You Can't Dump the Ten Commandments

Comment by Robert Brow  September 1999   (

The University town of Kansas, Manhattan, has removed the ten commandments carved in granite from outside their city hall. The commandments have now been put in storage. This was because there was no way to defend the city from a threatened law suit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The town is divided into God supporters and the ACLU. (Reported by Roy Wenzl in today's National Post, September 28, 1999, B7).

The fact is both sides are ignorant and wrong. The so called ten commandments as listed in Exodus 20 are not religious at all. Their content has to be filled in by the way they are interpreted. That means they only become religious when they are given a content by some particular religion or ideology. And the culture of each religion or ideology can be defined by the way it interprets this mix of moral categories.

The definition of adultery is totally different in Arabia and the state of Kansas, or even among female members of the ACLU. The Puritan culture of Cromwell had a quite different concept of what idolatry was from the Greek Orthodox. The termination of a fertilized fetus is called murder by the Pope, and birth control is also discouraged on the basis of the sixth commandment. Others think an overnight pill isn't murder but a wise precaution.

In Marxist Russia the ten commandments remained alive and well. The state said "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods but me." Religious idolatry in church buildings was downgraded, but the political idolatry of statues (idols) and images of Stalin and Lenin was supremely important. Ordinary people hated the hypocrisy of greedy commissars taking Marxism's name in vain. The honouring of blood parents was discouraged in favour of party parents. The day off in seven remained on Sunday, as in Christian countries, but the Muslims of Chechnya longed for it to be on Friday and the Jews of course wanted it to be on Saturday.

It would be easy to prove that for each member of the American Civil Liberties Union there is a very fixed interpretation of each of these invaluable categories of moral judgment. They can't escape them if they want to discuss right and wrong at all.

Children need to learn how different people put content into each of the ten categories of moral judgment and that is a necessary function of any school system. As in Manhattan, Kansas, that function is being dismantled in Canada but in an even more ignorant and surreptitious way.

Meanwhile as evangelicals our task is to study the NT carefully to see how Jesus gave us His content for each of these important categories. And his mix of content is totally different from anything any other culture has ever known.  His interpretation of covetousness, false witness, stealing, adultery, and the day of rest, is derived from a model in which love is the supreme value. And love means caring about the freedom of the other.

Having seen what His agenda is, we can see that the way He interprets each of the ten commandments is very good news for the world. And He adds that there is forgiveness from God the Father when we fail, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit when we can't meet those beautiful standards.

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