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Keeping the Promise of American Liberty

Original Air Date 07/01/2016

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Author Eric Metaxas encourages listeners to re-ignite their patriotic passion for America by discussing the nation's inspirational beginning, why the Founding Fathers viewed faith, virtue and freedom so highly, and the importance of remembrance and rituals in our communities.

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Eric Metaxas: Without the faith of George Whitfield, which led to the faith of most of the people during the Colonial Era, there is no America. Without the faith of those who led the Abolitionist Movement, there is no end to the slavery in America. Without the faith of the people in the Civil Rights Movement, there is no Civil Rights Movement. Faith from beginning to now has been the thing that has blessed all Americans.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Eric Metaxas on today's "Focus on the Family and he'll be talking about the importance of faith and American liberty. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, as we celebrate Independence Day on Monday, we want to remind ourselves of the deep and rich history of America's founding and how it applies to our lives today. It highlights one of our goals here at Focus on the Family, to empower you to engage your culture for Christ. It's one of the things we survey and ask you whether or not Focus has done that for you.

We also want to give you the tools to transform the culture through civic action and that's part of our duty in a democracy. We live in turbulent times. I'm sure you're watchin' the news, thinkin' this has to be the end days, I mean, where right is wrong and wrong is right. It can be say to get discouraged by the erosion of many of the biblical values we all hold dear.

But I think today we'll be encouraged that you can make a difference in your world by remembering what it means to be an American. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., we were able to sit down with our good friend, Eric Metaxas, to talk about his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. And John, I am delighted to share his insights with everyone.

John: It was a really engaging conversation and Eric is a speaker. He's a radio host. He's written a number of books. He's really smart and (Laughter) he's got a great sense of humor, as well.

Jim: Yeah.

John: He lives in New York City with his wife and daughter and let's go ahead and hear how that conversation began.

Body:

Jim: When you look at the culture, especially Christians, we can see so much negativity. I mean, we feel like we're losing our grip, that those things that seem to be common throughout the culture, Judeo-Christian values let's say, and they're seemingly slipping away.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: And we get fearful.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: So, when you look at this big picture and we talk about culture wars and fighting for our rights and all these things, why is it important to love our country?

Eric: Well, who said it was important to love our country? At the end of my book, I do say that, but I take a long time getting there, because you really have to think. It sort of can be a cliché, "Oh, I love my country." Most people in our day and age associate loving your country with kind of a chest beating jingoism, you know, a nationalistic, "We're great." That's tribalism, you know; that's "We're great because we're we," you know. And I'm a cheerleader for my team and my team's better than your team, you know.

And honestly, when you look at what it means to say America is great, which I do in this book, when you look at what it means to say we're exceptional, there's a powerful irony or even a paradox at the heart of it. The reason America is great and the reason we need to love our country is because this is really the first country in the history of the world to be a country for others.

Jim: In fact, the title of the book is, If You Can Keep It. Talk about where that came from—

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --'cause it's an interesting title.

Eric: Yeah and we should all know this and this is how I start the book. I mean, basically, you know, you have 1776 and you know, we declare ourselves. We're a country. So, now we've got the Articles of Confederation, great. Well, guess what? In 1783, '84, they started noticing that the Articles of Confederation aren't doin' such a great job. We need a slightly stronger federal government, not too strong, because if it's too strong, we're gonna lose all the liberties we fought for in the first place. So, what are we gonna do?

Well, Benjamin Franklin and the whole gang get together in Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the sweltering summer of 1787 to figure out how can we make this work? We need to create the Constitution. They create a Constitution. But we didn't know what they were gonna come out of there with. We had no idea. The battle was vicious. You had the slave states sayin', we're not gonna compromise.

And by the way, we want more power, because we have a greater population. And the north said, yeah, your population is slaves. You should get zero credit for that population. Why should you get more power or whatever? So, that's where they made the famous 3/5th compromise, which actually was a win for the people who didn't believe in slavery, right? That's one of the great ironies. But there was this incredible battle; can we come together, 13 colonies, to figure out how to make this work?

So, on the last day of the Constitutional Convention, out walks Benjamin Franklin, the sage of the Constitution and he had been living in Philadelphia for 60-something years at this point. And some woman, we don't know who it was, Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia, she probably knew him, she says, "Dr. Franklin, what have you given us? A monarchy or a republic?"

Now you imagine people had been arguing about this. What are they gonna come up with? What's it going to be? Maybe they're gonna settle on the fact that this can't work unless we have a sort of benevolent monarchy or something like that.

