Sunday, January 10, 2010

Private Religious Tests:

The Founding Fathers agreed that government -- at least at the federal level -- shouldn't be able to impose formal religious tests. See Art. VI, Cl. 3 of the US Constitution. But what of private religious tests? (I.e. I want to vote for the "Christian" candidate.) They are permitted in the sense that the voter is allowed to vote for whomever s/he wants, for whatever reason.

John Jay has an oft-repeated quotation that encourages private religious test in favor of "Christians."


“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”


Yet, what turned out to be minimal "Christian" standards required for public vetting -- for instance, the "Christianity" of the first half dozen Presidents, perhaps the majority of American Presidents -- was a formal or nominal affiliation with a Christian Church and identification with the Christian label. That's it.

Since Washington's Presidency, there has been no successful "precedent" for privately vetting a Presidential candidate's "Christianity," with a strict confession of orthodox faith (i.e., "Do you George Washington believe in a Triune God? Do you believe the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God?), even though many orthodox (Timothy Dwight, William Linn, Jedidiah Morse) wished there were.

The republican form of federal elections that the Founding Fathers established almost landed someone as bad as Aaron Burr in the Presidency.

Washington started many informal Presidential precedents, one of them was religious aloofness, or trying to be all things to all people when pinned down, religiously.

So the "Christianity" of the first four or five Presidents turned out to be, in principle, not much different than the Roman Catholicism of Jack Kennedy, the Quakerism of Richard Nixon, the Southern Baptistism of Bill Clinton, and the unorthodox Christianity of Barack Obama. Jimmy Carter and GWBush stand as the most "orthodox" of Christian Presidents in the modern era, hence the most "Christian" of modern Presidents.

(Reagan? He certainly believed in Providence and thought himself a "Christian." However, it's not clear where he stood on the Trinity, Atonement, Jesus as personal savior. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.)

Perhaps it's better that American Presidents and politicians aren't subject to effective private religious tests like John Jay suggested. It would likely burn too many of them. Orthodox theologians don't necessarily make for the most effective American politicians (see Carter and Bush). By avoiding specific confessions of faith, American federal politicians are effectively shielded from "heresy hunters."

Even the great "John Jay" has given rope with which the heresy hunters could hang him. Though Jay is conceded as one of the "authentic" orthodox Christian notable Founders, one could argue Jay may not have been a "Christian." Or at least that he doubted his Christianity and flirted with Arianism.

As Jay noted in a private letter:

"It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

-- John Jay to Samuel Miller, February 18, 1822. Jay Papers, Columbia University Library.


Do you think he would feel comfortable with a Trinitarian confession of faith for public office?

8 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

Most Christians are somewhat perplexed by The Trinity, including myself, however, disbelief of this doctrine appears the issue. The Trinity, and thereby, Deity of Christ, is laden in both Testaments.

Jay wrote that both Jesus and The Holy Spirit were God, subsequently, pertaining to Jay's quote, he may have referred to more specific allusions to a Triune Godhead, which aren't there.

Does that make sense?

Our Founding Truth said...

Also, based on my research of James Madison, where can be found the words of Madison, before the 19th century, refuting Calvinism?

Therefore, Madison's Calvinism in his Memorial and Remonstrance, is strong evidence of his belief, especially as Madison quoted Calvin in the Federalist Papers.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The Trinity, and thereby, Deity of Christ, is laden in both Testaments.

"Jay wrote that both Jesus and The Holy Spirit were God, subsequently, pertaining to Jay's quote, he may have referred to more specific allusions to a Triune Godhead, which aren't there.

"Does that make sense?"

Actually no, I don't think there's enough here to answer the difficult questions.

Jesus could have been "divine" but created and subordinate to the Father. Hence Jay could have been an "Arian." Or Jay could have believed in the kind of "Oneness" theology that the Swedenborgs of yesteryear or the Pentecostals of today believe in. Or Jay could have been polytheistic like Mormons.

Believing Jesus to be the "divine Son of God" -- as opposed to the more specific "God the Son, Second Person in the Trinity," is compatible with 1) Trinitarianism, 2) Arianism, 3) Oneness Christology (that of the Pentecostals and Swedenborgs), 4) Mormonism, and 5) God knows whatever else.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'll try to answer your next question in more detail later. But no, I don't see Calvinism in either the Remonstrance or Federalist Papers.

The Remonstrance is too "free will" oriented to be Calvinist. And the Federalist Papers invokes a "partial" not "total" depravity of man's nature.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jay is looking for clear words describing the Trinity; they aren't there. But he believed Jesus was God.

There's only two available conclusions; one, he couldn't find the specific wording, two, he was an arian.

As I show on my blog, from Stanley Smith's letter to JM in 1778, Madison believed in free will; but he still held to pre-destination, sovereignty, Grace, etc.

JM quoted Jer 17, in favor of Calvin's Total Depravity; I don't believe there was a doctrine of partial depravity, hence the doctrine comes from scripture, and cannot allow for human nature to be partially defective.

Our Founding Truth said...

I have a different take on that quote.

The quote actually reads:

"I adopted no articles from Creeds, but such only as on careful examination I found to be confirmed by the Bible. It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible and consequently inexplicable by human Ingenuity. According to sundry [several] Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy." [bold face mine]
-To Samuel Miller 1822
http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/jay/image?key=columbia.jay.01174&p=1&level=2

Do you see it? Jay says he didn't take this reading from Creeds; saying this (arianism, or anything else) isn't taught in the Bible. He knew that the Bible doesn't teach The Father generated the Son! The Son is already there!!!

Awesome Jay!

Hey, I'm going to write a post on this, and link you to it. See what anyone else says about it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jay said he considers the Trinity" of "questionable orthodoxy." That's Trinity doubt/flirtation with Arianism.

Godar said...

There was this guy who believed very much in true love and decided to take his time to wait for his right girl to appear.
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