Doing things differently since 1984

Separation of What from Whom?

I think it’s time for me to creep out of my hidey-hole of WordPress Stalking (I’m still a faithful reader) and actually write something on here.

The thing is, I keep hearing the same mistake being made over and over again, and quite frankly it’s getting overwhelmingly irritating.  It comes up every Christmas time, when government institutions gingerly tip-toe around any religious output.  It comes up every election time, when church pulpits do all but tell people how to vote.   Recently, it reared its head in a most astonishingly overblown kind of way when Chick-Fil-A’s president demonstrated that he believed every part of the Bible except the bit about taming his tongue.

The issue is what we call “the separation of Church and State”.  (note: I will throughout this post use the term “Church” to mean “Christians”, rather than any established Church or denomination in particular)

With it, people most commonly refer to the First Amendment, which grants that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  Basically, the government’s not going to stop you from worshipping who you want to worship (as long as you don’t commit any other crimes in the process).

Other people may refer to John Locke (c. 1600’s) or Thomas Jefferson (c. 1700-1800’s), who each also essentially echoed that the government should stay out of religious affairs.  So that makes the issue entirely a political one, right?

WRONG.  It takes two to argue, right?  If my kids kept meddling in each other’s affairs (i.e., hitting each other), and I told them to stay away from each other – does that mean that one of them could still meddle all they wanted to, or would they both have to actually stay away from each other?

Here’s something people don’t talk about: the origin of the separation of church and state dates back to Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Two Kingdoms (c. 1500’s).  You may recall that Martin Luther attempted to reform the Catholic Church — who, consequently, did not believe in the separation of Church and State.  He saw the need to protect the Church from the State.

Yes, that’s right.  The intention is not that the government needs to keep itself non-religious…. It’s that the church needs to keep itself non-political.  Not just because Luther or Locke or Jefferson said so – it’s for the benefit of the church itself, to keep itself healthy and its faith pure.

In America, although the State is very good (often better than it needs to be) at keeping itself separate from the Church, the Church is bad at keeping itself separate from the State.  In fact, as a Christian, just by saying that to church-goers I am often branded a bad Christian.

It’s somehow become both Christian and American for the Church to get totally political.  Why?  It’s not like Jesus told us to….. whenever anyone tried to drag him into politics, he ran the other way.  For the early Christians, the State was a very real enemy, brutally killing thousands for no other reason than their beliefs.

I’m not trying to set myself up for a doctrinal thesis, so I am going to avoid answering my own question, and not attempt to figure out why the American church likes to keep itself inseparable from politics.  What I will answer, is why not.  Why should the church in our modern and democratic society keep itself separate from politics?

Wonder where they got that idea?

I already kind of answered this question here, but I’ll sum up and add a bit.  As a voice of the “Y” generation (barely), I can tell you that the Church is killing itself with its unwavering marriage to politics.  The people of my generation do not see the church as a window to Jesus anymore… they see it as a group who are anti-gay, anti-abortion, sometimes anti-contraception, generally anti-progress, and generally bigoted, and like to quote Bible verses to back themselves up.

Those in my generation who do still manage to see around all of this to a God who is probably-definitely real are leaving “organized religion” in droves to form either their own splinter movements, or just keep a “quiet faith” to themselves that in many cases dies off without any real encouragement from anyone else.

Not all churches are like this… not all Christians are like this… but the general cultural trend is staggering.  The whole Chick-Fil-A uproar was just the most recent example in which Christianity (one prominent spokesman + hundreds of thousands of supporters) decided to make itself all too political.  Is this what Jesus would do?  Loudly make a statement of pious religiosity in order to make ostracized people feel more ostracized?  No, he wouldn’t.  And yes, I’ve got verses for you if you want them.

How is this not blasphemous??

It’s not just gay marriage, although the church has been particularly vocal about that issue lately.  It’s politics.  It’s about bad-mouthing any elected official who belongs to the “wrong” political party.  It’s about turning out for droves for a protest-march against XYZ Political Issue, and remaining silent when a gunman murders half a dozen Sikhs.  It’s about saying that God is punishing America for XYZ political issue, and remaining silent when your own church goes up in flame from the wildfires.

It makes me both sad and mad to see the church acting like it’s too big for just Jesus now.  If the church continues to overstep its prescribed Separation from State, becoming more and more of a political institution rather than a religious one, who is going to lead people to God?  I guarantee it won’t be our political leaders.

/end rant

24 comments on “Separation of What from Whom?

  1. tekkah
    August 8, 2012

    Lovely post! You often hear about what government is doing in this battle, but rarely do people look at it in the other direction and question the religious side of the debate. You’ve shone a light on the side that is less frequently discussed. Definitely a lot to think about!