Jim: Yeah, it was probably covered in the newspapers—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --of the day.

Eric: Okay. So, Mrs. Powell says, "What are you giving us, a monarchy or a republic?" And Benjamin Franklin, 81-years-old, never short on wit says to her immediately, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it." And that sums it up, if you can keep it. What we're giving you will not keep by itself. You must keep it. You the citizens, you are America. We, the people means the people. The people must keep it.

Eric, let me ask you this. The concept, those naysayers, as you've described them, certainly there's a good time for self-reflection, even the Scripture talks about getting the plank out of your own eye before removing the speck in your brother's. So, talk about that a little bit, because as you've described it, it is kind of run amok—

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --the denigrating of the country.

Eric: Right

Jim: Where is that balance where you can be honest to say, "You know some of the things that we did in order to—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --make our lives easier, we may have done some things as a government."

Eric: Right.

Jim: I don't think the people got together and said, "Let's do this."

Eric: Well, but the point is, that America, first of all, I mean, if you're a Christian, this is easy. America, every American has just as much original sin as anybody else in the world.

Jim: Right.

Eric: We are no different than any human beings who have ever lived or will ever live. And that's a fact. So, to say I'm better, we're better, already that's a lie from the pit of hell. You are no better than anyone before God.

Now let's face it, in our generation, since the '60s, we have begun to stop thinking about the greatness of America and the great heroes—Nathan Hale, Paul Revere. We've started to focus more on the anti-heroes, on the villains, on the shortcomings, on the things we've gotten wrong. As you just said, it is utterly important to know those things so that we don't repeat them, to understand that we have not been perfect. We've done all these things wrong. But if you get to a point where you're only focusing on that, it's exactly the same as if you're saying, I will not hear one negative thing said about my country. It's America; love it or leave it. Get out. Both are wrong, right.

God calls us to be honest, but what has happened again is, just as you said, it has swung so far that when I was in college let's say and since then, all I have heard has been the bad stuff America did, the bad stuff that we've done in history to other countries.

And you think, look, at some point, you've gotta be honest. You've gotta say that whatever America has gotten wrong, do you understand that we abolished slavery voluntarily? That we decided in a war, a horrible war, to end this terrible thing? Do you understand that we have something called "The Civil Rights Movement?" Do you understand that all of that good stuff that happened was put in place by the Founders in the 1780's? They created a government that allowed us to be self-critical and to evolve past our worst weaknesses, especially slavery.

And you have to start understanding that this country has been used as a force for good by God and that God wants us to be introspective, but only so that we can be better and we can do more good things, not so that we'd say, you know, what, yeah. We're horrible and let's just like sit in the corner and we don't want to even stick our necks out, because we know how horrible we are. That's a lie.

Jim: You know, when you look at it, Eric, too, that idea of patriotism can come under fire. It typically divides Left and Right—

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --but I don't want to be

Eric: Right

Jim: too stereotypical with that.

Eric: Yeah

Jim: Probably both ends of that spectrum would say no, I'm patriotic.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: But when you look at it in the research that you've done, how do you think God perceives patriotism?

Eric: Well, it's just what I was saying in the beginning, that you have to have a balance. God's idea of patriotism is not jingoistic, chest-beating nationalism, like we're better! That's childish and that leads to denigrating others.

True patriotism, like anything good, leads us to a love for all that is good, right? In other words, if I can love what is good in my country, it will enable me to see the good in other countries and that's the irony of God, right? is that, you know, the more you give away, the more you get. I mean, God is always … He traffics in ironies and paradoxes.

And so, if you love your country too little, you're wrong. If you love your country too much, you're wrong. You've gotta love your country, it's like the way we love our parents, right? Are parents perfect? Of course not. Love is not about saying that person is perfect. It's something else.

And I talk about it in the book, how both sides have gotten this wrong. I even say that Left and Right have gotten the idea of liberty wrong, that this idea, what is liberty, right? I talk about, you know, in some ways, the Left thinks that liberty is license. But the Right after 9/11, when we went to war in Iraq and so on and so forth, there was this idea there that it's easy to bring liberty and freedom to these other countries. Like it's not a hard thing. We're born to be free and once we, you know, get rid of Saddam, everybody's gonna suddenly, you know, pull out their muskets, wear tricorn hats and start, you know, behaving the way we did in the 1776. Why didn't that happen?

