The Okie Gardner notes that today is the National Day of Prayer. He offers an instructive scholarly summary of how Christian a nation we are (here).

Recently, in my Sunday School class at Church, we have been discussing the proper role of the Ten Commandments in the life of the church, the nation, and in our own personal spiritual journey. Here are some thoughts from that discussion:

I have two basic assertions in re the Ten Commandments:

1. In reality, public deference to the Ten Commandments as a symbol does not pose a significant danger to our national political-legal culture.

2. In reality, fidelity to the Ten Commandments within our Christian community and individual lives does not deter us from reaching our potential as Christians in God’s service.

Part I: History and Politics: The United States of America has always been a very Christian place. While it is true that the Constitution is one of the most secular public documents ever written, the secular government hammered out in that famous compact has always rested upon a very Christian culture. There has always been a tension in this arrangement. For example, the Bill or Rights forbade the establishment of a national religion, even as the national politicians understood that local entities would continue to support state-sanctioned churches for presumably generations (the last state with an established church, Massachusetts, disestablished of its own accord in the 1830s).

Back to the tension: We (the people) are responsible for preserving a healthy balance between secular government and American culture with its heavy Christian influences. We (the people) must take care that the church never hijacks the government, but it is also in our interests to prevent the government from sanitizing the culture of its religious underpinnings.

Where are we now? Are the nutty fundamentalist theocrats really a threat to take over?

W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy!” O’Daniel ran for governor of Texas in 1938 on the platform of “the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and increased old-age pensions.” With the help of God and the "Light Crust Doughboys," O’Daniel won comfortably.

However, with all due respect to the historical impact of “Pappy” O’Daniel, rarely has the Decalogue played a prominent role in American politics. Currently, there is no significant movement on our national political scene that seeks to impose a Christian version of “sharia” law on the public square. That is, even the most radical proponents of displaying the Ten Commandments in public spaces do not advocate implementation of the Decalogue as public law. For example, even the famous Alabama Ten Commandments judge, Roy Moore, does not propose to sentence adulterers, coveters, idol worshippers, and Sabbath breakers for crimes against God’s law.

So, let us be clear; a campaign to install the Ten Commandments as a binding code of public law is not a surging political movement on the march. To insinuate otherwise merely clouds the issue with scary hyperbole.

Then, what is this discussion about?

Consider the two most celebrated Ten Commandments cases in recent years:

1) Van Orden v. Perry, a ruling hailed as a great victory for the Ten Commandments, in which the Texas State Capitol won the right to keep its monument to the Ten Commandments on public grounds;

and 2) McCreary County [Kentucky] v. ACLU, in which the Court held that display of the Ten Commandments in two county court rooms violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, ordering two Kentucky counties to remove the display.

Writing as a dissenter in the Texas (Van Orden) case, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

"The adornment of our public spaces with displays of religious symbols and messages undoubtedly provides comfort, even inspiration, to many individuals who subscribe to particular faiths. Unfortunately, the practice also runs the risk of "offend[ing] nonmembers of the faith being advertised as well as adherents who consider the particular advertisement disrespectful" (full opinions available here).

We are back to a balancing act: inspiration, comfort and acknowledgement for the majority versus offense and alienation to a minority.

This is a significant question. As Americans we are dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities. As Christians, we ought to be sensitive to the feelings of others. The question (to paraphrase Justice Stephen Breyer in the aforementioned cases) becomes one of judgment.

How much injury does a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol do to citizens who are not Jews, Christians or Muslims?

It is a public discussion very much worth having. Let’s have it at some point.

Part II: The Ten Commandments as Profitable Moral Precepts:

Within our own community (church, Sunday School class, my home), I further suggest that we should have a discussion framed around questions like these:

• Do these injunctions conflict with or support our sense of what Christ wants from us?

• Do these principles of conduct conform to the Sermon on the Mount?

• Do these exhortations flow toward making us better citizens and neighbors?

• Do any of these commandments do us harm?

Below is the inscription on the celebrated monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds:

"I AM the LORD thy God.

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

"Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.

"Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

"Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

"Thou shalt not kill.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery.

"Thou shalt not steal.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor's."

Note: They are not numbered, which may solve some of the sectarian problems (or it may not), but it is my guess that the non-numbered presentation was an attempt at making them more ecumenical.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to OYEZ for all the helpful links.