    • abtwixt
      August 9, 2012

      Shining a light on the un-talked about is exactly what I was/am trying to accomplish! Thanks for the comment!

  2. dinkerson
    August 9, 2012

    Good grief, what a read! This was great writing here.
    Um, so there is a lot here for me to think about. I mean, how does one find balance with this issue? A lot of religious and, specifically, biblical issues are being shoved into politics. Thus, when the church takes a peaceable, reasonable and biblical stance on any one of a number of these religious/political matters, we are then called all of these names that you’ve mentioned.
    I guess what I’m thinking is that I suspect that what your saying is right – if it is, I’ll have much to reconsider – but I don’t see a practical way to implement this political silence without seeming as though we’re softening on issues that are truly issues of biblical morality.

    I think that the greatest line of this post was this:

    “If my kids kept meddling in each other’s affairs (i.e., hitting each other), and I told them to stay away from each other – does that mean that one of them could still meddle all they wanted to, or would they both have to actually stay away from each other?”

    • aFrankAngle
      August 9, 2012

      Hey Dink … a thought about balance. Balance comes from both within us and from our environment. That is, the information that we process and the sources of the information. To be extreme, if one’s religious information is from a political pulpit, and that is there internal belief system, they will not find peace and balance. Therefore, to get back, we must be in an environment that is apolitical, but religious, while carefully filtering all the information that comes our way. I end with a quote by you – Left, Frank, Right.

      • abtwixt
        August 9, 2012

        Thank you very much for your thoughts, and it is my greatest hope to start more conversations like this. The imbalance I see in the dynamic between the Church and the State is they (the Christians who are driving this culture) like to cherry-pick just a few biblical issues and make them a huge political battleground, but in doing so end up missing the point… Not too unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ time who were wonderful at keeping the Sabbath (a Biblical truth), but went so far as to condemn him for healing the sick on that day.

        For the example of gay marriage (just because it is so prominent today), I can fully agree that the Bible has a lot to say against homosexual practices. But if the State is talking about making laws more gay-friendly, is that a Church issue? No, it’s not. Now, if the State started talking about requiring churches and church leaders to marry homosexuals, that would be a Church issue.

        This is not to say that Christians should be politically limp, but there is a very important difference between being “salt and light” and “telling everyone what to do”. The first requires Christians to be examples that people are drawn to, the second inevitably ends up exposing Christians as hypocrites that people are repulsed from.

  3. aFrankAngle
    August 9, 2012

    Brilliant post … absolutely brilliant!

    It seems to me that the churches (and its members) who squawk the most about the separation are the most political. Hmmmmm … a contradiction? Nonetheless, like you say, it’s not all churches nor is it all Christians .. but the squawkers think they are speaking for all. Just ask them and they will say so!

    My mind is spinning with thoughts I forgot something profound that I was going to add! Oh well … but here’s the last post (Pre-twixt) I did on the topic. http://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/on-the-wall/

    • abtwixt
      August 9, 2012

      What a great post, thanks for linking me back to it!

      It is generally true that the loudest voices are the most dissenting ones, though in this case I fear that the volume is actually coming from a great number of voices. Granted that much of my experience is from the South, but from my perspective it seems nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. If I say I’m a Christian, but I’m not doing something to take my stand against the big Christian-Political issues (homosexuality and abortion are the biggest at this moment, but it changes), people question my faith. It’s that bad — even worse when I’m telling people NOT to take a [public] stand against these issues. I very recently had to leave a church I otherwise loved over such a conflict.

      Obviously, as we’ve both reiterated, this is not a universal truth that will happen with every Christian I meet and every church I attend, but most such exceptions I encounter live with this feeling that they are on the fringes of Christian society.

      Thanks for all your comments and thoughts — it is very encouraging to find someone willing to actually dialogue with me about this!

      • aFrankAngle
        August 9, 2012

        i just remembered what else I was thinking about yesterday. Many of the squawkers also see a high correlation between Christianity in America with Judaism in Israel .. thus the parallel between their religious and political views. For instance, in my opinion, Mr. Romney’s recent trip to Israel was to fortify this relationship in trade for votes and campaign money. But that’s a topic in itself.

        • abtwixt
          August 9, 2012

          Ha, indeed it is, and I thought about that a lot with the post you linked me to discussing if America was actually a “Christian” nation. It is based on this assumption (that America is a Christian nation) that I have seen churches justify their leap into the political sphere. The connotations this carries, of being a nouveau “chosen people”, are both numerous and dangerous.

