You might have seen recent headlines about the guy in Arkansas who drove his 2016 Dodge Dart across the statehouse grounds and crashed it through the state capitol’s newly erected Ten Commandments monument.
That prompted this amusing tweet from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Some idiot in my home state broke all 10 commandments at the same time. He wasn’t Moses and it wasn’t Mt. Sinai.”
(It also prompted this pressing question from Americans such as me: They still make Dodge Darts?)
Michael Tate Reed, 32, arrested in the Arkansas vandalism, had previously been charged in a similar case in 2014 at the Oklahoma state capitol.
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CNN reported that just before driving through the Arkansas monument, Reed posted a video to Facebook saying he was tearing down the Ten Commandments display because he considered it a violation of the separation of church and state.
The monument had been up only a couple days, after two years of controversy.
It was authorized by the state’s 2015 Ten Commandments Monument Display Act, which said the rules from Exodus were “an important component of the moral foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Arkansas,” CNN said.
That legislation, in turn, was based on a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that approved the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on Texas’ statehouse grounds.
(Also in 2005, conversely, the Supreme Court decided that Ten Commandments displays at county courthouses in Kentucky’s McCreary and Pulaski counties were unconstitutional, mainly because they were purely religious rather than part of broader secular exhibits.)
As you probably know by now, I’m opposed to mixing church and state. History has demonstrated time and again that when you intertwine organized religion with organized government, you inevitably corrupt both.
So I’m not in favor of Ten Commandments displays on public grounds, whether at statehouses or at county courthouses or in schools.
I’ve never even understood what the displays are intended to accomplish. They’re usually the results of lobbying and fundraising by Christians.
Are the monuments a way for religious people to stick their collective thumb in the collective eye of people they regard as heathens?
Are they supposed to win converts to Christianity? I simply can’t imagine that a militant atheist, on his way to lobby the state Senate in favor of, oh, criminalizing baptism, would happen past a Ten Commandments monument and — boom! — fall to his knees in a Damascus Road conversion.
And of all the thousands of scriptural passages Christians might choose to display, why do they invariably choose the Ten Commandments?
Not to wax too obscure and theological here, but the commandments were part of the lengthy and detailed Mosaic law given to the ancient Israelites.
In most Christians’ understanding — or at least among the Christian groups I’m familiar with — that Old Testament law was superseded by the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles that became the New Testament.
Somebody, I can’t remember who, recently suggested that if Christians want to erect spiritual monuments on statehouse lawns, the spirit of Christianity would be better served if they posted the Beatitudes.
And I thought, “Amen. That’s right.”
That’s something even I might get on board with.
Surely you remember the Beatitudes, spoken by Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Maybe posting the Beatitudes wouldn’t accomplish much more in practical terms than posting the Commandments — which is to say, very little. I don’t know.
Still, I’d bet even a few secularists might approve Jesus’ sayings, which form the core of the New Testament’s new way of understanding God and humans.
I think people of all ideological persuasions could agree that if there’s anything we need today in our statehouses and courthouses, it’s more meekness, mercy, purity of heart and peacemaking.
Again, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state.
But I tell you what: I’ll make an exception here. Anytime some Christian group wants to erect the beatitudes on public grounds, I’ll lend my voice in support.
And if they succeed, and if some yahoo then smashes their monument with a Dodge Dart, I’ll donate my time to go help pick up the pieces and glue them back together.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.