Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. the UNC Charlotte Department of Religious Studies hosted a public talk in McKnight Hall in the Cone University Center.
The event was funded by the Chancellor’s Diversity Challenge Fund, and welcomed guest speakers Ed Buckner, former president of American Atheists and Pastor Jay Lucas of Grace Community Baptist Church in Ohio.
The event was attended by a mostly full auditorium and was centered on the fundamental question of “Whether the U.S. is –or should be – a Christian nation.”
The conversation was, for the most part, light and not without character. Almost immediately, Lucas introduced himself and his fellow speaker, “Ed and I have debated twice, and I just can’t believe he’s still an atheist.”
This was awaited by an entertained audience, to which both professed that they are friends and agree to disagree. Buckner replied to Lucas’s joke with one of his own, “[Lucas is] extremely wrong about some very important things, but I want you to forgive him for that.”
After introductions, Buckner described the design of public speaking, which was, according to him, formed around two principles. The first of these is the growing need for people to appreciate world views. The latter was that dialogue was essential to understanding others and their respective views. Lucas explained that he did not wish to speak for all Christians, or to be misconstrued as doing so.
Both Lucas and Buckner agreed that the U.S. should not be a Christian nation.
Lucas argued that the Bible, and especially the New Testament, does not promote an official Christian nation and that it rather commands Christians to gather in churches, adding that, “Churches can’t be nations and nations can’t be churches.” Simply, he believes that no category of the New Testament justifies such an official religion for the country.
While both were respective of the aforementioned principles of debate, their views differed greatly.
Lucas affirmed that, “Rights and liberties require a transcendent foundation,” and that “No other nation in history has been so thoroughly affected by Christianity.”
Buckner upheld his belief that rights essentially lie with the people saying that, “If rights are simply what government says they are, then we could simply slide back to the tyranny under King George III.”
While commending the nation as an exceptional one and his fellow speaker as a fine man, Lucas stated that, “Atheism cannot provide a rationally consistent basis of supporting America as it is today.” Buckner poked at Christianity as well, referring to when, “Slavery was treated as a moral, God-given institution.”
Lucas referred to Thomas Paine’s, author of “The Rights of Men,” principle that all natural rights serve as the foundation for all civil rights, Buckner argued that Paine excoriates the Bible and that he, “Certainly didn’t believe in the Christian God,” though a deist.
Lucas argued that the Constitution was rooted in the doctrine of Judeo-Christianity and referred to “The Rights of Man” to maintain that, “Every single colonial charter and constitution openly acknowledged the dependence of God for liberties.”
Buckner stated that the Constitution was revolutionary for that it was the, “First government charter on earth of any human society that did not invoke God,” and that it cited the source of authority as we the people.
Buckner further described four principles that are, “The sound basis that form the U.S. as a secular nation. The First Amendment does not agree on a religion, human judgment is a faulty, religious truth that cannot be acquired by majority rule or violence, and that individual liberty – especially religious liberty – is important for its own sake.”
Both Buckner and Lucas agreed that the founders of America did not want government to be seen as a source of our rights, and with this respect, they limited government.
Both further agreed that the people give the government rights, and that they do not have to be interpreted as being of any Christian source.
Buckner stated that, “The Constitution of the United States is the doctrine that makes the U.S. a spectacular nation, but it does so because it makes us a secular nation. We are a nation of individuals with our own rights and responsibilities, and those rights come from us.”
Running short on time, the audience was given the opportunity to engage in a Q&A session with the speakers. In a question aimed at Lucas, an audience member cited Lucas’s belief that Christianity was the stabilizing force during the construction of this nation, and stated that he would argue that family is much more important. Lucas responded by saying that family is definitely important as a socially stabilizing factor, but that religion addresses how government can be sustained and that, “Christianity has much to do with creation of a government that can sustain itself over time.”
Buckner responded by saying that, “Families are not a creature of government.” To conclude, Lucas said that his, “Job is not to convince [the audience] of one thing or another but to make [them] think.”
When asked to comment on the relationship between government involvement with religion, Buckner stated that, “Religion works better in a secular nation” and that, “Christianity does best when there’s a separation of church and state.”
In terms of the increasing role of religion in relation to U.S. government, Buckner says that the increase in false piety among government officials is phony.
Lucas argued that the, “Bible makes it clear that government comes from God,” but that separation of church and state is ultimately best, saying Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire as the, “Worst thing to happen to genuine Christianity.”
Lucas maintained that he does not think poorly of atheists and that he is very fond of Buckner, and Buckner reciprocated the admiration, stating that he promotes religious education. The two speakers concluded with a hug.