WHY WE CANNOT SEPARATE STATE FROM CHURCH

Apparently giving the matter little thought, many Americans practice as an article of faith this thing we call “the separation of church and state.” But what does it mean to separate church and state? Those who advocate this thing — this belief — insist religious belief, particularly Christianity, has no place in politics. Yet a Christian nation, our own, first established a government without an official religion.

Does Christianity require Christians to keep their faith entirely separate from their political beliefs? Did Jesus do such a thing? No. Jesus denied the authority of government to silence Him. In spite of official persecution, Jesus preached His message of redemption. Eventually, to stop Him from preaching, the Jewish Sandhedrin accused Him, and Pontius Pilate, using his authority as a procurator under the Roman Empire, ordered Him crucified.

After the death and the resurrection of Jesus, as He had predicted, official persecution of Christians continued. Here, for example, we have an example of how the Emperor Nero martyred Christians during the reign.

First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. (from here)

Eventually, as the popularity Christianity increased, Christian persecution within the Roman Empire subsided. Nonetheless, even among those who styled themselves as Christians, religious persecution remained a factor in human affairs. Therefore, centuries later, strife accompanied the Protestant Reformation. That is why many came to the New World. They came to escape religious persecution (See History of Religion in America and Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.).

Latter, what the Bible itself says about salvation — we accept salvation from Jesus as a free choice — and the diversity of religious beliefs in the United States led to only one logical conclusion. Christians decided their government, the government of America, must respect freedom of conscience (See An Act for Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.). Thus, as a nation, we established freedom of religion because of religious belief.

Consider once again these lines from The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Instead of letting King George III decide what his government needed from his subjects, free men chose to decide what they wanted from their government. The Founders did not want King George to define their rights. They wanted government to recognize and protect rights they already had, their God-given rights. So they fought for the kind of government they wanted.

Government is not god. Government did not create us. God did. God defined what we are and how we should live. Thus, our government is artifact of the relationship our forebears chose to have with God. Because so many accepted Jesus as their savior, they chose to obey His commands. They chose to love Him and each other.

The Founders realized that when they warred with their neighbors their Christian beliefs would not allow them (or us) to proclaim God is on our side. Being a Christian requires us to be on God’s side. So they set up a new kind of government, one that says God is right instead of might is right. 

John 13:34-35 King James Version (KJV)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

We have the opportunity to renew the faith of our forebears. We can look carefully around the world. We can examine the history of man. We can see that what a people believes about God determines how they govern themselves. If a People believe in a God who created an orderly universe, a God that expects men to love Him and each other, we can see that they will govern themselves a manner that promotes mutual respect for each other’s rights to life, liberty, and property. If a People believes in a hateful and selfish god — or no god at all — we can pray that God will have mercy upon their souls.

8 thoughts on “WHY WE CANNOT SEPARATE STATE FROM CHURCH

  1. You write so sincerely, Tom, and so from the heart, and at such great length, and I have no idea what your point is. What are you saying here?

    No one believes that Christians (or Buddhists, or Hindus, or Mohammedans) should not rely on their religious beliefs to influence their views on the secular issues of the day. But one of the key, distinct elements of the American Republic is its unique (at the time) disavowal of sectarian machinery within its Government. Europe was lousy with state churches. Their primary function was to buttress the authority of hereditary monarchs. We wanted nothing to do with that. Moreover, we were well aware that closeness of Government and religion is almost always toxic to religion, but rarely did any harm at all to an arbitrary government. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural limns this out rather nicely. Christianity (and other religions) thrive here because of our “wall of separation” (as Jefferson termed it later), whereas, in contrast, nominally Christian European governments with state churches are chock full of lovely empty old church buildings.

    Separation of institutional religion from the workings of government is a good thing for government, but it is essential for the purity of religious practice and belief. That doesn’t mean you or I have to cancel out the spiritual side of our nature when we decide on the secular issues of the day.

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  2. Scout -Thank you for your comment and your observations.

    Because we all have our share of preconceptions, we often encounter great difficulty when we discuss controversial subjects. That we overcome by asking for clarification. Since I would like to be understood, I appreciate it when my readers ask for clarification. Unfortunately, you did not ask for any clarification. So I do not know what you did not understand. Would you like to explain?

    Now I did observe in your comment what appears to be disagreement with my post. This disagreement puzzles me. I believe it would help you explained this expression, “sectarian machinery”.

    • What is “sectarian machinery”?
    • Where did I propose to add any sectarian machinery to our Government?
    • Is there sectarian machinery within our Government that you object to?
    • How would you prohibit or remove sectarian machinery from within our Government? From what you wrote, I assume you want to do exactly that.

    I believe your observations about the “wall of separation” is fundamentally in error. What Jefferson intended is a wall that protects the church from the state. That is, no group should be allowed to use the governement to establish its church in preeminence over the others.

    See:
    https://citizentom.com/2008/02/17/our-religious-beliefs-determine-our-beliefs-about-law/

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  3. I don’t think I was disagreeing with you as much as trying to figure out what your point was. If it was that people sometimes find application for religious views in their assessments of secular issues, then I think you are describing a commonplace, and something that is not in the least controversial. So the question remains: “What’s the point of the post?” No one (or at least a minimally few) consider that point one even worth quibbling about.

    As to your questions, The Constitution keeps the churches (for their own protection) out of government. That’s how I’d do it, too.

