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Separation of church and state… where did that get us?

There has been much argument in our pluralistic secular world and nation-state about a separation of state & church.  I understand it in a civic’s class idea…  it also prevents strange cults from taking over state/nation government and promoting itself – like so many parts of the world.  Yet, while we’ve been taught in our civics that Christian is American, that a separation is a good thing; and in our own human state where we do judge and treat others less than well (slavery, racism, classism, anti-immigrant behavior, despising those with failings, gay, etc…  We, for those of us who claim, as saints of the Living God, have failed to act as He would have us act… and yet, simultaneously, He has not called us to be a secular pluralistic people – but His people.  Respect and honor and treat with grace those with whom we sincerely disagree, but not to shy and hide that we are His people.  At times, our silence and privatization is preferable to our disreputable behavior towards others, but if we emulate Him, act as He would, were filled with Grace – for that IS how He woos hearts, not by calling them out and humiliating them, nor waging an ugly pooh throwing political campaign, then our humble loving posture would win souls.

With all of this said, who ever said, other than misguided souls, for certainly not God, that in a democracy, we, the saints, the church – be it the institution or individuals, have no public role in society, it’s rules, laws or behaviors?  For this is exactly what led to atrocities in the past.  It was the church that offered communion to the concentration camp officers and guards in Europe in the 1930’s & 1940’s; the churches that offer today and yesterday communion to the KKK and other racists; the church that approved of apartheid; that approves today of the apartheid and mishandling of the Palestinian issue; the hatred revisited upon ethnic minorities and minority tribes across Africa, Asia and East Europe; the church that communes with those stirring up civil war in the Ukraine.

No – on the contrary – HOW DARE the church remain silent and out of the political debate on social issues… for the soul is not disconnected from the brain, the body, the heart, but the very life source of all three and the person is all four together…  We must be the conscience, yet from a posture of humility, love, serving and caring, even when they “other side” wins; when they do not agree or like or assail our position.  We instead of hating the other should serve, should care, should gently reason.  Do not argue – but help them see God’s perspective, the value of life, good, it going well with us, of virtue and being a virtuous people – calling us to our ideal, our aspirations.  BUT do not let us be silent and private and parked on the personal side of life, but centered in who we follow, for He lived and died and rose to show us life with purpose, with grace, with gentleness, with sacrifice, for others focused, not ourselves.

There is so much occurring today that calls for our voice – not our warring, but our voice, our heart, our serving.  We will not win social wars with political campaigns, but by a carpet bombing of selfless, humble love and grace.  This, this will change society, and impact the world, but we cannot remain silent.


One response

  1. Rob Verchick

    Nice essay. I agree that religious people and institutions should not withdraw from political issues. And religion will necessarily inform their views of justice, equality, and compassion. All that is good. I would add, though, that when entering the public debate, religiously motivated citizens should be prepared to defend their views in terms that go beyond personally held religious belief. Otherwise, the argument disintegrates into “because God says so,” or “because I believe it is so.” Neither of these statements can be expected to persuade non-believers, who will rightly understand such words as the language of theocracy. MLK was a master at using religiously inspired values of humanity and equality to give weight to secular values that even non-believers could not ignore. That’s the essence of pluralism: to frame arguments in terms that even people with other traditions will find compelling. One quibble with the “separation of church and state”: I would suggest the term was originally meant to describe the role of the State, not of the Church. Thus, the State should not impose policy that favors certain religious beliefs AND that cannot be reasonably supported on secular grounds. The Church and religious citizens can do whatever they want. But they should not expect either the government or their nonbelieving fellow citizens to adopt their views without secular reasons for doing so.

    6 May 2014 at 10:02

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