Doing things differently since 1984
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?
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.
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.