  4. Amanda Hunter
    August 9, 2012

    yes, yes, yes and more yes. keep it coming, mrs. barnes 🙂

    • abtwixt
      August 9, 2012

      Thanks for the encouragement! This is probably the most passionate issue for me personally, so you’ll probably hear more 😉

  5. Sarcasticus Rex
    August 9, 2012

    Loved this…
    “The people of my generation do not see the church as a window to Jesus anymore… they see it as a group who are anti-gay, anti-abortion, sometimes anti-contraception, generally anti-progress, and generally bigoted, and like to quote Bible verses to back themselves up.”
    You’ve hit the nail on the head right there. It’s the loud-mouthed, usually right-wing Christians, that the majority of the public hear from or see protesting a soldier’s funeral. I see these types of people as akin to any religious extremists in any other religion around the world.
    I wish the open-minded, faithful Christians who truly understand the teachings of the Bible, and Christ, would stand up and say ENOUGH!
    Excellent blog.
    Well said.

    • abtwixt
      August 9, 2012

      Thanks for the comment! If Christians should be backing any group into a corner and blaming them for the downfall of America and Christian values, it should be the folks at Westboro. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve been in where they have completely ruined a person’s perception of Christianity and everything we’re supposed to stand for. When I see a group of Christians holding signs blaming them for the next natural disaster, I just might join in.

  6. Joel
    August 9, 2012

    Awesome post. I’ve been thinking something like this for a while now, and couldn’t really figure out exactly how I’d put it into words. Well, you just did that for me.
    Oh, and thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m glad you did so I could read yours. Thanks for writing.

    • abtwixt
      August 10, 2012

      Joel, thanks for visiting and I’m glad to help you articulate your thoughts 😉 I have been overwhelmed by the response and the number of people who seem to see this problem. I guess we just aren’t loud enough!

  7. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 152 « A Frank Angle

  8. mobius faith
    August 10, 2012

    An incredible article for sure. I live in Akron, OH and the there appears to be NO separation between Church and State. In fact it seems for the very reasons that you wrote about that the church is Clinging to the state with a death grip. I’ve always believed that since the Church has become institutionalized it behaves as a bride for the state instead of the bride of Christ. Well written article. And I enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for posting this. There are fortunately more voices crying out in the wilderness regarding the errant “church”

    • abtwixt
      August 10, 2012

      Thanks for your input and encouragement! It doesn’t surprise me that you see the same thing happening where you are. It is my belief that the church doesn’t really realize what it’s doing, or think that there’s anything “wrong” with becoming so entangled with politics. I know many well-intentioned, and otherwise admirable Christians who just simply seem blind to it. I hope that if there are enough of us who do see it, we wouldn’t slate them for it, but just help them to see what their actions really mean to the rest of the world.

      • mobius faith
        August 10, 2012

        I also have left the “institution” of the church and continue to question the “rightness” of the institution. I find less and less biblical justification for its existence.

        There are more of us out there. And slowly we are starting to connect – thanks to the internet. And unlike the movements of the past where people met in physical spaces for encouragement we are spread out and communicate faster,across greater distances, with the internet – this gives us the potential for an even greater impact as we go about trying to live these changes in our daily lives. Right now these ideas are fairly novel – but not new. But like the parable of the mustard seed they will take root and grow. You, others, and myself are proof of that. I’m glad I found your blog which was linked by “aFrankAngle” on his recent post. Peace. Have a great weekend.

  9. Randel
    August 11, 2012

    Fantastic post. Waiting a month for this one was well worth it. I never thought about this entanglement the way you just put forth. And you are absolutely correct. I now understand why the new generations do not go to the mainline churches. The church going political leads people away from God–that is an incredible insight. Thank you.

    • abtwixt
      August 13, 2012

      Sorry for the late reply, but thank you so much for the amazing compliments and support! This issue is very real, practical, and its impact is huge; opening up dialogue and awareness was definitely my goal, so thank you very much indeed!

  10. zestylifeofguma
    October 19, 2012

    I’m not American, but I did hear about the chick flick thing. As far as I understand it, the man was asked a direct question and he gave an honest answer. I don’t see how that was a bad thing. :/

    • abtwixt
      October 19, 2012

      You should count yourself fortunate that you were not in America to hear the whole thing. Your summary is correct, but only the beginning of what ended up being a much deeper and wider issue. The man was asked a very contentious political issue, and his answer caused millions of people to “pick a side”, and unfortunately Christians decided to pick one of these sides and got very outspoken about it. What began as one man’s political beliefs became “the church’s” political beliefs, and those who felt otherwise were drowned out and left feeling “un-Christian”. Thank you again for your comment — I hope to see you back! 🙂

      • zestylifeofguma
        October 22, 2012

        mmmm, I see, okay. 🙂 I am not American, I am South African I have never been to America, one day maybe 🙂 I hope. I would’ve definitely chosen a side if there was a side to choose and support, mine would’ve been the church’s side without a doubt if that is what it came to.

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