Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Madison versus Gun Control

In light of the debate about the Second Amendment and the gun laws our President would like to see imposed, it might not be inappropriate to remind ourselves of the Founders' views on the subject. 
James Madison, in Federalist 46, argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution in spite of the fears of the anti-federalists that the federal government would then have the authority to command a “regular army” and thus the power to deprive the people of their liberty. There were, in Madison’s view, two insurmountable obstacles to this kind of federal tyranny:  (1) the power of the state governments, and (2) a well-armed American populace, two advantages not enjoyed, he observed, by the people in the nations of Europe. Here are his words:

Extravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.
The argument under the present head may be put into a very concise form, which appears altogether conclusive. Either the mode in which the federal government is to be constructed will render it sufficiently dependent on the people, or it will not. On the first supposition, it will be restrained by that dependence from forming schemes obnoxious to their constituents. On the other supposition, it will not possess the confidence of the people, and its schemes of usurpation will be easily defeated by the State governments, who will be supported by the people.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Self-Censoring Christians

I have been only vaguely aware of an Atlanta minister by the name of Louie Giglio. What brought him to my attention today was an announcement he made concerning his voluntarywithdrawal from participation in President Obama’s upcoming inauguration on January 21. He had been invited to offer a benediction—an invitation he at first accepted, but has since declined. And why did he decline? Because an organization called ThinkProgress uncovered a veritable scandal. It seems that Giglio, the pastor of Passion City Church, committed a heinous offense.  What grave misdeed did he commit, you ask, to move him to offer this voluntary penance? Nearly twenty years ago he preached a sermon in which he said—oh, the horror of it!—that homosexual acts are sinful. ThinkProgress posted excerpts of the sermon, which they characterized as “disturbing” and “rabidly anti LGBT”.  They were nothing of the sort, of course. The excerpts clearly show Giglio’s concern for people ensnared by this particular sin and call the faithful to “lovingly but firmly respond to the aggressive agenda of not all, but of many in the homosexual community.”  His comments were really pretty tame. One hardly gets the impression of a preacher pounding the pulpit and frothing at the mouth. But that’s how ThinkProgress represents the situation. But then again, groups like ThinkProgress are not known to give a fair representation of Christians.

My concern, however, is not so much with ThinkProgress, as it is with Giglio. He should not have withdrawn his acceptance of the invitation to pray at the president’s inauguration. Doing so gives the impression that he agrees with the assessment that it was wrong of him to preach against homosexuality and that someone who upholds the biblical standard of sexual morality is not fit to participate in the public square. He said that he was afraid the controversy surrounding his participation would detract from “the core message and goals” of his ministry. He further stated that he did not wish to be “in a fight on an issue not of our choosing.” This is not an issue that I particularly relish either, but we must fight wherever the enemy is attacking. Martin Luther is reported to have said,

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.[1]

I wish Giglio had something of the spirit of Luther in him. Luther was anything but tame. Of course, if Giglio should write or preach like Luther, it’s doubtful that he would have been invited to pray at Obama’s inauguration in the first place.

Giglio’s withdrawal smacks of moral cowardice. If the invitation was to be terminated, he should have waited for the White House to terminate it. Then it would have been seen just how radical the president is, and just how intolerant he is of orthodox Christianity. When the world is doing everything in its power to silence and censor Christian speech, the last thing we need is a self-censoring pastor.

[1] The quote is often attributed to Luther, although there is some doubt as to whether or not he was the original source.