The Turning Tide
Synopsis: A majority of Americans believe in
God, a reflection of this nation's founding on religious principles.
The genius of the American political system is that it allows
Americans to experience the true freedom that comes not from
political systems but from God. We should hold fast to faith
exercised both in public and private life.
It is an honor to have been invited here to deliver this Alf
Landon Lecture. Governor Landon was one of those rare men in
politics or any other profession -- a man who stood with good
humor and great grace for what he believed in, even when it
was unpopular. So it is truly an honor to be here at Kansas
I understand you've been looking forward to an address by a
Republican broadcaster who is a major force in American politics,
and whose controversial views are heard by millions of people
each week. But Rush Limbaugh couldn't be here, so I agreed to
sit in for him.
As you heard, I ran for President in 1988 -- a remarkable experience.
I have always believed that ours is the greatest and most decent
country on earth. But traveling the nation, talking with, in
the end, millions of Americans put me more than ever in awe
of the majesty and goodness of this land of freedom; this home
of hope; this city on a hill; this light unto the nations; this
God-given miracle we call America. It was deeply humbling.
Today, as in 1988, I believe that the issue of the role of faith
in politics deserves to be taken seriously and that is what
I am here to speak about today.
And let me start with this simple fact. As it is in no other
nation on earth, faith is woven into the fabric of American
life. In fact, faith is the heartbeat that pumps life into the
The Gallup organization has compared us to France, Britain,
Italy, Russia, Germany, Japan and other nations and found that
more Americans believe in God and act on that belief in their
daily lives than people anywhere else.
The Gallup organization has found that an astonishing 140 million
Americans pray to God every single day. Yes, according to Gallup,
57 percent of us pray daily.
About 130 million of us go to church or synagogue regularly
-- which means that on a weekly basis, America's houses of God
are four times more popular than the most popular television
I am an Evangelical Christian, which means I believe God is
a presence in my daily life. So do 110 million Americans, who
believe that God has spoken directly to them.
Governor Alf Landon, in whose honor this lecture is given every
year, said in 1936, and I quote: "We want more than a material
recovery in this country. We want a moral and spiritual recovery
as well." The governor's wise words have been heeded all
across America. As the numbers I've just cited prove, a large
majority of Americans of all races, creeds and political affiliations
unapologetically and unambiguously celebrate the joy and richness
of lives filled with the wisdom of God's word.
Perhaps no nation can claim a special place in God's heart.
But America is a better nation because He has a special place
in ours. It has been like that from our nation's earliest days.
In 1835 a French social observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited
the United States and wrote the classic Democracy in America.
He also noted that America is central to the success of the
democratic experiment. As he put it: "Despotism may be
able to do without faith, but democracy cannot." And he
added, "Religion is...needed...in democratic republics
most of all."
Tocqueville recognized that when men govern together and by
consent, they need to see beyond themselves. Faith, he said,
provides that vision. Again, in his words: "(Faith) imposes
on each man some obligation to mankind, to be performed in common
with the rest of mankind, and so draws him away, from time to
time, from thinking about himself."
For the freedom we enjoy in this country is not simply the
result of a well-ordered political system. The genius of the
American political system is that it allows Americans to experience
the true freedom that comes not from political systems but from
God. This concept did not originate with me. It burned in the
hearts and fired the imaginations of America's founders.
homas Jefferson wrote in 1777 in the initial discussions of
what would become the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
affirming the freedom of religion, in his words: "Almighty
God hath created the mind free, and manifested His supreme will
that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible
What Tocqueville, Jefferson and so many others throughout the
centuries have understood is that limited government such as
ours can only work if there is a code of behavior such as only
our Judeo-Christian tradition, our faith in God and God's word
A code of behavior: love your neighbor as yourself; tell the
truth; work hard; be thrifty; be temperate; be self-sufficient;
love and support your family; nurture and teach your children;
care for those in need.
In the world of Jefferson and Tocqueville, these values were
not abstractions but daily realities. If you had gone to Philadelphia
in that time, you would have found charities feeding the poor
-- hospitals caring for the sick, schools educating children
-- all without government support. The Quakers of the city didn't
wait for a government program but moved by their faith and did
all of this on their own. As did Catholics in Maryland, the
Congregationalists in New England, and all the people of many
different denominations in New York.
Thoughtful Americans have always understood the role of faith
in democracy. But this message of the link of faith and democracy
is not an exclusively American message. It is a message for
all of humanity.
The "moral and spiritual recovery" Governor Landon
talked about is now taking glorious root in the fertile soil
of the post-communist world as well, where the mind proved insusceptible
to restraint despite 70 years of suppression. The new barbarism
that seized much of the world in this century has been overcome.
The evils of communism and fascism, which gave rise to the unimaginable
horrors of the Holocaust and the gulags, have gone the way of
all sullied flesh --melted in the heat of the righteous fire.