    Your comment about the Jefferson quote does nothing to make my use of it “fundamentally in error.” I said precisely what you said: that we separate religion from government for two primary reasons – the second being the more important of the two (at least in my opinion): to protect religion from contamination and debasement. But we also do it to protect the freedom of religion and conscience that is granted to each individual in the United States. Otherwise, the Establishment Clause would have been enough.

    So, I apologize if you took my puzzlement for disagreement. I couldn’t figure out your point sufficiently to arrive at either agreement or disagreement.

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  4. The problem with the religious clauses of the First amendment is that they, in real life situations, often can come in conflict with one another.

    The Establishment Clause states that government (and this has been found to mean also government actors) shall stay out of the business of promoting religion. Despite revisionist theories to the contrary, the plain language does not except Christianity nor does it allow the government to establish even some homogenous nonsectarian religion. The clear language of the Establishment Clause is not just a ban on establishing any particular religion, or any particular denomination of Christianity, but it literally just says “religion” period.

    The Free Exercise Clause states that government shall not do anything to stifle religious expression of religion. Once again, this clause does not apply just to Christian religious denominations, nor does it except Islam or any other non-Christian religion.

    Both clauses limit government’s power. That the Founders put the religious and speech clauses in the same sentence of the same Amendment can’t be an accident. Some see the religious clauses, in conjunction with the rest of the First Amendment, to therefore imply the creation of broad individual rights freedon if conscience and to free expression. But, notwithstanding the views of strict constructionists who argue that the government does not create rights, the prohibitive plain language definitively walls in government by specifically limiting both what government CAN and CANNOT do with respect to religion in general.

    Even assuming, for the sake of argument, the constitutional interpretation that the “wall” only just fences in government (not people or individuals) and that the wall contains some sort of one way turnstile, cases and controversies still must inevitably arise in the inherent conflict between the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clause over just what government CAN and CANNOT do with respect to religion.

    For example, has not the government exceeded the plain language limiting its power to “establish religion” by proclaiming “In God We Trust” on our currency and by Congress establishing this as our national motto? The Supreme Court has allowed such exceptions based upon age old traditions, but constitutional literalists and limited government advocates must very ungracefully dance all around their principles in order to miss the fact that the government’s promotion of religion on our currency in this case as exceeding both the specified powers allowed government and the powers specifically disallowed. In other words, the government breached even their own strict construction and limited government interpretation of Jefferson’s wall.

    Many other conflicts between the two religious constitutional clauses involve government bodies or officials proclaiming their religious beliefs or practices. For example, if a government actor (let’s say a principal of a public school) leads the school in saying the “Hail Mary” prayer, then has this government exceeded its power by establishing religion? What if the local School Board censures the teacher for violating it’s standing secular policies, then has that government body exceeded its limited powers by prohibiting the principal’s free exercise of his religion? Does it matter if the majority of the student body are practicing Catholics and only a small minority of the students are Protestant? What if the student body was mainly Muslim? You don’t like schools? Alright, then what if it were the Catholic mayor of a town, and she placed a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of city hall? What if it were a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and he placed the same statue in the Supreme Court’s lobby? What if instead he put up a copy of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court’s main hearing room?

    Even if one accepts that the Constitution only walls in government by limiting its powers, and even if one believes that this wall somehow allows entry one way, anyone who thinks it simple to resolve the inherent conflicts that arise out of the clear language in the two clauses has not thought over the complex constitutional issues nor read the cases. And ultimately, whether you agree or not, whatever interpretive methodology the Court imposes to resolve this inherrent logical conflict, then, constitutionally, becomes the new logic of the Constition, regardless of the plain language,

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  5. Tony – I find it most revealing that neither you or Scout actually disagreed with anything I said. You just seem alarmed that anyone might suggest that Christians have the right and the responsibility to use their religious beliefs to provide a foundation for their political belief.

    I suppose we could credit Socrate with the invention of the concept of freedom of conscience, however Christians were the first to institute it as a right. So when you worry that Christians might violate the First Amendment by insisting that their government reflect their beliefs I think that nonsense. I see that problem in reverse. I worry we might not have enough Christians insisting that their government reflect their religious beliefs.

    Anyway, there is a relatively simple way to solve almost every single one of the problems you brought up. Keep the government small and focused on its primary function, protecting our rights. Yet that is the solution you most vehemently reject. For some reason, you insist we need government to do far more than that.

    Anyway, since seems that some of my readers find this topic interest, and I can think of more I want to say. So I will post a second post on this topic on Monday.

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  6. Tom – you either don’t read well (or perhaps carefully) or you deliberately create straw men by distorting what was said. I directly stated that citizens (and I include us Christians in this) will use their religious beliefs in their evaluation of secular issues. I described this as a “commonplace” and “non-controversial.” How does this express “alarm” at that proposition? My comment went to trying to determine the point of the post. If it was that religious beliefs can, do, should influence one’s views of secular issues, it struck me as saying that water can, should, does run downhill. Why would anyone disagree with that? If the point was . . . ., well, it sure wasn’t very clear to me.

    When you say Christians (and I suppose this would apply to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’ais, Zoroastrians also) “insisting that their government reflect their religious beliefs. . .” you may be moving beyond the first proposition. How much should a government reflect religious beliefs? As much as the current Government of Iran? Something less than that? How much less? You may not have meant that the Government should have religious content in the sense that it express religious sentiment in its utterances and culture. If you do, then I know you’re not the “conservative” you purport to be, and are, instead, extremely anti-Constitutional in your outlook. In other words, some kind of radical. But I don’t think you’re advocating that. But what do you mean by “insisting that their government reflect their religious beliefs”?

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