Separation of Church and State — The Political Jesus
Presidential election years are always important, but it seems most people feel this year more important than in the recent past. While I don’t disagree, if so important why do we have such a paltry group of candidates from both parties? The Republican Party has been hijacked by the Tea Party and the Religious Right (don’t know if they’re more religious or more right-wing). And the Democratic Party has been hijacked by the liberal left. As I have stated previously in these musings, the extremes of either side are very dangerous to our citizen’s ultimate welfare.
One common theme, during this current election year, is pleas from various sources for God to return our country to the straight and narrow. “Put God back in the White House?” “If you believe in God, type Amen!” “Allow God back in schools”.
As a professing Christian, I am a strong believer in the teachings of Jesus. I struggle daily to lead a more Christ-like life. I pray daily to be able to surrender myself totally to the will of God. Failing daily on both counts, I can only pray for forgiveness, and rely on God’s love and God’s grace.
My definition of Christianity (as opposed to religion) is simply following and practicing the teachings of Christ. However in more cases than not, what we call “organized religion” bears very little resemblance to Christianity as just defined.
All of this has led me to wonder, about Jesus’ position on the politics of his time. What social issues and conditions did he espouse and champion? What political leaders did he endorse? What in the prevailing government(s) did he condemn or approve?
C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity”, distills Christ’s teaching down to the simple concept of “
Do as you would be done by”. He says, “Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality.” He further states, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program to apply ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment.”
“When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even the English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.”
Lewis contends the answer to, if not a return to, a realization of, a truly Christian (or Christ-like) Society DOES NOT lie with the church and the clergy. It is up to practicing Christian laymen, Christian statesmen, Christian economists, Christian leaders to put the practice of “Do as you would be done by.” into all aspects of political and social life.
Lastly he states, “…..the real snag in all this drawing up of blueprints for a Christian society is most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.” “I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward – driven on from social matters to religious matters.”
As you recall, Jesus had more clashes and run ins with the Jewish religious establishment than with the Roman authorities. If you remember, it was the religious establishment which takes the initiative against him, but the state that sanctioned and executed their wishes. “Therefore we must be careful when religious forces join too closely with political parties or political movements or beliefs. When this occurs, ostensibly it may be done to help humanity by influencing the power structure. At base it may be a desperate attempt to save itself.” 1
In the drama that is Jesus’ life and death, “The bonding between the religious establishment and the political power tightens as the drama advances. Since the religious group is more concerned about public opinion than are the Roman authorities, and if the plot has to be executed during the festival days, then it will have to be the Romans who actually perform the execution. Dialog now goes on between the dominant religious group and the political wing of the religious establishment. Jesus can hardly advocate the separation of “church” and state, since both are together in opposition to the truth. Therefore he speaks of recognizing one’s responsibility to the state without cutting back on one’s primary responsibility to God. His great concern is that God not be short-changed.” – 1
I believe all this should give us pause when, in these apparently troubled and troubling political times, we wish for and push for a more “religious political system”.
“Perhaps the religion the government promotes may start off being what you believe. But, because power breeds corruption, eventually it will probably no longer be what you believe at all. I would be a mask of so-called religion; a set of “laws” made by men in the name of God; a network of restrictions in the name of a Higher Power but in reality designed to keep people under control.
There were different religious authorities,(again, a distinction between religious and Christianity as narrowly defined earlier) in different times. But they all thought they were right, and everyone else was wrong. In most of these cases, the government walked hand-in-hand with the religious institutions, because it served their purposes. And the powers persecuted those who disagreed, and claimed to have their God on their side!
C.S. Lewis, a dedicated Christian, wrote in 1955:
‘The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments.’
Always remember, the lack of governmental support for religion does not stop you!
You can teach your children to live true to your beliefs. You can pray for the salvation of many. You can ask God to bless our country. You can lead friends and family in prayer. You can start a company based on Christian or Jewish or whatever principles. You can talk to other people about religion and beliefs. You can make web sites proclaiming your beliefs. You can definitely live your beliefs to the fullest, reaching out to help the needy and suffering. You can even emphasize the need for teaching children some of the universal principles that most religions agree upon: kindness, charity, compassion, respect.
The lack of governmental support for religion helps you!
We have a nation – the United States of America – where you can largely worship as you please. The Separation of Church and State helps believers of a particular creed to worship and act without government interference. You are free to be a liberal, a fundamentalist, a Pentecostal, a Baptist, as Mormon, a Catholic, a Methodist, a Jew, a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a Shinto, an agnostic, an atheist. No one else can stop you. No one else has the right to stop you.
Is this not a blessing?
Note: I have absolutely nothing against a minute of silence in schools. Nor do I object to school material teaching about religion in general, as long as it doesn’t force one particular view upon people. Nor do I object to pointing out the Founding Fathers’ beliefs. I certainly think teaching some universal morals and ethics is a good idea! I think religious groups should be able to use school premises after school hours. And if individuals want to organize unoficcial religious groups – so long as there is no coercion/ostracism of non-belivers, nor an official stamp of condoning – that’s fine. In fact, I even believe the Columbine families should be able to display religious-themed tiles at the high school. I merely draw the line at the government promoting a particular religion. Much harm has come of it in the past, and more harm can come of it in the future.” – 2
None of the statements inside these quotes are mine. They are copied, almost in their entirety from the website referenced as 2. But they serve to support my conclusion; if voters want our country to return to or expand upon Christian values, it is not incumbent upon, dependent upon or the responsibility of our government in general or any political party in particular.. It is dependent upon and the responsibility of each and every individual Christian to practice the teachings of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our everyday lives. If we all assume and live up to that responsibility, ultimately we won’t have to worry about the moral nature of our country or our government. Let’s keep our religion out of government, keep our government out of religion and leave the politics to the politicians!
What say you?
1 — http://www.directionjournal.org/5/3/jesus-and-state.html
2 — http://mit.edu/~rei/spir-churchstate.html