Separation of Church and State

This morning, Stevie raised an important question when she asked what I thought of the separation of church and state.

I suppose there are some out there who might assume a pastor would be opposed to the separation of church and state.  Not this pastor.  I am an ardent supporter of the idea.

“Why?” you ask.

I could go on for hours about why I am.  For the sake of time, I’ll give you just a couple of reasons.

As a student of American history, I remember that many of the Europeans who first landed on the shores of our country arrived seeking something precious to them: religious freedom.  Some of these folks had endured tremendous hardships back home simply because they were a part of a religious minority.  It would be incredibly ironic, therefore, if we were to tear down the divide between church and state that has been carefully constructed over several generations just so that the religious opinions of one group could be inflicted on those with different beliefs!

This takes me to another reason why I’m such a strong supporter of the separation of church and state.

If we were to abolish the divide between church and state, whose version of “church” would be inflicted upon the state?

  • Would we, for instance, use the religious opinions of some traditions in order to severely limit the rights of women?
  • Would we resume the practice of stoning adulterers?
  • Would we abolish divorce (or – at the very least – remarriage), since a literal reading of the New Testament would call such practices into question?

The list of frightening possibilities goes on … and on … and on … and on …

If we open the door to using just one religious tradition to shape public policy, there’s no telling where it might lead!  That’s why I’m such a strong defender of the separation of church and state.

How about you?  What do you think?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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3 Responses to Separation of Church and State

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I think most reasonable people agree that we want some separation between church and state. What usually causes conflict is deciding what constitutes a sufficient separation, and whether freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion. Does designated prayer time at city council meetings violate this principle? Putting “in God we trust” on our money? Having choir kids sing religious music in public schools? Erecting a cross on public land as a war memorial? Giving churches tax-free status?

    I’d be interested in hearing your take on how we decide how much separation is enough.

  2. capete67 says:

    For a pastor, I’m VERY concerned about the affects of a slippery slope in this area. I tend to be extremely cautious and speak in dramatic terms cautioning about where things could go if we do not guard the separation cautiously.

    For years, for instance, I have lived in a society that allowed a VERY vocal group of Christians to narrowly define marriage in ways that weren’t entirely accurate. The rest of society sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, “We don’t know the Bible/religion very well – and they seem REALLY passionate about defending ‘traditional’ marriage, so we’ll let them legally disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of same-gender loving people in the name of First Amendment rights.”

    Same thing has happened with the issue of comprehensive health care for women. A group of VERY vocal Christians have been wildly successful in limiting access to reproductive health care for women – all because society didn’t look deeper and see that huge pockets of people of faith actually supported comprehensive reproductive care for women.

    So having lived with the consequences of creeping violations of rights that resulted from ambiguous lines, I support strict guidelines. I’m not a fan, for instance, of prayer before government meetings. I would also have no problem removing Bibles when government officials are sworn in or when witnesses take the stand in a trial. This seems as if the government is endorsing a religious belief.

    When it comes to creating space in public activities (i.e. public schools), my biggest concern is that if room is made for one expression of faith – that equal room must be made for other expressions of faith as well. If a public entity would take a Christmas break, for instance, they should also allow for a Ramadan break. If a creation account from the Christian tradition is included in a social studies class, then equal time should be given for a creation account from the Hindu tradition.

    My guiding principle is residents of an entity must be made to feel safe. I don’t believe individuals from one tradition can feel safe if the government is engaged in acts that make it seem as if another tradition has been given special power or privilege by the government.

    Before I shut up, I should also add there are spiritual reasons why I feel so strongly about the separation of church and state as well. In the first three hundred years of the Christian tradition, Christianity existed primarily as a movement outside the base of power and privilege. This allowed the movement to be more concerned first and foremost about following the ways of Jesus.

    When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th Century, pieces of the Christian tradition moved into the very center of power and privilege.

    The consequence of that shift?

    Some leaders in Christianity became more concerned about maintaining the status quo (i.e. propping up the privileged and powerful) than following in the steps of Jesus.

    I believe my Christian tradition is practiced best when it is not intertwined with the powers that be.

  3. Stevie says:

    See….that’s what I think. It’s either separate or not. Just too hard to not let one religion dominate.

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