THE Sunday evening following the inauguration at Washington, D.C., the pastor of the Metropolitan M. E. Church, of that city, delivered a sermon on the “religious significance” of the event. This church is one of the largest in the city, and was attended by the President at the morning service of the same day. For his text the speaker read from 2 Kings 11:12, “And they clapped their hands and said, God save the king;” also from Romans 13:11, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Among other things he said:—
“We are a Christian nation. There is a secular theory of civil government. We have a little band of vociferous secularists and infidels, who have succeeded in giving the public an aburdly [sic.] exaggerated sense of their numbers and importance, who would de-Christianize the State, who would have judicial oaths, prayers in our legislative assemblies, and Sunday laws abolished; in short, all the Christian elements of our national life. They would destroy our national inheritance and are no more patriots than they are Christians. They deal their deadly blows not merely at revealed religion, but at human liberty and progress.
“The Christian religion is the foundation of all law and all literature, and to be hostile to the Christian religion is to be hostile to the Government in which we dwell.
“The Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law regulating the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office of public trust. These simply secure religious freedom and separation of the Church from the State. They are as a bill of rights, guaranteeing to all the churches full liberty, and forbidding Congress ever to abridge that liberty. It is not a union of Church and State, but the union of Christianity and the State. A free church in a free country; each independent of the other; each fulfilling different functions, yet coöperating together to increase the reverence for law and increase the stability of the Government. The recognized religion of this land is not the Episcopalian Christianity, the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic or Methodist Christianity, but the Christianity common to all,—a common religion, a universal Christianity.”
This paragraph calls for some comment. Let it be noted that there is a vast difference between church freedom and individual freedom. When the papal church enjoyed the greatest freedom, during the dark ages of her supremacy, individual freedom was at its lowest ebb. Church freedom that is not compatible with the fullest individual freedom, is nothing else than despotism. It is this that should be secured to them by the Constitution.
And it is just this freedom that is always invaded by a union of Christianity—so-called—with the State. That union may leave the churches free enough, especially if they prove to be the dominant power under the arrangement—but it invades individual freedom by combining with religion a power which pays no respect to individual option. The State does not persuade; it commands and enforces; and when it is united with “Christianity,” it is to command and enforce “Christianity” in so far as the union extends. But it is the divinely-ordained prerogative of every individual to exercise perfect freedom of choice in religion. The State says, You must. Christianity says, “Whosoever will, let him come.”
Hence there can never be union of real Christianity with the State.
Of course there is no such thing as “Episcopalian Christianity,” or “Roman Catholic Christianity,” or “Methodist Christianity.” There is but one kind of Christianity in the world—one way of being like Christ. And for this reason a union of all denominations, or of the leading ones—with the State cannot possibly be a union of Christianity with the State.
The speaker said further:—
“The recent unanimous decision of the Supreme Court is that this is a Christian nation, destroying as a precedent the famous Tripoli treaty in which the Mohammedan power was assured that the United States was not a Christian nation. The Christian is supported in independent but friendly relations with the civil power. Our Christian life and churches have moved forward most rapidly. The increase in church membership from 1890 to 1895 was over four million. The increase of population falls far below the rate of church progress. The church has steadily and rapidly gained upon the population.
“Shall we surrender our Government to secular con- [sic.] control? That would be treason to liberty; that would be the betrayal of the sacred trust we hold for our children; as well as disloyalty to God, and this blessed Book, which is the Magna Charter of human rights and happiness.
“We have evidence of the Christian character of the nation in the inaugural addresses of the Presidents…. This last inaugural has been most impressive. Listen to the opening words of the President:—
“‘In obedience to the will of the people, and in their presence, by the authority vested in me by this oath, I assume the arduous and responsible duties of President of the United States, relying on the support of my countrymen, and invoking the guidance of Almighty God. Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers, who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial, and who will not forsake us so long as we obey his commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps.’
“This brings us to the religious significance of this ceremony. This ceremonial can be regarded in no other light than a mutual covenant. The oath of the President to serve the nation carries with it the unspoken vows of the people, to yield obedience to the laws, to support and defend the Constitution, and to invoke the same divine favor and help. The President must realize the sacredness of his office. If the powers that be are ordained of God, then surely the head of a great nation stands very near the holiest ministers of religion.”
We are reminded by this of another occasion when some vows were made by a “Christian nation” of old,—  the nation of Israel, as they were assembled around the basis of Mount Sinai. There was a covenant made there,—a covenant of the people to obey the voice of the Lord which they had heard from amid the flame and smoke upon Sinai’s top. But only about a month later they were found worshiping a golden calf. This occurrence casts no light shadow of suspicion upon the vows of a “Christian nation” to live uprightly. With many, indeed, in the Church as well as without, it is a question whether the American “Christian nation” are not even now engaged in worshiping the golden calf. Considering this subject from the standpoint of its “religious significance,” we are certainly warranted in these observations.
The speaker proceeded to define the duties of “the covenant into which we enter as a people” by virtue of the President’s inaugural oath. These are, as defined, the duty of reverence for the laws and for those in authority, and the duty of giving our best endeavors to the purification of politics. In this connection he said:—
“We pledge ourselves anew to our country as a Christian commonwealth. The future of the nation is safe only as we are Christians. Those who are lifting up their voice against the Bible, against the sabbath, against our Christ, as the enemies of the best interests of the country. The nations of the past that have gone down in night have sunk because of corruption. Our present condition comes largely because of our lack of faith in God. Let public immoralities be suppressed; let the Lord’s day be reverently held, and Sunday newspapers, Sunday traffic, and Sunday labor as far as possible be suppressed. Let our laws be such that it will be easy for men to do good, and hard for them to do wrong. The only bulwark of our nation is Christianity; and without it we have no hope of perpetuity.”
This only makes still plainer the idea of the speaker that these “unspoken vows” of the people are to be fulfilled through Christianity. No other view, indeed, would be in harmony with the doctrine that “this is a Christian nation.” No other view would invest the President’s inaugural with a “religious significance.”
The speaker would have done better if he had placed reverence for the right above reverence for the laws and for those in authority. The “laws” are not always right; and “those in authority” not above the right. Reverence for the right is the only safeguard of liberty.
What effect such teaching as this setting forth the “religious significance of the inauguration” will have upon the Administration, remains to be seen.