It didn't happen and again, I tell this long story and throughout the book is, that freedom is a very fragile thing. And if you think that it's easy, you've got it mixed up. To get to where we were in 1776 took a long time. We had a culture that was steeped in English law. It was steeped in literacy. It was steeped in the Bible. It ended up being, as I say, as a result of George Whitfield, kind of, you know, ready for self-governance. Now Iraq was not ready for self-governance in 2003. It needed all kinds of help and so, to go in there assuming that liberty is, you know, it's this easy thing. I just sprinkle this--

Jim: Well, it's desired.

Eric: --fairy dust, whatever. So, the Left and Right both have gotten it wrong and this brings us to humility. We're all screwed up. We've gotta refocus on what is God's idea of liberty and you know, really what is the Founder's idea of liberty? It's a fragile thing. Most people don't understand it.

I really didn't understand it until I read Os Guiness's book. He's a friend and I dedicate this book to Os Guiness, because I wouldn't know any of this without him.

He wrote a book called A Free People's Suicide and he wrote about something he calls the Golden Triangle of Freedom. It blew my mind. I said, how have I grown up going to, you know, an Ivy League school in the United States of America and I don't know this?

Jim: What is it?

Eric: I mean, it's an unbelievable thing. Os Guiness basically came up with this formulation, but the Founders totally took this for granted. They assumed this, but we have totally forgotten about it. And the Golden Triangle of Freedom is simply this.

You have the idea of faith virtue and liberty. Liberty, according to the Golden Triangle of Freedom, which is really self-governance, requires virtue. How can you govern yourselves unless you have virtue? Why should I govern myself? If somebody points a gun at my head and says, "You steal that, I'll shoot you," okay, then I'm not gonna steal it.

But why should I govern myself? Why do I not need someone to rule over me? Well, okay, I can govern myself. Why? Why should that be possible? And Os Guiness says, well, it's possible for the same reason the Founders said it was possible. When people are virtuous, this Constitution will work. A religious and virtuous populace is what this Constitution requires. If you don't have a virtuous populace, self-government is not possible.

So, they said, okay, we need that and we pretty much have that. But virtue requires faith. Why would people just be virtu[ous] unless they believe in something higher, whatever. Now it doesn't mean that there's no such thing as a virtuous atheist, but by and large, for a culture to be virtuous, it requires some, you know, I would say critical mass, a faith community, right?

And that was here in spades in the 1770's, so the Founders understood that what we have given you is this triangle that self-government requires virtue absolutely. Virtue requires faith, absolutely. And guess what? Faith requires liberty.

In other words, it goes around and around, because faith itself cannot flourish unless the government understands this idea of freedom of religion, that you are totally free to live out your faith. So, this thing, it goes round and round and round. And the piece about faith and virtue has been lost.

Some people think liberty exists. All we need is the free market and we've got liberty. All we need is democracy and we've got liberty. People voted in Iraq. They had democracy and they haven't had much liberty.

And so, when you take faith out of this equation and then you take virtue out of the equation, you are undermining freedom. That is what's been happening in America in the last 40 years. I learned it from Os Guiness's book and the more I thought about it, it turned into a whole book of my own.

Jim: I totally agree with that. Let me give you a hypothetical. When I was doing research for ReFocus, a book I wrote a couple of years ago, I was kinda shocked to realize that up until 1924—

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --processing of immigration was the same day. You showed up at Ellis Island—

Eric: Right, right.

Jim: --you got cleared as long as you weren't unhealthy—

Eric: Right, right.

Jim: --you didn't have a communicable disease that they could identify. You got processed and you were brought in to begin to embrace the American dream, as you've just described it. Today, let's touch on this difficult subject—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --where immigration, it does create a "them and us" mentality.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: We're upset that the rules aren't being followed—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --that those that are breaking the law are not held accountable. How do we put a Christian context to the issue of immigration?

Eric: Well, I mean, to me it's not difficult at all. I say that this country, I say it up front, in the middle of the book and at the end of the book. This country exists for others. Just as Bonhoeffer said, we, the church exist for others. Now we don't exist for the church. We want to thrive specifically to bless others, okay.

I want to get rich so I can give my money to people who have no money. I want to get powerful and safe, so I can use my power to protect those who are vulnerable. That's the Gospel. That's what we're supposed to live out in our Christian faith.

And I really believe this country was ordained by God as a nation to serve others. And that idea, such a noble beautiful idea and in so many ways that's been lived out over the years. My parents saw that.

What has happened most recently I would say is, we forget that it's kinda like, you know, I think I say in the book, if a mother says, you know, "I need to stay healthy. I need to take care of myself, otherwise I won't be able to take care of my kids."

