I recently wrote this article for The American Philosopher.com
The response was good and thought it might fit on our Dimensions of Grace site also. Enjoy or delete as you wish!
What is the Church to Do
Our Founding Fathers came to this new land, from a system of government sponsored church establishments. The control of the church by the state seemed untenable to them, so they devised a new system of church/state relationship. The First Amendment provides that,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
It is important to understand that the Bill of Rights was written primarily to limit the powers of government. It does not prohibit the church in any way but frees the church from government dictate. It has been called, erroneously, the Separation Clause. That is, many see a wall of separation between the church and the state in which neither can enter the area of the other. But that was not the original intent. The intent is focused on limiting government from intruding into the establishment and control of the church. It does not, nor was it intended to, keep the citizens of the state, who belong to a church, from participating in the affairs of government.
There is, in this concept of the freedom of religion, the establishing of citizens with dual citizenship. We, who participate in church life, wear two hats. The problem is in knowing where to wear each, in a parallel system of authority.
Interestingly, this dual citizenship has not been a problem to any large degree throughout the history of our nation. Well, at least until the last several generations. We have gotten along together well, with the state taking care of the affairs of protecting the citizenry and the church administering the affairs of the spiritual Kingdom of God. It has not been always simple or easy, but it has been resolved reasonably well, usually because the issues of the church, which by far predate the government, have been honored over time as sacred and the state has left the traditional position of the church alone.
But things have changed. The state did enter the affairs of the church in determining that the church could conduct its affairs financially with non-profit status, when approved by the IRS. This, in effect, placed the church under state licensure and scrutiny, giving the state the power to deny, if it chose to, the status of a group as being accepted or rejected as a church. This is the hinge pin event in the entanglement of church and state in the U. S.
Later, the anti-church community further pushed for restriction on church activities on public property, in community supported places and on tax supported properties. Although the Supreme Court had previously held that one’s religious opinions and activities did not cease at the door of a government facility, there began a series of law suits and decisions that have drastically altered the activities of the church to freely have access to the arena that any other group might have.
This shift from an open society to people of faith, to an assumption that faith activities should be conducted in private, has given rise to not just a separation, but to an antagonism that has not existed in previous generations.
The shifting path of the church/state relationship has taken on new dimensions in the past couple of years as social issues have become more and more the activity of the state, as opposed to the traditional role of government in focusing on protecting the freedoms of the people and letting them be responsible for themselves. Some of those issues are:
1. The definition of marriage.
Marriage has always been a matter of the church. Marriages happen in the church and have from the beginning of time. But, alas, the state was allowed to take over the record keeping function of marriage, I suppose because the state kept better records that did some church groups. Also, parallel to that record keeping responsibility, the state began to create laws that were related to married status, and single status, mostly in terms of IRS filing status. So, the state honored people’s marital status, but accepted, defacto, the churches traditional definition and authority in conducting the ceremonies and sanctions of marriage.
Today, the state has decided that it should also take over the defining of marriage. Where the state has labored to be morally neutral, the church has not and cannot. So we face a conflicting agenda, particularly with the liberal left of our political culture, where the state is facing off with the church and presuming to take the entire authority of marriage under governmental definition and control.
2. The authority of moral judgment in relationship to abortion and birth control.
The church has always had moral positions on the sanctity of marriage and the proper arena for sexual activity. It has always had a position on when life begins, dating back to the prophets of Biblical times. But in the past several years our culture has again made a gradual but dramatic shift away from its Judeo-Christian roots to permit abortion and to liberalize societies accommodation of sexual activity.
Recent rules and regulations of the US Health and Human Services administration give rise to addition conflict between the state and the church. It provides that church organizations, hospitals, and any religious entity will have to comply with the HHS rulings on employers offering insurance coverage for abortions and contraceptives. Most of this legislative control comes from the massive Obama-care provisions that provide, not only government control of health care, but government right to define what is morally right and ethically demanded within the confines of the church.
While there are other issues and other shifts in the relationship between church and state, it has risen to crisis proportions. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has joined with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., the University of Notre Dame, and 40 other U.S. Catholic dioceses and organizations in a lawsuit against the Obama administration. Twelve different lawsuits, charging the administration with violation of the Church’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion, are being filed in federal courts around the nation.
In the mean time the Evangelical side of the church is organizing a speak out campaign, urging pastors to speak up where political issues encroach into the issues of the church. Opponents are urging the IRS to take a stand and to discipline churches that use the pulpit for political advantage.
What should the church do?
Our Founding Fathers already drew the line. The government shall make no law regulating the free exercise of religion. But alas, the secular government is not going to see the issue of encroachment nor are they going to draw a line in the sand when it happens. Like all civil liberties, while the government is charged with protecting the rights of the people, it is most often the entity that blurs the line and violates those rights.
It is therefore, up to those to whom rights are accorded, to monitor those rights and protect them for themselves. The church will have to decide how far it will allow government to go in obliterating the lines of demarcation of church affairs. If it does not, it will be simply a footnote for historians, of a time when a great culture experimented with the freedom of religion, only to find it unacceptable to the masses.
Bishop E.W. Jackson is making a war cry: “Let God’s people go!” Jackson, a Marine Corps veteran, graduate of Harvard Law School and adjunct professor of law, is echoing the words of Moses in a campaign to persuade Christians of all races that the time has come for a wholesale exodus of Christians from the Democrat party.
The voices are speaking. The conflict is being defined. The lines are being drawn. What will become of it all largely depends on the resolve of the church to recapture its traditional freedom from governmental intrusion. It may be as simple as that.