The Constitution is Not Divinely Inspired (Nor Were Its Writers)

I love being an American. I love much of American history. I love our democratic system. I think our forefathers were brilliant men (who needed some women among their ranks). And I think they forged a document, the Constitution, which is one of the greatest texts ever penned in Western history.

But let me say this clearly and unambiguously: The Constitution of the United States of America is not holy.

It is not inerrant.

It is not infallible.

It is not inspired by God.

As great as this document is, it was penned by fallible men who were situated within a particular historical, social, political context. And as all human historical, social, political contexts are, theirs was a mixed bag of good and ill. These men did not exist in some mythically sanctified bubble that somehow removed them from the situated stains of the human condition as they were writing the Constitution.

In other words, these men were not particularly holy men. Some of these men were Christians, some were Deists, some were probably even atheists. Just because they spoke of “God” and “religion” doesn’t mean they meant the same thing by those terms that Evangelical Christians mean by those terms today. When we try to make these men sinless saints, we ignore the very scriptures we say we believe in, which say, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

It should also be stated clearly that these men were not led by the Holy Spirit when they wrote the Constitution. Their words were not a direct expression of divine will. The Constitution is not a unique, eternal document. Its ‘truths’ are not necessarily eternal truths (though some of them may be, through Prevenient Grace). The error, fallibility, and (in the Christian tradition) sin that plagues all people also plagued these men. The document they wrote, therefore, reflects both the good and ill of the human heart.

If this sounds too realist to you, then you need to repent.

I suspect a lot of us need to repent.

I sometimes hear my Christian brothers and sisters speak as if the Constitution is an inerrant document penned by god-like forefathers who wrote as they were moved along by the Holy Spirit, breathing life into every word these men wrote. But such a position moves into the realm of idolatry, albeit, ever so subtly.

When we speak or assume the Constitution is inerrant or infallible or inspired by God, we in turn elevate the Constitution to the level of sacred Scripture. But this is not merely an unfortunate elevation of a thoroughly human document, it is also an unfortunate and wicked devaluing of the Bible, because we refuse to allow the Bible the authoritative, final, prophetic word over against the Constitution (and therefore, also, our interpretation of the Constitution).

What happens next, and this is where things get especially subtle, is that we end up interpreting the text of Scripture in light of our pre-established political preferences. We’ve already lost Scripture as an independent word with a free voice of its own. Now we’ve reduced it to a series of prooftexts whose sole purpose is to prop up my ideology.

And when Scripture becomes the servant of ideology, therein lies the definition of idolatry. When God’s word is reduced to our political agenda, when we search the scriptures to find support for our view of the Constitution or our politics, we have ceased to let God be God. It is not liberalism to say this; it is a Protestant prophetic pronouncement that assumes the Bible has no earthly equal. It’s a prophetic warning that needs to be heard by both sides of our American political landscape.

When elephants and donkeys drive our interpretation of the Bible, we have, indeed, “worshiped and served the creatures rather than the Creator.” Or, in the case of the Constitution, when we elevate it to the level of sacred scripture, we worship the works of our hands instead of the One who created us with his hands.