Now you wouldn't say to her, well, she's being selfish 'cause she says I want to stay healthy. She's saying that if I don't stay healthy, my children will suffer. And I would say that if America is not strong, it cannot help many countries around the world that have depended on us in all kinds of ways, for leadership, I mean, we forget that for most of this country's history, this country has been the knight on the white horse. I mean, I can tell you stories from my parents in war-torn Europe.

When the Americans showed up, they knew good things were happening. They knew that they're gonna come with food and chewing gum and chocolate. And there's something about that in the American character. Now it's not innate. It's what we believe about ourselves and we bring aid when earthquakes happen. We rush to them. Does Iran rush? Does Namibia rush? Some of these countries are too poor to do anything to help anybody. We have given out of our largesse. That's part of our history.

And when it comes to the immigration situation right now, I mean, I think it's real clear that you don't take something. It's kinda like saying, like of course I'll lend you money. Well, you better make sure you've got money before you lend money. Don't lend your grandchild's money, right? In other words, if you're borrowing from the future to help somebody now, that's not gonna work.

So, I would say it's a commonsense balance, that you know, that we want to help others, but if we're goin' down the tubes, there will be no one to help others. And so, I think we have to be honest with ourselves. What can we afford to do? And I would say if we stick to these principles, we'll be able to help more and more and more people around the world.

Jim: Well, and what's difficult, Eric, as we move into this unknown zone, as the democracy as the Founding Fathers have framed it for a moral people, for a virtuous people, as we lose more and more of that virtue—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --it does begin to polarize the culture and people get angry, because—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --they're not seeing decisions going their direction. So, the point I'm tryin' to make is, how do we in the Christian community—

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --apply biblical standards—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --to some of these political issues, so that we can hopefully, deliver light?

Eric: Well, I would say this. First of all, just because you're right and you do everything perfectly, doesn't mean people on the other side are gonna get it. Jesus did everything perfectly and He was nailed to a cross. I think sometimes Christians have this idea that if I only say it right, everyone will do it. They won't. Some of them will spit in your face, because they do not like the way you look.

And I gotta tell you that, you know, you can do everything right. To my mind, protecting our borders and all that kind of stuff, that ultimately I would say in my heart, is so that we can eventually help those people. In other words—

Jim: Right.

Eric: --it's not because we say we don't like the different people. On the contrary, we are all different people. My parents came to this country, met in an English class in Manhattan, okay. These are two foreigners. They have accents to this day. They met in an English class. That's what America's all about, is that they were able to come here. They were grateful to come here and right away, they wanted to learn the language. They were not compelled to go to take English classes, you know.

And so, I think there's a lot to it, but what I honestly tried to do in the book is, I try to tell the story of America to help the reader fall in love again with America.

Jim: Eric, when you put it in that perspective and when we bring it to the modern era and we're looking at religious liberties slipping away and you know, we're talking about it behind the scenes, what are we gonna do? Go fight it in court? We put up a valiant effort to retain those rights.

But in many ways, the picture here that you're painting is, this is quite natural what's going to happen because of the lack of virtue and because of the power and the control of the human heart and how we want to make sure—

Eric: Right, right. Right.

Jim: --it goes our direction and not the other guy's direction. The loss of these things is almost predictable.

Eric: Right.

Jim: And so, what do we do to best represent God's heart in this situation where we're not on the ascent?

Eric: Right.

Jim: We're on the descent—

Eric: Right.

Jim: --in terms of our liberties in this country.

Eric: Right.

Jim: How do we behave in such a way that brings God honor and we don't lose our soul in the process?

Eric: Well, there's two things I would say. First of all,to fight for religious liberty, we need to make the case and I make that case in this book, is that religious liberty is not for Christians.

In other words, you're fighting for all of America, so that somebody can have the right to be an atheist, so somebody can have the right to live out whatever faith. This affects everybody. Once Christians frame it like, "Oh, protecting our rights." Who cares about our rights? We care about the rights of every human being.

Now if religious liberty isn't about that, then people could rightfully accuse us of saying, "You're just fighting for yourself. It's a zero-sum game, postmodernism. The most powerful one wins. We're gonna try to win."

But if you frame it, they say, no, no, no. The very heart of American liberty depends on religious liberty and freedom of conscience for everyone. Again, we've forgotten this. We don't understand this. We need to make that clear so that anybody, you've got a gay activist like Andrew Sullivan. He's making this case. He understands that the other side has gone too far. He was advocating for gay marriage since the beginning of time and then suddenly, they get gay marriage and he says that the people on my side are now not behaving the way they should. In other words, he understands that respecting those with whom we disagree, loving those with whom we disagree is the right way.

