By Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director
Christian Action League
West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was the longest serving member of the U.S. Congress. Senator Byrd died on Monday at the age of 92. His flag draped casket was carried up the Senate steps on Capitol Hill by an honor guard to rest in the Senate chamber on the Lincoln Catafalque, a stand that was constructed for the coffin of President Lincoln after his assassination.
Senator Byrd’s family received members of both the House and Senate who came to pay their respects. The Senate Chamber’s public galleries were also open to many.
Later on Thursday afternoon, Byrd’s remains were flown to his home state of West Virginia for a memorial service that was held on Friday with President Obama, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, and other dignitaries. His body was then flown back to Washington to be buried beside his wife who died in 2006 after 69 years of marriage.
Byrd, who had a North Carolina connection, having been born in North Wilkesboro, was a political mix of both conservative and liberal points of view. At one time he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but later evolved into a strong advocate for civil rights. He had been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war and often expressed his misgivings about the military build-up in Afghanistan.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said that while conservatives did not always “see eye-to-eye with the feisty leader, he was an ally on issues like marriage, school choice, and sometimes life.”
But in this author’s opinion, there was one moment when Byrd shined like the North Star in the firmament. June 27, 1962, only two days after the U.S. Supreme Court declared school prayer unconstitutional, and only one date before the one of his death in 2010, the Senator from West Virginia gave a speech concerning the place of God in our great republic.
In a speech to Congress Byrd declared:
“Inasmuch as our greatest leaders have shown no doubt about God’s proper place in the American birthright, can we, in our day, dare do less?…
In no other place in the United States are there so many, and such varied official evidences of deep and abiding faith in God on the part of Government as there are in Washington….
Every session of the House and Senate begins with prayer. Each House has its own Chaplain.
The Eighty-third Congress set aside a small room in the Capitol, just off the rotunda, for private prayer and meditation of members of Congress. The room is always open when Congress is in session, but it is not open to the public. The room’s focal point is a stained glass window showing George Washington kneeling in prayer. Behind him is etched the words from Psalm 16:1: ‘Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust.’
Inside the rotunda is a picture of the Pilgrims about to embark from Holland on the sister ship of the Mayflower, the Speedwell. The ships’ revered Chaplain Brewster, who later joined the Mayflower, has open on his lap the Bible. Very clear are the words, ‘the New testament according to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.’ On the sail is the motto of the Pilgrims, ‘In God We Trust, God With Us.’
The phrase, ‘In God We Trust,’ appears opposite of the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President of the United States, The same phrase, in large words inscribed in the marble, backdrops the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Above the head of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are the Ten Commandments, with the great American eagle protecting them. Moses is included among the great lawgivers in Herman A. MacNeil’s marble sculpture group on the east front. The crier who opens each session closes with the words, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’
Engraved on the metal on the top of the Washington Monument are the words: ‘Praise be to God.’ Lining the walls of the stairwell are such biblical phrases as ‘Search the Scriptures,’ ‘Holiness to the Lord,’ ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.’
Numerous quotations from Scripture can be found within it’s [the Library of Congress] walls. One reminds each American of his responsibility to his Maker: ‘What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with thy God’ (Micah 6:8).
Another in the lawmaker’s library preserves the Psalmist’s acknowledgement that all nature reflects the order and beauty of the Creator, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork’ (Psalm 19:1). And still another reference: ‘The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not’ (John 1:5).
Millions have stood in the Lincoln Memorial and gazed up at the statue of the great Abraham Lincoln. The sculptor who chiseled the features of Lincoln in granite all but seems to make Lincoln speak his own words inscribed into the walls.
‘…That this nation Under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’
At the opposite end, on the North wall, his Second Inaugural Address alludes to ‘God,’ the ‘Bible,’ ‘providence,’ ‘the Almighty,’ and ‘divine attributes.’
It then continues:
As was said 3000 years ago, so it still must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
On the south banks of Washington’s Tidal Basin, Thomas Jefferson still speaks:
‘God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.’
[These words of Jefferson are] a forceful and explicit warning that to remove God from the country will destroy it.
This great nation currently stands on a precipice. It will either stand or fall by its relationship to the Almighty. To his credit, the late Senator Robert Byrd told us that once. And if it was true when he said it in 1962, it’s a truth that is all the more urgent today.
Robert Byrd. July 27, 1962, in a message delivered in Congress by United States Senator from West Virginia two days after the Supreme Court declared prayer in schools unconstitutional. Robert Flood, The Rebirth of America (Philadelphia: Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, 1986) pp.66-69.