Communism didn't fall, it was pushed. You might ask, who did
the pushing? To those of us with faith we believe in the words
of the Gospel ballad, "It must have been the hand of the
And just as Jefferson and Tocqueville observed in America,
in the once-communist world leaders are discovering that freedom
needs faith as its preamble. The people in the Eastern bloc
today equate religion with freedom and opportunity. People who
are free to worship in the religion of their choice are free
to prosper in the endeavors of their choice.
But as the nations of Eastern Europe have found, it is difficult
to build new institutions in place of ones that have crumbled.
Nations need what political philosopher Michael Novak calls
"mediating institutions" -- meaning those private
institutions that stand between the individual and the state
and protect the individual from excessive state power.
Aside from the family, the most important such institutions
have always been the churches, by which I mean anything from
a one-room tabernacle to an entire denomination. The newly freed
nations of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union need religion
because without it their efforts to liberate their nations will
Let me tell you a story about the nation of Romania. A couple
of years ago, The Christian Broadcasting Network began supplying
two television series about the Bible to Romanian television.
The response was so astonishing that the president's chief of
staff said to my associate, Michael Little, and I quote: "I
am an atheist. I do not believe in God. I do not believe in
Jesus Christ. But we know that in order to build a just society
we must build it on the principles of the Bible. We want your
Bible. We want your Bible stories."
Consider the meaning and value of these words. Even if you
are not among the Americans for whom religion is so vitally
important, you can see the power of religion as a force for
social good. It has been so throughout American history. It
was the ministers of New England who taught the nation to revile
slavery as an affront to human nature. The idea of universal
education in this country was born in its churches -- our first
colleges were divinity schools. Our first grade schools and
high schools were established by community churches. Helping
organizations like the Red Cross were begun in missionary zeal.
And of course it was in the African American churches that the
American civil-rights movement found its purest and noblest
So this is the message of Tocqueville and Jefferson. This is
the message that we have heard from Alf Landon and the newly
freed peoples of the old Soviet bloc -- that faith in God is
not, as some believe, a threat to democracy. Faith in God is
essential to democracy.
I ask those of you who consider yourselves completely secular
to acknowledge the affirmative role of religion just as those
of us who are religious acknowledge that religion can be twisted
to ungodly ends -- as when the Ayatollah Khomeini sent twelve
year-old boys into battle for the supposed glory of God, or
when the apostles of apartheid in South Africa tried to make
the noxious claim that the suppression of an entire people was
God's will; or more recently when two deluded people claimed
that they were acting in God's name when they shot two abortionists,
one of them in Wichita.
I want to make this clear: As much as I support the sanctity
of innocent human life, as much as I believe that peacefully
resisting injustice is a noble act, I abhor these demented acts
of violence. I absolutely agree with the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops when they said, "The violence of killing
in pro-life makes a mockery of the pro-life cause. "
If we can acknowledge these mutual truths -- from the secular
point of view, that religion is a force for good; from the religious
point of view, that religion can be misused -- we can move forward
from the mistrust that divides us toward common ground and a
It is ironic that there are some in this nation -- a nation
built on belief in God --who think that belief in God is the
nation's undoing. Some have even taken the words "separation
of church and state" to mean that the state needs to be
protected from religion. That was not the way our nation's founders
saw it or how most Americans see it today. Most of us advocate
the separation of church and state to protect the church from
the state to guarantee the free practice of religion against
the temporal depredations of bureaucrats and power-hungry tyrants.
Remember that when Jefferson and Tocqueville were writing,
we had just declared our independence from a nation with a state
religion -- a nation whose king was the leader of the church
and whose bishops and archbishops were actually appointed by
the politicians and bureaucrats of England's Parliament.
Imagine that. Imagine Ted Kennedy and the Keating Five with
the power to appoint the bishop of Kansas City. It was precisely
to avoid such a situation that the founders sought to separate
church and state not to banish faith and the faithful from the
political life of the nation. They sought to allow the free
practice of religion -- whatever religion.
By the way, this is why I, along with the vast majority of
the American people, am for limited government. Big government
always seems to pit bureaucrats against Bibles. And I don't
have to tell you which one the American people have more faith
You can see the wisdom of the founding fathers in attempting
to set boundaries for the protection of religion from the heavy
hand of the state, because it still goes on.
Consider just a few examples:
The federal courts have forbidden a fifth-grade teacher in Denver
from displaying his own Bible on his desk at school even though
books dealing with other religious subjects stay on nearby shelves.
In Washington, D.C. the Department of the Interior has adopted
regulations that prohibit free speech activities, including
evangelism, on sections of Constitution Avenue.
And it doesn't stop with federal action. At Moorehead State
University in Minnesota, officials some time ago told co-ed
students that they could not include a fish in a mural on a
dormitory wall because it was a religious symbol.
