Which Commandments Should Hang?

Oklahoma Gazette | June 11, 2006
The Supreme Court will soon take up the matter of whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed on government property. Meanwhile, the 2-ton monument that judge Roy Moore refused to remove from his courtroom is now a traveling display, making its way around the country for people to pray over, weep over and curse the darkness that is the "godless judiciary."

The Ten Commandments appeal to evangelical Christians because they are simple, straightforward, unambiguous and draw a bright line in the moral sand. They are not, as preachers are fond of saying, the "Ten Suggestions." If they could be seen daily by more students and lawyers, the decline of Western civilization that started when kids stopped praying in school and started listening to rock ’n’ roll could be reversed.

What's ironic is that these are not the commandments of Jesus. When asked by the rich young ruler in Matthew what a person must do to inherit eternal life, he is first told to "keep the commandments." He inquires, "Which ones?" And Jesus gives only five of the original 10 and a completely new one: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Not only does Jesus edit the Ten Commandments, which sounds like moral relativism to me, but the way he does it speaks volumes about the current debate over separation of church and state. The ones he left out deal with formal religious observances -- precisely the ones that clash with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol" (like a monument to the Ten Commandments). "You shall not misuse of the name of the Lord your God. … Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."

The six commandments of Jesus make no mention of God or faith, and thus could appear anywhere without constitutional entanglements. What's more, they are part of the religious teaching of every world religion. So why do Christians not pay more attention to the six commandments?

That begs a larger, more urgent question: Why don't Christians pay more attention to Jesus? No one is arguing that the Sermon on the Mount be posted in schools or on the courthouse wall. Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? You can’t serve God and money? Sounds like a recipe for the collapse of Western civilization.

There are eight beatitudes, but nobody suggests hanging them on the wall so that children might know who is considered "blessed." The meek? The merciful? The peacemakers? Too soft. Too feminine. Too tipped in favor of the poor.

If the church is so intent on having people understand the basis for moral behavior, then why not post the straightforward commandment of Jesus to "give to everyone who begs from you"? Watch throngs of Christians passing panhandlers on the street as they walk to church and you get some idea how unfamiliar they are with their own redeemer's ministry.

The new pope is promising to crack down on dissent theologians. I wonder what the punishment would be for carving down the Ten Commandments from 10 to six? What's more, by the time the last Gospel is written, Jesus is down to one: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

What happened to the might and the mountaintop? Where is the divine wrath? Spare the Decalogue and spoil the child! Here is yet more proof that the biggest problem we face these days isn't the separation of church and state, but the separation of the church from Jesus.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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