Thursday, July 19, 2012

Separation of Church and State

In case you don't know, I'm a devout Christian and pastor.  I love God with all my heart, and seek to serve Him with my life.  I'm also proud to be an American.  I'm thankful for a nation which was founded on Christian principles, and for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to give me the freedom I have to worship God.  My politics tend toward the conservative, with some liberal touches here and there.

I say these things because what I'm about to say might get me in trouble with some, but I feel it needs to be said.  In addition to all of these things, I love history, and feel like perhaps a little history lesson is in order concerning the separation of church and state.  This is a phrase thrown around a lot, on both sides of politics and religion.  Those who want nothing to do with religion say this means the church needs to stay out of government.  Those who are staunchly religious say this means the government needs to stay out our church. Then there are loud claims made from them saying the phrase isn't found in the constitution.  Fair enough.  They aren't wrong.  It isn't in the constitution, and I know my history well enough to know the phrase originated with a letter from Benjamin Franklin.

However, we must not forget that we have amendments to the constitution.  The first amendment (adopted in 1791) says this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  

So what are we to make?  Let's give a little history.  It's very important to know that many of the founders of our country, as well as those who came here from England and other countries, were fleeing persecution.  They were coming from countries where you had one option if you wanted to be considered a citizen, and that just happened to be whatever religion was the established religion of your own country.  So when the Pilgrims came over, and the founding fathers began to establish laws, they were very concerned that America didn't have laws which outlawed those who were of different faiths.

Many of the founding fathers were Christians, faithfully serving God with their lives.  They therefore established this country on Christian principles.  They didn't, though, establish the country as a "Christian nation".  That is impossible, for Christ makes it abundantly clear that His Kingdom is not of this world.  It is a spiritual Kingdom, and knows no boundaries.  (For more on this, I recommend Gregory Boyd's book "The Myth of a Christian Nation.  You can find it on Amazon.)

One Christian principle which is essential to our faith is that of choice.  I can no more make you become a Christian than I can make you a duck.  So they established freedom of religion, and therefore the separation of church and state, so we could discover God for ourselves, and then make a choice to follow Him.

We seem to have forgotten this in today's world.  I was reading an article about some folks in Tennessee who were trying to keep some Muslims from opening a Mosque, saying that Islam wasn't a "true religion."  You can read more on that here.  We must remember that not only is the act of these Christians against the standards set by the founding fathers, it is also against the standards established and lived by Christ.  He never tried to force people into the Kingdom of God.  As a matter of fact, it seemed at times that He went out of His way to make it harder.

So what are we to do when some Muslims open a Mosque down the road?  What should we do when it seems that the laws of our nation are no longer reflecting the Christian principles they once did?  What are we to do when abortion becomes so rampant in our nation that we are killing babies daily by the thousands?

The Biblical answer may not be the popular one, but it does seem to actually make more of a difference in the long run.  The answer is to live like Jesus.  The Jesus who wasn't afraid to call out the wrong, but also the one who loved sinners enough to lay His life down for them.  If we want to turn this ship around, it isn't going to take laws, but love.  It isn't going to be about making others see our point of view, but instead to make Jesus famous.

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