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American Leadership and Religious Freedom
Christians in American leadership ought to cling to their faith and to the Constitution.
This piece first appeared in Beli-views on Oct. 27th, 2023.
Newly elected Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, was asked in an interview how he makes decisions and his worldview. He replied, “Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”
As a first impulse, I like this, as this is my worldview as a Christian and, more specifically, as an Anglican. However, when we say these things as Christians, we too often make broad assumptions about faith and Christianity that are usually not fully helpful in a holistic sense, owing to the broadness of our faith traditions and the differences among its various sects. Additionally, we must have the circumscription to remember that our faith, while always with us and making up the premise from which we make decisions as leaders, must be balanced with the Constitution, including individual rights and religious freedoms of all Americans.
Going to our faith—and to scripture, in particular—when thinking about decisions, as Speaker Johnson suggests, and with which I agree, is a good practice as Christians, especially for those of us who are leaders. Doing this requires prudence and a fully developed, strong faith practice to understand that not every Christian reads scripture as we do. Additionally, there are differences in faith and religion in this country, even among fellow Christians.
Christianity is practiced through different traditions and expressions of the Christian faith. As an Anglican, my faith teaches me to read scripture for inspiration and as a guiding light along with tradition. Tradition is an expression (sacramentally, liturgically, theologically, etc.) of a discerned reading of scripture and other informed texts, including the lives of the saints and writings of the church fathers over the ages. Discerning scripture and tradition is then informed by learned reason and experience. A holistic balance of scripture, tradition, and reason, along with my life experience, forms my Christian faith as an Anglican. That is the wholeness of what I do and how I think when I pick my Bible off the shelf and read it.
When Speaker Johnson implies that we should know the entirety of his worldview and faith just by reading the Bible, he is slightly missing the mark. It is not right to assume that just picking up a Bible means the same thing for all Christians. It forms the fundamental connection between us as Christians, to be sure, and it gives one a general sense of the essential elements of what makes up our faith, but ask a Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, or nondenominational evangelical about their faith and practice. You will hear different things from each of them and witness the pluralism of Christianity—the beautiful tapestry that is our unified faith in Christ in various forms, from low-church to high-church liturgy to private meditation and group prayer.
That pluralism extends even further when we think about the American people and governing. Not all Americans are Christian, and indeed, many have no faith at all. However, as faithful people, we know and believe that America comprises a community of souls. It is from this position that we think all Americans deserve equal protection under the law and human dignity through ordered liberty. These are the first principles of our American political order, as expressed in the Declaration.
Faith guides us as Christians and as leaders in making decisions. The Constitution guides us even further when making decisions as American leaders. Holding onto faith and fulfilling the constitutional duties necessary for American leadership requires prudence, strong will, and a belief in the American project. That project includes religious freedom and individual liberty; it consists of the freedom to know that when I can pick up my Bible for guidance as an Anglican, I may come to a different conclusion than my neighbor who does the same as a Baptist, or their Catholic neighbor who likewise does the same.
Embracing pluralism among the faiths and the American people is a necessary, yet at times difficult, part of what it means to be an American, and indeed to be a Christian in a democratic society. A firm belief in God and our nation’s constitutional order is the mantle of tried-and-true American leadership that our leaders should carry. I believe that style of governance and leadership not only aligns with the stated principles of Freedom Conservatism but also with Speaker Johnson’s conservative principles, as he expressed them in 2018 to frame the work of the Republican Study Committee, and which he mentioned in his speech to Congress on the occasion of his election as Speaker. If we hold to these principles, freedom and liberty can endure in this nation.
Faith is a vital part of the fabric of this nation. Likewise, Religious freedom and ordered liberty are fundamental bulwarks of our constitutional republic. We must continue preserving it and always cling to our faith in God and this great nation, which He has undoubtedly and abundantly blessed.
André Béliveau is a political theorist and policy analyst based in DC. He is a graduate of Marist College, where he studied History, and is currently studying for his Master’s in Government at The Johns Hopkins University. @TheRealBeliveau
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