So, this is something that, you know, we need to understand it's a fundamental idea. It's not a Christian idea. This is an idea that is true. When you have religious liberty, you have liberty for all, period, case closed. So, that's the first piece.

The second piece is when we frame it in that way, we're sort of fighting defensively. We're fighting in the courts and that kind of thing. And really, what we oughta be doing is fighting offensively and again, in the book what I try to do is, I try to say to everybody, without the faith of George Whitfield, which led to the faith of most of the people during the Colonial Era, there is no America. Without the faith of those who led the abolitionist movement, there is no end to the slavery in America. Without the faith of the people in the Civil Rights Movement, there is no Civil Rights Movement.

Faith from the beginning to now has been the thing that has blessed all Americans. I mean, I would even say in terms of gay rights and women's rights, the very idea of saying, "Oh, I care about these other people," even though we could outvote them. We could crush them with the votes, but we said, we don't care. We say, what is right? To love somebody, to treat somebody with respect, all of these ideas, these are ideas for everyone agrees on.

These are ideas from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and the whole gang. These are not ideas I came up with or my right-wing posse came up with. This is what every American, the heroes of the Left at the beginning, they believed these things and these things are meant for everybody.

And so, I want to sort of, I say by telling the story of America and by telling how faith is important in the story of America, to re-enchant Americans with our own story, so that we fall in love with America and to realize that the role faith has played has been so important that most of the things that we say are good would never have happened. And the future that we have, we have to put faith at the center. It doesn't mean everybody has to become a Christian, but it means that if you start pushin' that out, you will lose everything—

Jim: Yeah.

Eric: --not the Christians; you will lose everything.

Closing:

John: We've been hearing from Eric Metaxas on today's "Focus on the Family," reflecting about the impact that faith had and continues to have on this great country.

Jim: I thought was Eric had to share about our country and the founding of it was fascinating and we don't always learn about those details. This conversation serves as a good reminder of the godly influences our Founding Fathers provided as they brought the most amazing country ever constructed into fruition. Um ... we can't take our freedoms for granted and that's the point of Eric's message in his book. Don't lose it and we also can't lose sight of the fact that God has us in His hands and I trust in that. Boy, that is something I am very aware of.

As we celebrate Independence Day, let's lift the U.S. to God and ask Him to guide us as we look toward the 2016 election and those who will become our leaders. We also want to put Eric's book, If You Can Keep It in your hands. It's a captivating read that goes beyond the history lessons that you probably learned in school. And it challenges us to actively seek the vision the Founding Fathers set into motion. We'll send that to you today as way of sayin' thank you for your generous gift to Focus on the Family.

We've been talkin' about how the summer months can be a little dry in terms of giving. I know we're all busy and goin' different things. And I hope you'll consider partnering with us, so that we can continue to strengthen marriages and families across the globe.

John: Yeah and we have so many people that listen in China and in other countries. It's remarkable. Of course, the ones we hear from via phone call and e-mail and letters are mostly here in North America. And so many of them are hurting. There are couples on the brink of divorce and families in crisis.

Jim: And thanks to our matching challenge provided by a few generous friends, you can turn every dollar you give today into two and to make an eternal difference in the lives of these families, really one family at a time. Your gift today will go twice as far to provide those biblical truths, the practical help that they need to thrive in Christ. So, give today and on behalf of those families and our Lord, let me say thank you for helping.

John: Donate and ask about that book by Eric Metaxas when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

While you're there, be sure to take our Listener Survey. Your feedback about these programs means a lot to us and it's helpful in determining the kind of content that we'll pursue in the coming days.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great Independence Day weekend and safe one, as well. And if you can, join us on Monday when we have Andy Stanley. It's a great 4th of July program, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Guest

Eric Metaxas

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Eric Metaxas is a New York Times best-selling author of numerous books including the award-winning biography Bonhoeffer which has sold more than 800,000 copies and has been translated into 19 languages. A prolific writer, Eric has authored essays, poetry, op-ed articles, book and movie reviews and more than 30 children's books. He is also a public speaker and host of the Eric Metaxas Show, a nationally syndicated radio program heard around the U.S. Eric can also be heard on Chuck Colson's Breakpoint radio commentary that's broadcast on 1,400 radio outlets with an audience of eight million listeners. He resides in Manhattan with his wife and daughter. Learn more about Eric by visiting his website, www.ericmetaxas.com.