For example, why did our country’s founders shape the U.S. Constitution with its system of checks and balances? One very real reason was the Christian belief in the depravity of man, or in the words of scripture, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our founders believed that because of the human proneness to sin a great deal of mistrust must be built into our governmental system. Thus three branches of government were formed to watch each other and keep an eye open for abuses. Our founders thought it unwise to put undue trust in a president, or our courts, or legislatures. They regarded it as dangerous to give too much authority to any single entity. In our government, power is divided and balanced. Sometimes this is inefficient, but it is by far the wisest course.
We saw this principle at work in the last few days in the Supreme Court’s decision ruling that the President does not have the power to imprison U.S. citizens and even the non-citizens imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay and deny them access to their day in court. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."
Another national image prominently referred to recently was Ronald Reagan’s description of America as “a shining city upon a hill.” Reagan was alluding to a sermon preached by John Winthrop in 1630 to his fellow Pilgrims as they were on board a ship sailing to America: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us…” Winthrop’s words were an allusion to a phrase in an even more famous sermon, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16).
The point of this “shining city upon a hill” image is that America’s primary power is not military but the power of example.
The recent Supreme Court decision said clearly that we cannot go to war to fight for human rights on the other side of the world and ignore them at home. Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: "It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested, and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad."
May God bless America, and may God bless the world through America.
©2004 C. David Hess