A reader of my column in White County, Georgia, alerted me recently to a development at the courthouse there. Following the lead of many government entities around the country, county officials have established a public display featuring the Ten Commandments along with some other historical documents.
The reader recalled a column I wrote a few years back about why it is not a good idea to display Scripture in this way and asked for a copy. After reading it again, I decided it was timely enough for another posting.
Here are the top 10 reasons for not publicly displaying the Ten Commandments.
Number 10. Posting the Ten Commandments endorses Protestant Christianity. Almost all of the displays use the King James Version of the commandments—a Protestant distinctive. Roman Catholics and followers of Judaism use a different translation.
Number Nine. Public displays of the Ten Commandments reduce all other religions to second-class status. Not all religions in our country are part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. And because it is still possible to be a citizen of this country without being a Christian, all religions must be treated equally.
Number Eight. Displaying the Ten Commandments as a way of trying to improve the social order reinforces a magical view of religion. Proponents say that if we display the Ten Commandments, children will behave better in school and our nation will be blessed for acknowledging God. Thinking this way reduces the Ten Commandments down to the level of a lucky rabbit’s foot. The impact of the Ten Commandments comes when they are taught by faithful teachers, not when they are dangling from a keychain.
Number Seven. Public displays of Scripture corrupt the true purpose of religious practice. God did not send the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount in order to “create a more perfect union.” These Scriptures represent an ideal community far more difficult to attain than the mere democracy we struggle with.
Number Six. Public displays of Scripture corrupt the true purpose of government. Every time in history the state has acted on behalf of God, blood has flowed in the streets. God may work through the state as God chooses, but that does not mean everything the state does is God’s will. Keeping church and state separate makes it possible for the faith community to remind the state of its temporal limitations as needed.
Number Five. Public displays of the Ten Commandments are a form of idolatry. Anytime we treat as ultimate something we have made with our own hands, we are worshipping idols. Even if the words on the monument are God’s, the monument is ours. That’s why one of those commandments warns against graven images.
Number Four. Grouping the Ten Commandments with other historical documents distorts the history of all. The United States was established as a secular state, not a theocracy. And Moses was not present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Number Three. Public displays of religion promote social disorder by setting groups of people against each other. The only way America works is if we guarantee equal freedom for everyone.
Number Two. A public display of Scripture trivializes what is supposed to be important and profound. Do we really want our sacred texts treated like soda pop ads?
And the number-one reason why we should not want public displays of the Ten Commandments—God wants them written on our hearts, and that’s not going to happen just because they are on display down at the courthouse.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Ala.