In Michigan, a five-year-old girl in kindergarten tried to
thank her Lord before her Friday snack. Her teacher told her
to stop because prayer is not allowed in school.
I wish I could say these were isolated aberrations. But the
American Center for Law and Justice, an organization that I
founded, works with people whose free exercise of their faith
has been challenged. These are not isolated cases at all.
Where the bureaucrats go, the media is never far behind. I
know you share my shock at the suggestion of columnist Molly
Ivins that the tax-exempt status of some American churches be
revoked if they speak out on controversial issues. Some are
just not happy unless everything is under the dominion of the
public sector. Apparently they haven't recovered from the fact
that Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments, not
a ten-point government program.
As Ted Koppel observed in his commencement address at Duke
University some years ago, it was the Ten Commandments, not
the Ten Suggestions.
This effort to demean religion and religious practices has
gained a foothold in the political culture -- what Yale professor
Stephen L. Carter calls in his influential new book The
Culture of Disbelief. There's a term for this kind of
assault. It's called McCarthyism, and it's just as foul a tactic
when practiced against Christians as it was against purported
And yet I find the virulence of these assaults a reason to
celebrate, not a reason to fear. Our opponents have become so
fierce because they realize that at the end of the 20th century,
the tide has turned. The people of the world have learned the
painful lessons taught by the century's first 90 years. In the
20th century, we were witness to the unprecedented explosion
of state power around the globe. The rise of communism and fascism
represented the most thorough and terrifying effort to control
the hearts and minds and souls of humankind through the agency
of state power -- in George Orwell's unforgettable image, a
boot smashing into the human face forever. These inhumane systems
tried to destroy everything that stood between them and the
human face -- free speech, free thought, free press and, most
important, free practice of religion.
But the human spirit, infused by God, cannot be stilled. Who
can forget the sight of Natan Sharansky imprisoned and tortured
for a dozen years in the former Soviet Union simply because
he wanted to live as a Jew in the state of Israel. As he left
the care of his captors at the Moscow airport and headed toward
a plane that would carry him to freedom, the KGB agent told
him to walk straight to the plane. And in response Sharansky
zigzagged his way across the tarmac as his final message to
the prison state he was leaving. And that message was: I am
a child of God and I am free.
And a scant three years later, the Berlin Wall came down and
communism's dreaded assault on the freedom granted mankind by
God breathed its last.
Yes, the tide has turned. Outside the communist world, people
have come to understand that they cannot look to the state for
answers to solve the problems of humanity. In Sweden, voters
rejected 50 years of socialism. Since 1980, in Central and South
America, democratic elections and not military juntas have become
It's all part of a process the writer Tom Wolfe has called
the "great relearning." And it's one of the ironies
of our time that just as the world outside the United States
is relearning the lessons of freedom and faith, our leaders
in Washington are looking back with nostalgia to the failed
ideas of the past. They seek the re-establishment of the Great
Society, the disastrous policies of the mid-60s that expanded
the federal government, damaged the poor, and set our government
on the reckless course of deficit spending that now threatens
the nation's economic well-being.
Fortunately, Washington, D.C. is not the heartland of America, and
the American people have led the way in the "great relearning."
The American people do not see Washington as the solution, but
as the problem.
In their effort to increase the size and scope of government,
the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are not simply spending
too much money. They want to increase American dependence on
government, which is ruinous both for the initiative and soul
of the nation.
Governor Alf Landon foresaw this problem in 1936, when, speaking
in New York City, he said: "We have been allowing material
things to obscure the great religious and spiritual values.
But life is more than bread. Character is the supreme thing.
We have been weakening those very qualities upon which character
And he added, "It would be tragedy if in our attempt to
win prosperity we should lose our own souls. It would be an
overwhelming disaster if we should forget that it is righteousness
that exalteth a nation."
Governor Landon spoke those visionary words in the depths of
the Great Depression. But their truth echoes almost 60 years
Here we sit, in 1993, surrounded by luxuries untold, by technology
magical in its power, by bounties unimaginable to our great-grandparents.
And yet can we truly say we are better off than they were? Consider
the settlers of olden times, the great-grandparents of the students
at this university. Those brave pioneers first came to Kansas,
conquered the elements and tamed the land. And they did so without
the help of a "Department of Covered Wagons" in Washington.
Let us follow their example. Let us use our technological bounty
not to fulfill our narrow pleasures, but to elevate humankind. Let
us spread the evangel of freedom until we live in a time when the
word "dictator" has receded into the mists of a hazy past.
Let us remember each day to give thanks that we are alive in this
day, and not rest until this day is a better one than it was when
we awakened at first light.
Let us be the new pioneers -- those of us who believe in self-reliance,
individual initiative, have faith in God and in an America where
the unapologetic presence of a higher moral authority can, and will,
lead us to horizons as yet undreamed.
Thank you, and may God bless you.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.