Talking religion and politics
Published 10:26 am Monday, May 11, 2009
The undeniably valid and fully necessary concept of separation of church and state does not, in a democracy, lead logically or necessarily to a separation of religion and state or to separation of politics and church. Nor is it appropriate to separate religion and politics. Each has concepts and resources needed by the other. I insist on keeping church and state separate, but urge us not to separate religion and state, politics and church, or religion and politics. Moreover, we need to be careful not to separate them or we lose the purpose and value of separating church and state.
The state cannot dictate religious, spiritual and moral matters to churches, because it is of the nature of church to formulate and teach these concepts. Unlike in a theocracy, a democracy requires freedom from a church dictating political and governance matters to the state, because it is of the nature of democracy that the people conceive and promote these concepts. In a democratic republic, as is the United States, the people so speak and act through their elected representatives.
However, there is a difference between state (government) and politics (political procedure). The government is conceived and operated according to the accepted political philosophy. The philosophy accepted by the American people of earlier generations led to the form of government we now enjoy. The state is further modified by the people’s choice of continuing political philosophies. In a word, the politics that influences state is the political philosophy that prevails at any given time.
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So, too, there is a difference between church and religion. Churches are conceived and participated in according to accepted religious understanding (theology). People join and participate in the church that represents their personal theology. Or, a church’s theology persuades individuals to change their personal theology and attracts them to itself. Or, finding no church that represents their personal theology, they create a church that does. How quintessentially American.
In a word, religion (or theology) that influences churches is the personal theology of people making individual choices. The stronger churches are those that represent the greatest number of people.
People enjoy abundant options in choosing (or not choosing) religious bodies. When it comes to government, however, our only choice is consensus that defers to the majority and protects the minority.
So, we have state and its politics or political philosophy, and we have churches and their religion or theology. When the Constitution indicates a separation of church and state, it refers to the first of these contrasts, i.e., church and state. It does not refer to, or have anything to do with, a separation of religion and state, politics and church, or religion and politics.
That the United States has not established a state church is the separation of church and state, and the intent of the Constitution is complied with and its demands are met. That no church has created a government is also the separation of church and state, and, so too, the Constitution is satisfied. This does not, however, require or even expect a separation of religion and state, politics and church, or religion from politics. Nor should it. It is both legal and fair for one to speak to, influence, and even effect modification of the other.
Mind you, however, it is both illegal and morally wrong for ether church or state to speak threateningly, unfairly influence, or directly modify the other. Our decision to separate the two disallows any such.
Again, however, separation of church and state cannot mean, and must not come to be, separation of religion and state or politics and church. I judge it legitimate that a church should address the state when a church sincerely feels its understanding is helpful to the state. It is, after all, citizens speaking to their government through their religious representatives. For instances, churches have advised the state that the distinctive religious needs of armed forces personnel need to be provided for by the state.
I also judge it legitimate that the state should address churches when it sincerely feels its understanding is helpful to the churches. It is, after all, the government speaking to its citizens through the officials they elected. Health and safety are examples.
If a church feels a government is not listening to it when it must, it can appeal to its elected representatives to mediate. Moreover, its private members can lobby the government for a change of policy or vote a change of personnel.
If a government feels a church is not listening to it when it must, it can appeal to law to enforce this.
State should speak to church, and church should speak to state. Both have always happened, and such influences have made America what it is.
Both are dangerous and require great carefulness.
Separate church and state, as we must, but we dare not separate religion and state, politics and church, or religion and politics.