is a false dichotomy. The market was made for man and not man for the market. Only a moral people can ensure that a market economy remains free.
We need to apply the social ordering principle of subsidiarity to both our governing structures and the structures and mechanism of the economic order.
This principle insists that governance should be exercised at the lowest practicable level – first – beginning with the family – and that excessive centralized control of the market economy by big government or corporatism eviscerates its potential and undermines creativity, innovation and freedom.
There is a moral foundation to freedom. We may be free to choose, but some choices are always and everywhere wrong. We know this is true because it is written on the human heart. It does not require religion to reveal it or to make it obligatory. It is a part of our common morality.
For example, the shared knowledge of what is right is the basis for our criminal justice system. We all know it is always wrong to kill an innocent neighbor. This is true even if that neighbor lives in the first home of the whole human race, their mother’s womb, a hospital, a prison or a hospice.
We need political candidates and public servants who are willing to promote authentic human freedom. They will need thick skin because they will face the brunt of the intolerant secularists along with the derision of some within their own political circles.
The secularist censors in the propagandized media want to relegate our truth claims concerning the dignity of every human life and our defense of marriage and the family to the four walls of our churches.
They contend that they are just religious positions – precisely so they can insist that these positions are not an appropriate subject for public policy or political discourse. They want truth claims to be confined within Church Walls. They try to use the Police power of the State to silence us.
This is not freedom it is tyranny.
There is a difference between a secular state, a state which welcomes all religious expressions or none at all, and “secularism”, an oppressive anti-religious regime which seeks to censor out of the public forum the wonderful contributions of the Church, people of faith, and the great ideas informed by faith which have shaped the West.
The American founders carried a vision of authentic freedom into the experiment in ordered liberty called the United States of America. However, they did not come up with this ennobling and enabling vision on their own. They received it from the treasury of Western civilization which is found in Christendom and its Jewish roots.
It is the recovery of the Jewish and Christian vision of the human person, the primacy of marriage and the family founded upon it, and the acknowledgement of the existence of normative, fundamental moral truths, which will secure the future of Western civilization.
The truths revealed by the Natural Law have fueled our determined efforts to build a truly free society. They have ensured our survival against totalitarianism of every ilk and every political persuasion.
When embraced and welcomed, they help us to govern our life together in goodness and fairness and keep the flame of freedom burning in the torch of Lady Liberty. When rejected, we succumb to the various forms of tyranny which pretend to liberate but only lead to slavery.
The Values Voter Conference gave me hope as we enter into the political season. I am glad I came.
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