Pat Robertson, Founder of the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN)
October 12, 1993
The Turning Tide
Thank you, President Wefald. Thank you very much ladies and gentleman.
It is a great honor for me to be here for the Alf Landon Lecture. As you all know, Alf Landon was a great man. A governor of this state. A man who stood with good humor and great grace for what he believed in, even when it was unpopular. He was a towering figure in American political life.
I understand you have 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. Unfortunately, Rush Limbaugh could not be here, so I agreed to stand in for him.
But as you heard, I ran for president in 1988 and that was a remarkable experience. I have always believed that ours is the greatest and most decent country on earth. But traveling this nation and 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.
I must say, as an aside, that running for president was a deeply humbling experience. After I beat George Bush in Iowa, my theme song was the theme from the movie Rocky. After he did me in on March 8 after the Super Tuesday primary, I changed that to a country ballad which says "I have enjoyed about as much of this as I can stand." And I was an enthusiastic supporter of the man who later became the president of the United States.
But 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.
Let me start with one 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 which pumps life into the democratic ideal.
The Gallup Poll has compared us to France, to Britain, to Italy, to Russia, to Germany, to Japan, and to other nations and found that more Americans believe in God and act on that belief in their daily lives than people anywhere else in the world.
The Gallup organization has found that an astonishing 140 million Americans pray to the Lord every single day. Yes, according to Gallup, 57 percent of us Americans pray daily, and some have said during the recent administration that the number is increasing all the time.
About 130 million of us go to church or synagogue regularly, which means that on a weekly basis, America's houses of God have four times more people in them than the most popular television programs attract.
As you know, I am an evangelical Christian, and that means I believe God is in my life every single day. So do 110 million Americans, who believe that God has spoken to them and has a part in their lives.
Governor Alf Landon, in whose honor this lecture is given every year, said in 1936 these stirring words: "We want more than a material recovery in our 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 our heart.
And it has been like that from the founding of America.
In 1835 a French social observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited the United States and wrote the classic book Democracy in America. He also noted that America was the most religious country on earth, and he added that faith in the Almighty 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."
de Tocqueville recognized that when men govern together 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 himself. This concept I am sure you know did not originate with me. It burned in the hearts and fired the imaginations of America's founders.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1777, during the initial discussions of what would become the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which affirmed freedom of religion: "Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible to restraint."
What de 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 found in our Judeo-Christian tradition, our faith in God.
A code of behavior, ladies and gentlemen. 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 de Tocqueville these values were not abstractions. They were daily realities. If you had been able to go to Philadelphia in that time you would have found charities feeding the poor, hospitals caring for the sick, schools educating children all doing so without government help. The Quakers of the city of Philadelphia did not wait for a government program, but moved by their faith. And they did all this on their own, as did Catholics in Maryland, the Congregationalists in New England, and many, many people in many other denominations in New York.
Throughout America we have always understood the role that faith plays in a democracy. But this message of the link of faith and democracy is not an exclusively American message. It is a message for all 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, in Jefferson's words, proved insusceptible to restraint despite 70 years of persecution and 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 they have been melted in the heat of a righteous fire.
Ladies and gentlemen, communism did not fall. It was pushed. You might ask, who did the pushing? To those of us with faith, we believed the source may well have been the gospel ballad, "It Must Have Been the Hand of the Lord."
And just as Jefferson and de 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 economic 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," 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 of such institutions have 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 fail.
Let me tell you a story about the nation of Rumania, which suffered under the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu where priests and ministers were not only imprisoned and tortured, but also were forced to observe the sacrament of the Holy Union with their own feces and their own urine.
Now, in that same land, our Christian Broadcasting Network began supplying two television series about the Bible in Rumania to Rumanian television, and the response was so astonishing that the chief of staff to President Ion Iliescu, told my associate, Michael Little, "I am an atheist. I do not believe in God. I do not believe in Jesus Christ and I do not believe in the Bible. 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 stories."
We want your Bible stories? Consider the meaning and value of those words. Even if you are not among the Americans for whom religious faith 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 concept 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 black churches that the American civil-rights movement found its purest and noblest expression.
So this is the message of de Tocqueville and Jefferson, and this is the message that we have heard from Alf Landon and the newly freed peoples of the old Soviet bloc: Faith in God is not, as some believe, a threat to democracy. Ladies and gentlemen, faith in God is essential to democracy.
I ask those of you who consider yourselves completely secular to acknowledge the affirmative role of religion in our society. And I am grateful, by the way, to The Wichita Eagle for a very cogent editorial saluting Kansas State University for letting me speak to you.
But those of us who are religious must acknowledge that there have been abuses in the name of religion.
Like for example, when the Ayatollah Khomeini sent 12-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 the will of God. 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, and I do, much as I believe that peacefully resisting injustice is a noble act, I abhor these demented acts of violence. And 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; and from the religious point of view, that religion can be misused by misguided people we can move forward from the mistrust that divides us toward common ground and a common purpose.
