I was listening to NPR recently and heard a pastor in Maryland talking about protecting marriage (aka, keeping gay marriages illegal). His stance on the issue was that our country established the separation of Church and State so that the government was not allowed to invade the Church, which arguably has already happened since we fly the American flag on our pulpits. When studying British history, we can see that this was a reality which led to the separation being necessary. It’s not bad to keep government out of religion so that there is no use of religion to control the people.
The issue at stake here is that there is a longer history of the Church and the State’s relationship in mainland Europe and it is not one that only experienced the Government’s takeover of the Church. The vice-versa that was also realized in the rest of Europe was a heavy reality of the Church controlling the State in mainland Europe for much of the time from the day that Constantine legalized Christianity for the Roman Empire to the time of the Reformation and even to more recent history in the Western world.
The truth of the matter is that separation of Church and State comes from enlightenment models that saw both realities. Our nation’s concepts are based on this model. This is not much different from the Early Church and the New Testament. The believers of this early time were caught between the Jews, who did not take kindly to hearing that a human was divine or that the Messiah had been killed, and the Romans, who did not like new religions because they could be a sign of rebellion against the Empire. In this setting, Christians attempted to gain acceptance by the Empire and convince Jews and pagans to join their religion without using legal power. From that analysis, we can see that the Christian faith can exist in a very pluralistic setting, even to the point of being a minority.
One might assume that this means God must exit politics. This is not true. God is very interactive in humanity. Therefore, he must be interactive with politics. With that said, it also does not mean the Church should take over politics in a legal sense. The example of homosexuality is one that is commonly used in the legal setting. We must remember that the Church exists to baptize and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). This verse is explicitly missional, but it is not militant. Note the order in which disciples are made. First they are baptized (brought into the faith) and then taught the ways of God. This order has been reversed by those who wish to use law to legislate the moral practices (and I only mean ones that more neutrally affect the world). The consensual practices taken by people must be allowed to be judged by Christ and not human law when they do not necessarily affect the well-being of non-consenting parties. This is paralleled by the fact that the early church existed in a very pagan society that viewed the sexual relationships between men as proper. Though Scriptures are very adamant that Christians do not take part in these acts, it recognizes the order of conversion followed by being taught and then following the commands of God. They did not teach the vice-versa practice being implemented today by the Religious Right.
One might now quote Tony Evans, a preacher who holds my respect, in saying, “Separating God from politics is like separating God from history.” That point is good. There are many things that we should do that influence and inspire politics. One might also make the point that if God must be in politics, then we should vote for the party that most reflects the Scriptural values. To those people, we should say that they are right in saying that, but the reality is that no party has completely fulfilled Scripture. Even Pastor Evans has said that “God does not fully align himself with any of man’s kingdoms.”
The main point here is to be careful in who you preach to vote for, whether Republican or Democrat. Both are accountable to God and His judgment. And we must be careful judging those who vote differently from us. And we must not take the pluralism as a threat, but as an opportunity to convince others that our God is great, mighty, and worth following. It will take some hard work to convince some like Muslims, Homosexuals, Atheists, and others, but it will be worth their true belief and submission to God and much better than forced submission without belief, which is not salvation, but legalism.
Below is a slide show of some people who have made comments on politics and religion that are important. They are very thought provoking. Let the messages sink in and challenge this election day.