In a recent post, I spoke of the political dissent that the American Covenanters of the past taught and practiced and what we can learn from them. However, when such dissent is practiced, many Americans will object that the dissenter is not doing his part to improve the country’s political situation. “After all,” they will say, “you can’t just sit by and let things go to pot!”
In a sense, they’re right. The Christian has a duty to seek the good of his country, and to promote righteousness in it. For a godly example of this, we may look to the same group–the Reformed Presbyterians.
When the bloody conflict that was the American Civil War broke out, many Reformed Presbyterians were convinced that the war was the judgment of God on America for refusing to recognize and submit to the kingship of Christ. Stirred by this conviction, they were moved into action.
They held a conference on national religion in Xenia, Pennsylvania on February, 1863, in which they discussed the sins which led to the war, and the need for national repentance. Such repentance, they were convinced, necessarily involved an alteration of the United States Constitution (Allison). They drafted an amended Preamble to the Constitution:
We, the People of the United States [recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all], in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Allison)
At the same time that the Covenanters were meeting in Xenia, another group of Protestants with similar concerns met in Sparta, Illinois. Upon learning of one another’s existence, the two met together in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in January of 1864, and organized the National Reform Organization with the explicit purpose of seeking a Christian amendment to the United States Constitution (Allison).
These Covenanter activists gained the ear of both houses of congress, and of the President himself. “As a result of their efforts a joint resolution was introduced into both Houses of Congress, and referred to the Judiciary Committees. They also secured two hearings before the committee of the House, and one before the Senate committee, all of which were of remarkable interest” (Report 238). Further, they met twice with President Lincoln, and he was enticed to suggest the idea to his cabinet (Moore). Nevertheless, there efforts were not successful. Their amendment was defeated in the House of Representatives, receiving only one positive vote (Report 238).
Although their efforts were unsuccessful, the Covenanters performed their duty of calling the nation to repentance admirably. And they did it without ever casting a vote.
Obviously, the United States has declined a great deal since the mid-nineteenth century. Any serious talk about a Cristian amendment to the constitution today would be laughable. Still, Christians have a duty to do everything they can to influence their rulers and their society for good. They ought to write their congressmen, support pregnancy centers and other virtuous organizations, and speak publicly about the moral concerns of the day.
When it comes down to it, doesn’t an individual have more influence through such activity than he does by merely casting a vote for a representative?
Briles, Derek. “Separation of Church and Hate: A Brief History of the Political Dissent and Abolitionism of the Antebellum Reformed Presbyterian Church, as Evidenced by the Covenanters of South Carolina and Monroe County, Indiana.” Primary Source. Vol 2. Issue 1. Web.
History of Political Dissent in the RPCNA. Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. 2010. Web.
Lathan, Robert. History of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South. Harrisburg. 1882. Print.
Moore, Joseph S. “Lincoln, God and the Constitution.” Opinionator. The New York Times. 2014. Web.
“Report on National Reform.” Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter. Vol XXXI. 1894. Web.