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The Danger Of Unchecked Authority

Watching Judge Moore over the past few months has reminded me of the Christian philosopher Pascal. He wrote that humans “never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” In other words, there is no one more dangerous than a person convinced they are right about God, and everyone else is wrong.

I have come to believe that when dealing with God it is best to be humble. Even if the Scriptures are inerrant and infallible, we are not. We are errant and fallible and remain so for the whole of our lives. That is why we must be humble enough to admit that our fallible and errant human nature prevents us from having absolute certainty about any of our ideas, especially about God.

This is not to say that we are incapable of knowing anything. Obviously there are some things we can know about God, otherwise worship and prayer would be futile activities. Historically, however, before ideas have become accepted practice within the church, they were subjected to the prayerful review of other believers. It’s like the old joke about the fellow who tells his church, “The Lord told me he wants us to buy a new pipe organ.” Another members says, “That’s fine, Joe. When the Lord gets around to telling the rest of us, we’ll buy it.”

When one person assumes autonomous authority, the significance of the gathered church is subverted. This subversion of the role of the faith community is fairly evident in Judge Moore’s case. In his desire to acknowledge God with his granite monument, he has diminished traditional beliefs and practices.

For instance, where is the gospel in Judge Moore’s theology of acknowledgement? Where are the cross and the empty tomb? Where is the message of forgiveness and redemption? You would think as a Christian and a Baptist, these themes would be center stage and yet in Judge Moore’s theology they are strangely absent.

Where is prayer and adoration to God? Where is service and sacrifice? Where is love of neighbor? Judge Moore’s single-minded pursuit of his public display of the Ten Commandments is devoid of these practices. Can we really acknowledge God properly without them? His actions seem to say that his way of acknowledging God is the only way that matters—that without publicly displayed monuments God is not properly acknowledged. Is that true?

The New Testament declares, “No Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” That means no single person should be given the power to decide what the Bible means for everyone else. We need the collective effort of prayerful and reflective souls to help us find the best path to follow. Once we find that path the disciplines of our faith—community worship, prayer, sacrifice, and service to others–will keep us on the path.

To that end I would like to issue a challenge to Judge Moore. Before taking his case to the Supreme Court, why not submit his theology of public acknowledgement to the review of the community of faith. Invite a broad range of Christian and Jewish leaders to hear his thoughts on public acknowledgement. Let this group pray about it, study it, maybe even consult with their congregations about it, and then let them offer a faithful evaluation of the matter.

As fallible and errant human beings, a prayerful approach like this offers our best hope of knowing and doing the truth.

James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.