Good or Bad—A Tennessee County Promotes “Judeo-Christian Values”?

Nov 4, 2022 by David Fowler

Good or Bad—A Tennessee County Promotes “Judeo-Christian Values”?
The Sumner County (Tennessee) Commission recently voted 20 to 4 in favor of adding a preamble to its Standing Rules and Procedures stating an intent that the operation of its government be “reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in our nation’s founding.” Were liberals right to be aghast in their Establishment Clause concerns about such an intent? Should Christians rejoice?

The term “Judeo-Christian” has a long tradition of varied meanings, some good and others bad, depending on who is using the term and why. That aside, there are probably few political conservatives today, Christian or otherwise, including me, who have not used that term in connection with “values.” 

It is ostensibly helpful to some Christians because saying one supports “Judeo-Christian values” is certainly less offensive and more inclusive sounding than saying, “I support values that are objectively true based on their correspondence to a proper understanding of who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ and as explicated throughout the entirety of Old and New Testaments.” (I wonder if a news reporter would know what to ask next if a politician were to make such a statement!)

Liberals may not know exactly what to make of such an alternative statement, but he or she would know it is bad because it contains certain buzzwords they loathe. That “bad” is what they see lurking behind the words “Judeo-Christian.” That is why they are claiming use of that phrase violates the Establishment Clause. But does it?

Has the Establishment Clause Been Violated?

In sum, no. I explain why in Chapters 9 through 12 of my book, The Naked Court. Perhaps this is the most salient statement in that regard: 
Every argument for and against [a piece of legislation] is predicated on an underlying faith commitment formulated in terms of the existence of God. . . Atheism is a belief system defined in terms of theism. (If you would like a pdf of the Chapter entitled, “Arguing Against the MCRA on Religious Grounds is a Violation of the Establishment Clause,” send a reply email and request it.)

So, let’s get past the ruse that some “values” have no relation to one’s beliefs about God.

Moreover, every lawyer worth his or her salt who is not trying to dupe people knows a preamble is, by definition, not law itself. Thus, this preamble cannot be “an establishment” of religion by law.

But liberals who make this claim also know that the United States Supreme Court is signaling a retreat from the idea that an enacted law grounded in the religious sentiments of some who support it is an establishment of religion. Thus, they must scream over a preamble to help forestall losing what they have gained over the years by erroneous Supreme Court decisions. 

In their eyes, the preamble is surely the camel’s nose under the tent. It is a prelude to requiring all Americans to attend a “Christian Church.” Such a claim is amusing since any institution or organization today can pass itself off as Christian. 

We are so far from establishing by law one “sect” within Protestantism as beneficiary of any government’s patronage, much less the Catholic Church, that the thought such a move is afoot is funny. 

Is Referencing “Judeo-Christian Values” a Good Idea?

Earlier in my political life I would have said, “Yes” or “Absolutely.” Now I am less certain.

My concern is rooted in something fundamental: Judaism denies the triune nature of God, and in Christianity that nature is fundamental. 

I would not deny that those of Jewish descent or religious conviction may share with Christians certain moral values; however, Christians believe that objectively true and enduring values are rooted in the triune nature of God (Colossians 2:1-4) that Judaism denies. According to those verses “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are found in an understanding of the Trinity, though for the longest time I had no idea why.

But I found that verse true. For example, if Creation reveals the glory of God, as the Old Testament says and the New Testament affirms, the unity and diversity we see in creation, particularly those enduring aspects that cannot be disordered without created things and their relation to one another ceasing to be, are pointing us to a God like that which was revealed in Jesus Christ, a unity existing in diversity and a diversity existing in unity. Thus, for the Christian, holding to a value that posits the possibility of unity and diversity in a beautiful harmony without unity subverting diversity or vice versa logically arises from a God whose very nature or essence is a beautiful and perfect harmony of unity and diversity.

So, to reduce the predicate for the Christian understanding of values—like the one just noted —to something less than the Christian understanding of who God is or to hold that the revelation of God in Christ Jesus is non-essential to truth and wisdom is not as Christian as it once sounded to me. ­

The more I consider the term Judeo-Christian the more it seems to partake of an “interfaith” and lowest-common-denominator type of religion, one that makes Christ non-essential to values.  Doing that was the mistake of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and in retrospect we see that his efforts did not produce any lasting change in the direction in which law, government, or culture were then going.

I appreciate that those twenty county commission members wanted to do a good thing. I also appreciate that, the issue having come to a vote, those commissioners didn’t want to deny our history relative to the moral/ethical values held by our founding fathers, “deny the faith,” or both. I appreciate that they did not bow down to a false view of the Establishment Clause. 

I just think it is time that Christians, including me, decide whether Jesus Christ is truly essential to a right understanding of all things and consider how best to proceed in light of that. 
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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