It is unfortunate that determining the proper use of Scripture has been placed in the hands of the courts. In allowing this to happen, the faith community is guilty of a serious breach of trust. It is an indication of how far we have drifted from our proper purpose and authentic identity as a worshiping and praying community.
Testimony should wrap up this week, and then it rests with the judge. If Judge Thompson follows the law and rules against the display, he is certain to draw the ire of a segment of the faith community that wants the monument left in place. Using words from Judge Moore’s testimony during the trial, there are believers who think the state should “acknowledge the Sovereign God” of the commandments.
It is unfortunate that the debate over faith and its role in a free society has come to this. It is unfortunate that determining the proper use of Scripture has been placed in the hands of the courts. In allowing this to happen, the faith community is guilty of a serious breach of trust. It is an indication of how far we have drifted from our proper purpose and authentic identity as a worshiping and praying community.
I understand the underlying motivation. We live in difficult and troubling times. We sense a moral vacuum at work in our culture sucking away all that is good and wholesome and hopeful. We fear that evil will win the day and we will be consumed by the darkness that will follow.
People of faith believe God can do something about this situation. We believe that a relationship with God can bring healing and hope to our difficult times. To use Judge Moore’s words again, God is capable of returning to us “the moral foundation of law.”
But like so much in American culture, we want a quick and easy fix. We don’t want to spend hours in prayer and spiritual formation. We don’t want to spend days and weeks rebuilding broken families and impoverished communities—these the very seedbeds of evil. We want something we can do in a hurry, or better yet, something someone else can do. We don’t want to live in a world of moral relativity, but we don’t want to spend a whole lot of energy doing anything about it.
Then, here comes the judge. He’s got the quick fix we are looking for. No sweat, no sacrifice, no long prayers, no hands-on contact with the sources of evil—none of that. Simple and easy is what he offers. All we need to restore the moral foundation of law is a monument to the Ten Commandments.
In embracing this quick-fix solution, the faith community abandons its own legitimate contribution to our nation’s problems. After all, it is not as courthouse decoration that Scripture has its effect. It is living out the meaning of the words that demonstrates the power of the words.
And it is not in giving lip service in the form of an inanimate acknowledgement that God becomes real to us. It is when the gathered community of faith acknowledges God in prayer and praise that God becomes real in our lives.
This trial should never have been. If people of faith really understood the purpose of Scripture, and the power of worship, the monument would be seen for what it really is—a futile attempt to get God in our lives without much effort on our part.
This has not been the way of God in the past, and we can be sure this is not the best way for us now.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.
A retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published five books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).