The never-ending debate over the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol is a self-inflicted comic wound. Of course Satanists and Hindus want their own spot on the lawn. Our born-again legislators opened this can of worms by violating one of the Ten Commandments: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
The man behind the push to place the privately funded monument at the Capitol seems more concerned with Texas than with the separation of church and state. And to put it mildly, he is bearing false witness when he claims that the world’s most famous Decalogue is not a religious monument but a “historical” one. If that’s true, then it ought to be in the Oklahoma Historical Museum, along with all the other religious traditions (and nonreligious ones) that shaped our state.
Placing one version of the Ten Commandments (there are slightly different versions for Protestants, Catholics and Jews) on government property has long been a symbol of victory in the cultural wars. For those who believe that we founded as a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is a liberal plot, the Ten Commandments (not the ten suggestions) is the Holy Grail. Take that, secular humanists.
What’s more, we are told that these divine edicts should be posted on government property because they form the basis for Western law. Well, not really. The first four are designed to guide the believer toward a proper relationship with God. The remaining six deal with our relationship with others. Those are negative in form: “You shall not” … kill, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet your neighbor’s stuff (including his wife, who is regrettably listed as part of his stuff). Only two of the 10 commandments are written into our legal code: the prohibitions against stealing and murder.
When true believers gather to pray and shed tears over a granite shrine to a particular religious tradition, they violate the first commandment against idolatry. Christians could insist on something from the New Testament, like the Sermon on the Mount with its insistence on praying for enemies, turning the other cheek and waging peace.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, however, is the roll that Texas plays in all this.
Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze funded the “historical” monument with family money and broke his silence on the controversy by saying that it is an “exact replica of the Texas monument.” Thank God. “It would be bizarre if Texas can have the monument and Oklahoma cannot.”
We may not always beat them in the Red River showdown, but we sure as hell don’t have to lose to them when it comes to violating the Constitution.
All of this would be humorous, of course, if religion really needed protecting in Oklahoma. How many other cities do you know that have giant crosses illuminated in their downtown skyscrapers or bow in prayer before every NBA home game? The real threat to Christianity is not from atheists but from fellow Christians who insist on a theocracy despite history’s grim lessons. The separation of church and state was one of America’s finest gifts.
Can the same be said of Texas?
Rev. Robin Meyers, PhD, is senior minister of Mayflower United Church of Christ in OKC and Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University.
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