The Ten Commandments trump the Sermon on the Mount in Tennessee, the buckle on the Bible Belt, where repeated efforts have been made to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings without corresponding efforts to post the Sermon on the Mount.
Most recently, Tennessee state Rep. Matthew Hill introduced a bill to have the Ten Commandments displayed with other historical documents in public buildings.

Hill said he wanted folk to remember “who we are” and not to be “ashamed of that.”

While he fends off the charge that he is promoting a specific religion, his credentials are clear.

He is a conservative religious broadcaster, who hosts the “MatthewHillShow” and “BibleBuddies.” In a recent radio talk show, he slammed Mitt Romney as not being a conservative. In 2010, he introduced an English-only workplace bill.

His Ten Commandments bill was passed in the state House by a 93-0 vote and in the state Senate by a 30-0 vote. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law.

Tennessee has a record of displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

In 2002, Rutherford County posted the Ten Commandments and then had to take them down. Sumner County posted them the same year and took them down. Hamilton Count put up a monument in 2001 and had to remove it.

The courts have looked disapprovingly at efforts to establish a religious preference in Tennessee.

While Hill’s bill may pass constitutional muster, one wonders why some Christians favor the Ten Commandments over the Sermon on the Mount.

Yes, the Ten Commandments take up less space than the Sermon on the Mount that appears in Matthew 5-7. But is space really a reason not to push for posting the Sermon on the Mount?

The Sermon on the Mount is approximately 2,500 words compared to the U.S. Constitution’s 4,440 words. No one complains about the Constitution taking up too much space on courthouse walls.

Could it be that conservative Christians favor Moses, who delivered the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, over Jesus, who delivered the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples?

Probably not. Although conservative Christians want to protect modern-day Israel at all costs, they also want to convert Jews to Christianity with any means available. Besides, Jesus as savior is central to their theology.

OK. Some conservative Christians justify posting the Ten Commandments because they played a pivotal role in shaping Western civilization. They say the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the law. The Sermon of the Mount, on the other hand, is about personal or private ethics.

Does that argument explain their favoritism of the Ten Commandments over the Sermon on the Mount?

That argument might be used. If it is, it misreads the texts. Both texts are about how God’s people ought to live together.

Take, for example, the issue of killing. Both texts take a hard line against taking the life of another.

One of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not kill” (Exodus 20:13), according to the Common English Bible.

The Sermon on the Mount says, “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Take the issue of adultery. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-29) takes a harder line against adultery than does the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). Additionally, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32) takes a hard line about divorce, whereas the Ten Commandments skip that issue.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11) require a work-free Sabbath, something missing from the Sermon on the Mount. But the law against Sabbath-breaking has long been abandoned in our society. So, no one really pays attention to that commandment.

Same can be said about taking the Lord’s name in vain.

The argument that the Ten Commandments are for society and the Sermon on the Mount is for individuals is “weaker than soup made from the shadow of a pigeon that died of starvation” – to borrow colorful language used by George Will who attributed the quote to Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount causes too much discomfort for those who want to plaster the Ten Commandments on public buildings.

After all, the Sermon on the Mount warns against showy religion (Matthew 6:1).

If the purpose of passing a Ten Commandments bill is to remember “who we are,” then why not push for posting the Sermon on the Mount?

RobertParham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friendhim on Facebook.

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