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 de 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.
Can you imagine that in America? Imagine Teddy Kennedy and the Keating Five with the power to appoint the bishop of Kansas City! Horrible! 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 free practice of religion, whatever religion someone adhered to.
By the way, this is why I, along with the vast majority of the American people, am for limited government. Big governÂ¬ment always seems to pit bureaucrats against Bibles. And I do not have to tell you which one the American people have more faith in: the Bible.
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 that heavy hand is still very much with us today.
Consider just a few of the examples.
The federal courts have forbidden a fifth-grade teacher in Denver, Colorado, from displaying his own personal copy of the Bible on his desk at school, even though books dealing with other religious subjects sit on nearby shelves.
In Washington, D.C., the Department of the Interior has adopted regulations that restrict free speech activities, including evangelism, on sections of Constitution Avenue.
And it does not stop with federal action. At Moorhead State University in Minnesota, officials some time ago told co-ed students that they could not include a fish on a mural in a dormitory because it was a religious symbol that violated the wall of separation between church and state.
In Michigan a five-year-old girl in kindergarten tried to thank her Lord before her Friday snack of milk and cookies. Her teacher told her to stop because prayer is not allowed in school, and this little girl ended up going home in tears.
But even worse than that was an incident that took place last Christmas in a city called Concord, California, in a first-grade class. Children were asked to stand and tell what Christmas meant to them.
One child said, "It means Santa Claus." And the teacher said, "Well done." Another child said, "It means to me a Menorah." And the teacher said, "Well done."
Another little girl, we will call her Jennifer, stood up and said, "It means to me a manger." The teacher said, "Jennifer, we cannot discuss God in this classroom. Go sit down and put your head on your desk."
That happened in America.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I could say these were isolated aberrations. But the organization I work with has helped people whose free speech of their faith has been challenged, and we are receiving at this time between 30 and 40 cases similar to this. I am pleased to report that we are going into the federal and state courts to win victories for those believers who wish to exercise their faith in contests against the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. We have not lost one case in two years.
But as you know, where the bureaucrats go, the media is never far behind. I know you share my shock at the suggestion of syndicated columnist Molly Ivins that the tax-exempt status of American churches be revoked if their parishioners dare to speak out on controversial issues such as abortion. Some people are just not happy unless everything is under the dominion of the public sector. Apparently they still have not recovered from the fact that Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments, not a 10-point government program.
As Ted Koppel observed in his commencement address at Duke University some years ago, we have got to remember 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 law professor Stephen L. Carter calls in his influential new book The Culture of Disbelief. There is another term for this kind of assault. It is called McCarthyism, and it is just as foul a tactic when practiced against Christians as it was against purported Communists a few decades ago.
And yet I find the virulence of these assaults a reason to celebrate, not a reason to fear. Because the opponents of religious belief in America have become so fierce, they realize that at the end of the 20th century, the tide has turned against them. People all over 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 the human race. In George Orwell's unforgettable image, a boot smashing into the human face forever. These inhuman 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's spirit, cannot be so stilled. Who can forget the sight of Natan Shcharansky, 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 the plane that would carry him to freedom, the KGB agent told him, "Walk straight to the plane."
And in response Shcharansky zig-zagged his way across the tarmac as his final message to the prison state he was leaving. And that message was loud and clear for us today: I am a child of God and I am free.
And a scant three years after Shcharansky release, the Berlin Wall came down and communism's dreaded assault on the freedom granted mankind by God breathed its last breath.
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. And since 1980, in Central and South America, democratic elections not military juntas have become the norm.
It is all part of a process the writer Tom Wolfe has called "the great relearning." And it is 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 concepts of the past. They seek the re-establishment of the Great Society, the disastrous policies of the mid-1960s that expanded the federal government, damaged the poor, and set our government on a reckless course of deficit spending that now threatens the nation's economic well-being.
Well, being here in Kansas, I am happy to report that Washington is not the heartland of America. The American people have led the way in the "great relearning," and the people here in Kansas and all over the heartland do not see Washington as their solution. They see Washington as their 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 Landon foresaw this problem in 1936, when, speaking in New York City, he said these memorable words: "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 these very qualities upon which character is built."
And then he added, "It would be a 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 right-eousness that exalteth a nation."
Governor Landon spoke these visionary words in the depths of the Great Depression. But their truth echoes almost 60 years later.
And 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 that we are better off than those grandparents were?
Consider the settlers of olden times, the great-grandparents of the students of this university. These brave pioneers first came to Kansas, conquered the elements, and tamed this land. And you know something, they did so without the help of a Department of Covered Wagons in Washington, D.C.
So today, let us follow their example. Let us use our technological bounty not to fulfill our narrow pleasures, but to elevate mankind. 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 to first light.
Let us be the new pioneers those of us who believe in self-reliance, who believe in individual initiative, who 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 of.
Thank you, and may God bless all of you.