Alabama voters will be deciding next week whether to approve state lawmakers’ proposed amendment to the state constitution which would authorize Ten Commandment displays on public property including public schools.
The Focal Point of the Ten Commandment Display Debate
Alabama has been the focal point of the debate over Ten Commandment displays since 2001 when former Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore erected a “Ten Commandments Monument” in the rotunda of the State Judiciary Building. The monument was later removed by order of a Federal judge.
Dean Young, the former chief strategist for Moore’s failed campaign for U.S. Senate has essentially said that Alabama voters who vote against Amendment 1 will not be standing for God. Said Young, “Alabamians will vote, they will reckon on that day with God how they vote on this, that’s how serious this is. Either we stand for God or we won’t.” (Retrieved from the Associated Press, April 28, 2018, “Alabama voters to decide abortion, Ten Commandments issues on Nov. 6”)
The amendment, which includes language that proponents say would prohibit state funds from being used to pay for the inevitable lawsuits that will result, violates the separation of church and state according to the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Narrow Language of Liberty to Monotheistic Religions
The amendment is largely symbolic. However, a strict reading of the language that discusses “liberty” to “worship God” could conceivably narrow the scope of religious liberty to monotheistic religions. The Ten Commandments provisions in the Amendment also indicate that it would only be for public display if it is displayed along with other historical or educational items, which is currently legal under state and federal law.
Ten Commandment Displays Promote the Law of God Without Offering the Grace of God
Although Christians sponsor the referendum, supporters are creating a theological dilemma by only promoting part of the story. Even if the Ten Commandments Displays are constitutional, as many have been found to be when used for educational purposes or displayed alongside other similar documents, it may use in this manner may not be theologically sound.
In Christian thought, the violation of the Ten Commandments is not punished by imprisonment or fine, but rather eternal death by God’s judgment. But forgiveness and eternal life is a gift. Romans 6:23 (KJV) says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
While Christians see the ideal purpose of keeping the law, they recognize that salvation is through grace.
In Romans 3:20, Paul talks about the purpose of the law. “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (NIV).
So if keeping the Ten Commandments does not make people righteous, what actually works? Paul continues in Romans 3:22 (NIV): “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”
And Romans 3:28 (NIV): “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.”
So, setting aside the fact that the only parts of the 10 commandments that are enforced by state law are those that prohibit stealing, murder, and bearing false witness under oath, the posting of the Ten Commandments may be a noble endeavor, but it only tells part of the story. If the state posts the Ten Commandments, it may make people “conscious of sin,” but it does not tell the actual good news of the gospel that Jesus fulfills the law and that human beings are saved through His righteouness. This job is well outside the scope of what the state can do and imposes on the job of the community of believers.
Honoring God, keeping the Sabbath, not coveting, not committing adultery, and other provisions of the Ten Commandments are good for society, but in the context of a Christian worldview where all have sinned and need the grace of God, the state is inadequate to address the issues. That, and the fact that it violates the separation of church and state. If Christians want to have a more moral society through teaching about God, it is their job to preach the gospel in their homes and institutions. It is not the job of the state.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:1-6 (NIV)
On November 6, Alabama voters who want to really stand for God might want to first reread the book of Romans and begin to focus on presenting the One who can really bring about the changes they want to see.