by Stuart Shepard
You won’t find this word in our nation’s founding document. You can search every Article, every Section. It’s a word that, given the historical context and how common it was in the late 1700s, you would expect to be in there.
But it’s not.
I was sitting in a packed classroom with the men and women attending our second Statesmen Academy in July. Matthew Spalding, a professor at Hillsdale College, was highlighting the importance of governing with “prudence” and “principle.”
He asked the class what that missing word in the Constitution might be.
There were a couple timidly offered suggestions. Both were incorrect. I wondered aloud, “God?” He said, “No, it’s in there. It’s signed ‘In the Year of Our Lord.’ Anybody else?”
Then someone a couple rows in front of me guessed it:
I won’t pretend to be as brilliant as Dr. Spalding, but here’s the gist of what he said: The Founders meticulously avoided enshrining forever in our cornerstone document the idea of one human being owning another. Looking down the long hallway of history, they left open a door for the end of the slave trade in this very new United States of America.
And, sure enough, about 75 years later, it was done.
President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Congress and the states followed up with the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
That path was made easier, thanks to the foresight of the Founders. Many of them knew slavery was wrong, but they also knew they couldn’t change it in their lifetimes. So, they left open a door for when the time was right, when the nation was ready.
This week, the question has been raised whether to topple statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. That raises questions about the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Do we dynamite Mt. Rushmore? Will we need to rename Washington, D.C.? And don’t forget all those U.S. cities and counties named “Jefferson.”
Here’s the larger question: Do we erase every memorial to the Founders because they failed to live up to our values? Or do we honor them as imperfect humans, living in a specific time in history, who brilliantly wove biblical truth into the framework of a nation? Including the timeless concept that human rights are bestowed by our Creator – equally – to every person.
And who also thoughtfully chose to leave one particular word out.
by Stuart Shepard
So, I flew to North Dakota. First time ever.
I learned something that they all know that we would all do well to know.
Took an Embraer 145 up from Denver. One of those tiny regional jets that makes us all tilt our heads to the left as we single-file down the narrow aisle. It has a single column of seats on the port side and two on the starboard. I like having an aisle and a window at the same time, so I settle into 19A.
We land in Bismarck at the municipal airport. I pile into a rented Chrysler van with my colleagues, and we drive to the Ramkota Inn. It’s a sprawling, well-worn hotel. On this day, the long hallways are dotted with clusters of teenage Future Business Leaders of America. Their faces reflect that giddy, sparkling expression of every-moment-of-this-day-is-a-totally-new-experience. And every-person-in-the-hall-is-a-potentially-new-friend.
I help unpack and set up displays for our Family Policy Alliance conference in a utilitarian ballroom: Two widely placed projection screens, a wood-veneer podium with chipped edges, and 40 round tables with carefully placed dessert plates of cheesecake, chocolate cake and what appears to be lemon cake.
I’m not on the program this time around. I’ve got my black Amazon Basics camera bag hanging from my shoulder with one Canon DSLR for still shots and another for video. On this night, I’m just that guy with a camera.
But I’m also an observer of the room.
Finding their numbered tables are hundreds of people still guided by Christian values and principles. When a volunteer prays aloud before the event, her friendly, casual cadence suggests that, to her, God is right there in the room listening and nodding his head with the rest of us.
And I realize that He is.
And I realize that this is America.
And I realize that though I’m a thousand miles from home in a place I’ve never been, these are my people. My family.
Over here, the new state senator, wearing the obligatory suit-and-tie uniform common to the 21-story, no-nonsense capitol building. He’s pinned a custom-made name badge to his lapel. Over there, a guy in jeans and a flannel shirt. I don’t need to look in the parking lot to know he drove here in a muddy pickup truck. Next to him, a young family with several blonde-haired children. It’s hard to tell how many. They keep moving.
Woven into the idle chatter, I hear the occasional, telltale “you betcha” and “dontcha know” of the Dakotas.
Sitting with the AV guys surrounded by electronics in the back of the room, I learn that in NoDak, when drivers pass on the lonesomely long, endlessly straight stretches of highway, it’s common to raise two fingers from the steering wheel as a greeting – the automotive version of “Hey der.”
I realize, and the audio guy next to me affirms, that underlying the gentle friendliness is a cold reality: Should you, in the dark and at 30 below zero, slide off an icy highway and spin into a snow bank with a muted crunch and explosion of white powder – that last wave may well be the person who interrupts his own plans that evening and stops to rescue you from hours stranded in the dark and cold.
Perhaps your last-ever hours in the dark and cold.
He stops, because the next time it may be him and his wife and several blonde-haired kids stuck in the frozen ditch.
If you fetch your nylon ND State wallet and offer to pay him for the trouble, he’ll say “Don’t worry about it.”
In a place where the population is sparse, the winter nights are long, and any random person can describe, in detail, being startled awake by the sound of a frozen lake cracking, there is an unspoken, underlying, unmistakable bond. A real sense that we need each other up here. We can’t go it alone. If we’re going to make it to next summer, we need reliable strangers.
I think our nation’s Founders understood that. Given the historical context of their lives, they must have had their own horseback-version of the two-finger wave. They knew the importance of having neighbors with a shared set of moral values and principles. And they understood the mortal danger if those values were lost.
It’s true for the rugged, self-reliant North Dakotans.
It was true for our farsighted Founders.
And it is true for America, today.
We need reliable strangers.
People guided by Christian values and principles. Allied in all 50 states. Working together to pull America out of the snowy ditch.
Sometimes it’s cold and dark out there, dontcha know.
Consider yourself waved at.
A special session to be held to consider undoing a troubling city ordinance.
North Carolina lawmakers want to protect the privacy of women and children. They will hold a special session to consider undoing a troubling city ordinance. It could also stop other cities and counties from enacting similar rules.
In February, the Charlotte City Council passed a so-called sexual orientation/gender identity measure that allows men access to women’s bathrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, urging him to stop these dangerous ordinances.
“These changes mean that men can enter women’s restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities in any ‘public accommodation’ in the City of Charlotte,” he said. “This would place the privacy, safety and dignity of women, children, the elderly and others at great risk of physical, emotional and/or mental harms inherent with unexpectedly encountering an individual of the opposite sex in a facility that is deemed to be private.”
Similar ordinances have been used in other states to drag Christian business owners to court.
Rustin explained that they have forced “small business owners such as florists, bakers, photographers, bed and breakfast owners and others who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage and human sexuality to either conform to a government dictated viewpoint or face legal charges, fines and other penalties. The Charlotte ordinance directly violates the constitutionally protected right to religious liberty, which our Founders considered to be our first and most cherished right.”