Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"We, the (Protestant) people"

Before there was the NRA, there was ... the NRA.

Today's NRA - the National Rifle Association - is of course the forceful and influential lobbyist for the right to bear arms. In the Civil War era, gun control was hardly an issue. The National Reform Association had a much different cause - to put an end to the separation of church and state.

For decades prior to the war, conservative Protestant leaders in the north argued from their pulpits that abolitionists were wrong - God had created the world in just the way He intended, slavery included, and to try to change things was a sin. They found plenty of Bible verses to "prove" their case. After the onset of the war, however, they shut up about that. Instead, they found a new rallying cry.

Such a great American calamity, they said, could only be the result of the country's failure to honor God and Jesus Christ in its constitution. The National Reform Association was organized to propose an amendment so that God would not "crush us to atoms in the wreck."

Here's what they came up with - replace "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union ..." with:

"Recognizing Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government ..."

Abraham Lincoln accepted the petition with grace, and then did nothing with it. He was far too savvy a politician to raise this new divisive issue at a time when the county already was divided by war. Likewise, Congress ducked the proposal to Christianize the Constitution, tabling similar resolutions year after year.

But conservative religions are persistent. Unquiet ghosts of that early NRA roam the country yet today.

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