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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Church & State: A Fine Kettle of Fish

The Lord says, “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4). How will you do that this week? What spiritual disciplines help you feel more alive in the Lord? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1271 – 2).

The founding fathers got us out of a fine kettle of fish and in some ways introduced us into a finer kettle of fish. By separating the state from religion government officials cannot claim a special connection to God as a source of their actions. Neither can the state quash dissent based upon the demands of an established religion. This is the fine kettle of fish the founding fathers extracted us from. Yet, the most basic functions of any enduring society must attend to such matters as justice within a context of mutual interdependence – in other words, a type of extended family. That Christianity, for example, also asserts these values is sometimes problematic and can even be seen as conspiratorial. Other values of Christianity have direct implications for public policy: compassion, due regard for the outcast and deprived, equality, the sanctity of the individual, a bias towards humility, simplicity, and the “spirit” rather than simply “letter” of law – all these can impinge upon public policy. I know of no clear path out of this dilemma except for the operative convictions I share with many other Christians. I adamantly object to Christian institutions becoming directly involved in affairs of state. It would require a very rare, exceptional, and egregious situation before I would take kindly to hearing my Methodist minister telling me how I should vote on a matter. And this would include even the Vietnam War which I adamantly opposed. In my view the institution of the church is to propound principles of Christ's spirit from the pulpit not detailed voting instructions. If worship services became political rallies huge losses would ensue – not the least of which would be the loss of the sanctity of individual conscience and the sacred leading of the inner voice. In such event, both church and state would have reason to grieve a perhaps irreparable loss.

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