Tablets of Stone

I’ve got mixed feelings about the saga going on down in Alabama with Chief Justice Roy Moore. In case you haven’t heard about it, Justice Moore is fighting a US Supreme Court order to remove the monument of the Ten Commandments he placed in the rotunda at the Alabama Supreme Court.

On one hand, I can sympathize with Justice Moore. I think he is correct in maintaining that the Decalogue and God’s law is foundational to our own law. I also agree that the Constitution’s establishment clause (in the First Amendment) was never meant to cover issues such as this.

What makes me uneasy is not the fact that Justice Moore is taking a bold stand, but I wonder if this is the right battle to be fighting. Whether or not a statue of the Decalogue stays in an Alabama courthouse will not change the historical fact that Western law is based on Judeo-Christian principles. I appreciate Justice Moore standing up against a wrong, but what point is he trying to make?

Deuteronomy 6 tells us that the aim of God’s commandments and instruction is that they might be written on our hearts. The absence of a statue in the courthouse will not even be noticed if the word of God is written on the hearts of his followers. I tremble to speculate how many of Justice Moore’s vocal supporters could even quote the Ten Commandments without reading the statue.

UPDATE: It appears that I am not the only person who has some ambivalence on this issue. Marvin Olasky has a much more in-depth treatment in the upcoming issue of World. Olasky likens the dilemma to military tactics:

Christian activists, for their part, should not rush either to support or scorn, but should think through whether this is the issue on which they want to concentrate their attention. Robert E. Lee, a master strategist, chose the high ground near Fredericksburg, Va., as the place to make a stand late in 1862, and his choice led to a major Southern victory. Half a year later Lee fought another major battle at Gettysburg, on ground he had not chosen that worked to his disadvantage. “Pickett’s charge” on July 3, 1863, was a noble effort. It was also Lee’s biggest military mistake.

Christians cannot control what biased journalists report, but those who aspire to be like Robert E. Lee need to consider the ground of battle. Here’s an example of good ground: Eight years ago Texas state officials tried to remove the license of a Christian drug-counseling organization because it fought addiction through evangelism. The drug-counseling group gained a lot of support from Texans, including then-Gov. George W. Bush, because it was obviously doing good in getting people off drugs (WORLD, July 29, 1995). Recent history shows that Christians using government power to assert biblical truth tend to be seen as bullies, while those standing up against such power—if they can show that they are helping people in the process—tend to win at least grudging assent from those who would otherwise be critical.

I think this is a wise perspective. We should not be too quick to scorn, but at the same time we need not be foolish.