America's alleged Christian roots debated in packed room at OCCC
OKLAHOMA CITY – The lecture room at Oklahoma City Community College was clearly divided Thursday night between those who believe the U.S. was established as a Christian nation and those who do not.
This difference was revealed during a show of hands in the packed room prior to the debate between two Baptist ministers with markedly different interpretations of the religious origins (or not) of the U.S. Constitution and the founding of the nation.
The debate topic tonight was: “Resolved, the United States Constitution neither established nor advocates for a Christian nation.”
And it was specifically held in OCCC’s Campus Union and sponsored by the Oklahoma City chapter of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Debating tonight were the Rev. Steve Kern, a minister at Olivet Baptist Church and the husband of socially-conservative legislator Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) would argue in favor of the idea that the Founding Fathers based their decisions on Christian principles and for religious reasons.
And on the flip side, it was the Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. His position that America was not established as a Christian nation, despite many efforts from present-day Christian ministers to re-write history.
Both ministers sat at a table before the rapt audience and
were asked questions ranging from the meaning of Matthew 22:21 ("Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's") to whether the Founders, many of whom were Christians, took the issue of slavery into account when writing the Constitution.
Both men were cordial, although at times it appeared that Kern was a bit defensive and referred to Prescott as his “opponent.” While Prescott answered questions from a more scholarly, reasoned position, Kern was more emotional in his responses, at one point raising his voice as he held charts showing America’s slide into godlessness since 1963.
As he displayed the charts, Kern got into preacher mode and said, “Jesus is the only hope for your soul.” This statement resulted in a guffaw from one man in the audience.
There were arguments about “religion and morality” in the 1780’s and whether or not that government mention of that was proof of the nation’s Christian roots.
“Americans have always preferred the government to remain neutral on issues of religion,” Prescott said, adding that the Constitution “does not advocate for a Christian nation.”
Kern roundly disagreed and reiterated his evangelical position.
“The Constitution is a Christian document,” Kern said, adding later, “This country is grounded in Christian principles.”
Regarding the taking of an oath to the Constitution, Prescott said that it is simply about one’s agreement to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
Later, Prescott was asked about whether America was conceived as a secular or religious nation.
Prescott replied: “They were establishing the first secular government in the history of the world. Founded on the consent of the governed.”
Kern said that our “rights come from God” and “not from government.”
The hosts of the event then asked the two ministers to comment on one another’s approaches to tonight’s topic. Prescott said that while they agreed on a couple of things – “because we’re both Baptist ministers” – he said Kern is “seriously misguided in his understanding of the Constitution.”
He continued, saying that in recent decades America has been duped by “TV evangelists … who want to see this nation be Christian so badly that they’re willing to distort the truth.”
Kern said Prescott’s positions are “a point of view I don’t agree with” and that the positions he takes on America’s Christian birth are “grounded in historical reality,” despite recent secularization efforts.
Kern would also note that he is not in favor of forcing anyone to come to his church, but he would certainly invite folks to come hear him preach. Kern does believe in Americans ability to choose how they worship.
Later, written questions from the audience were asked of the two debaters. When asked about why Christianity was not the sole reason the Founders did what they did, Prescott said a secular position was taken “because they didn’t want religious conflict anymore.”
And while there is the perception of separation between church and state, Kern complained that as a Christian minister with strong moral convictions he said he feels persecuted by a government interfering with his long-held Christian beliefs. An example he gave was hate speech laws.
“(I’m) not able to speak out on actions that I think are sin,” he said.
And one of the final questions from the audience had to do with whether or not they took a literal interpretation of the Bible. Kern said he was a “literalist” when it comes to Scripture while Prescott said he is not so much, noting how as a Baptist he disagrees with a literal interpretation of the “body and blood of Jesus Christ” being just that, as, say, Catholics do.
And when Kern was pressed to explain what he thought a “good Christian” was, he replied, “Someone who strives to live up to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
At the end of the debate, the hosts from Americans United asked if anyone had changed their minds. There were one or two. It appeared that everyone who came in to tonight’s debate had made up their mind long before walking through the doors of OCCC’s Campus Union.
For more information on Americans United for the Separation of Church and State go to www.okau.org.
Copyright 2011 West Marie Media
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