by Quin Hillyer
Against the naysayers who would push faith and its related values completely outside of the public square, two university speeches by prominent Americans in the past year provide the right corrective. In highlighting the messages of the speeches, we need not, and do not, take a stand on any particular political candidacies. Instead, the focus should be not on the speakers, but on the messages themselves, important as they are.
The first speech was here at the University of Mobile, at its annual Leadership Banquet last November, from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The second speech came at Liberty University in Virginia in May, from former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Both speeches put values front and center.
Speaking of the University of Mobile itself, Rice said: “That’s what places like this are in the business of doing – transforming lives. Not just giving people a way to get a job, but giving people whole new horizons of who they might be and what they might do. Here at the University of Mobile, and other colleges of faith, (students) are taught to make that transforming leap through both faith and reason, that faith and reason are not enemies of one another. That, indeed, we are called to love the Lord God with our hearts and our minds, by Scripture.”
Rice added: “Because students are taught to bring faith and reason together, they have a firm foundation not just of knowledge but of how to use that knowledge in a way that will advance the human condition.”
And, directly to the point of this column, she said this: “Democracy is only as strong as its weakest link…. In strong democracies, it isn’t the government that really holds people together. It is, instead, civil society, a communitarian spirit, and understanding that the rights of the individual are critical to freedom and democracy.”
Joe Savage, director of the university’s own Center for Leadership, put it well in his recent book “We Forgot! The Seven Unlearned Lessons of 9/11,” when he wrote that “though our country was not necessarily founded as a Christian nation, it was certainly founded upon Christian values, belief and thought.”
This is important. The entire history of our first 175 years showed that religious values were not just welcome, but encouraged to be part of, public debate and public observations. So many quotations and events could be cited in support of this that doing so would be redundant. But there’s a deeper point as well, one on which Secretary Rice focused: This isn’t just a moral cause, but also a practical one. Faith and its values support reason, along with the reasonable behavior without which the practice of republican (small ‘r’) government eventually will collapse.
Romney laid out this case in May. He told Liberty’s students that because of their faith-infused education, “You know what you believe. You know who you are. And you know Whom you will serve…. Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning. That said, your values will not always be the object of public admiration. In fact, the more you live by your beliefs, the more you will endure the censure of the world. Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls like Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, John Paul the Second, and Billy Graham. Each showed, in their own way, the relentless and powerful influence of the message of Jesus Christ. May that be your guide.”
Then came a key part: “Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter. His conclusion: Culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life…. The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention. For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor. Culture matters.”
We do not pursue virtue merely because virtue leads to a higher standard of living – the Bible teaches that virtue is its own reward, even if it leads in the short run to times of suffering – but as a society, we must always remember that better societal outcomes do indeed depend, more often than not, on the conscious promotion of Judeo-Christian virtues.
This is not a message that should have partisan overtones. At issue isn’t politics; what’s at stake is national, societal survival. Republicans like Abe Lincoln and Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt have used open prayer on public occasions toward just such ends.
It thus behooves us all to pray that all national leaders will celebrate Christian virtue, while all of us make public and private virtue a leading cause in our lives.