Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Lawn?

At the end of a long weekend celebrating the freedoms of my country, I logged on to Facebook to find that one of my friends had shared a post from the page of Micheal Cochrane, the prosecuting attorney of Wyoming County, West Virginia.  On a page available to the public, Cochrane’s post solicited comments from his friends in preparation for his response to reporters about the placement of a monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the county courthouse.

After national media attention resulted from the documentary Oxyana, which chronicled prescription addiction in the area, local church and business leaders erected the monument in what they say is not an attempt to force religion on anyone but rather to inspire people and combat the drug problem.  County officials and residents are understandably frustrated with the rising crime rate resulting from prescription drug abuse—a complex issue for which I share their concern, given that I’ve lost one brother to addiction and am likely to lose another.

I grew up in Oceana, the site of the film, so I was not surprised to see that the overwhelming majority of comments favored leaving the monument on the courthouse grounds.  What did surprise me was that a lawyer would solicit commentary on Facebook before crafting a response to the media—until I learned that he was appointed to office in March after the previous prosecuting attorney accepted a job in state government.  So Cochrane must be elected to keep the job he has sought.

Among the comments that have been posted are several by staff members who work in the prosecutor’s office.  One poster believed the monument should remain but advised his friend Cochrane that the law was not on his side and that he was fighting a losing battle.  At the time I read the comments, fewer than five advocated the separation of church and state and the removal of the monument.

Clearly, the legal argument is not one that proponents of the monument are apt to hear, though these are the same people who celebrated joyously on July 4th the freedoms no Christian has ever had to question for the past 200 years.

And so, as a fellow Christian who believes fervently in the right of all people to religious freedom, I would posit to these people that the faith we share offers some valid reasons for the removal of the monument.

In the time of Moses, the commandments were preserved in a temple, not in the seat of government.  And from the beginning of recorded history, forcing people to accept a faith has never resulted in a religion that endures.  It merely ensures that when power changes hands, as it always does eventually, that the people of our faith will be denied the freedoms we have denied to others.  If my descendants live in a country where Christians are a minority, I want them to be able to practice their faith without repercussions.  Finding a way to coexist peacefully is the only way to safeguard the future of the religious freedom on which this nation was founded.

Insisting that the commandments be posted on government property is also contrary to the teachings of the Christ from whom we Christians take our name.  Even Jesus advocated separation of church and state, telling citizens that they should render to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s.  And, most importantly, Jesus never forced anyone to accept the Good News he shared.  Though thousands listened to his sermons and witnessed the miracles he performed, he never begged or forced anyone to believe he spoke truth.  Many are the stories of people he sadly watched as they walked away from what he offered.

If we believe that God’s grace is sufficient, then we must also believe that no monument made with human hands is necessary to Christ’s message.  In fact, when the apostles proposed building a temple in his honor, he quickly let them know they were heading in the wrong direction.

Growing up in Wyoming County, I learned about government in school and God in church.  My youth leader was also a teacher at the school, but she didn’t have to post the Ten Commandments in her classroom or preach to her students for people to see Christ in her life.  I find myself wondering how that changed in a town that has no hint of a non-Christian religion within its borders.

Erecting such a monument isn’t necessary and probably does the Gospel more harm than good.  Such actions make Christians appear desperately afraid that the message of Grace isn’t sufficient.  And what ultimately draws people to any faith is its ability to help us find joy and meaning in our lives.

So tell me your stories of a faith that needs no force, no fear, no monuments.

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