This post is based on reactions I received to being happy that President Obama revealed that helping the poor was a manifestation of his faith. Here’s the AZ Central article.
First ground rules, I accept that there is an American value to separate church and state. And, I believe that this value is not limited to the strict legal confines of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In other words, there are steps that a person can take that would violate our national value in keeping religion separate from governing that do not necessarily give rise to a judicial cause of action under the First Amendment.
Second, just to be clear, there is no Christian value that parallels this. Liberal Christians sometimes like take the Give unto Caesar passage as Jesus advocating that faith is separate from government. Not so. If you read the passage you will realize the Jesus uses to quote as an indirect way of saying that we, who bear the image of God, should be given to God; thus, dodging the trap set by his detractor.
So, let’s imagine that I am a liberal Christian who is a member of my city council. It would be wrong for me to use my governmental power to promote my church. I should not use council meetings as a forum to encourage people to attend my church. I should not push for city contracts with church members, or members of similarly aligned churches. It would also be wrong for me to use my church affiliation to gain more political power. So, I should not say vote for me because I’m a real Christian. Nor should my pastor encourage people from the church to vote for me.
By contrast, it is entirely appropriate for my faith to influence the decisions that I make as city council member. Indeed, it would be impossible for it to be otherwise. As a Christian, I believe that all people are a creation of God, thus I believe in equality. I believe that our salvation is based on how we care for the poor. Thus, I want to ensure there is a social safety net. Likewise, if my faith is going to be worth anything, it needs to address how we live which necessarily includes so-called political issues.
The result is that I can become frustrated by the conduct of people if (1) they misuse their official power to promote their faith, or (2) if their faith properly influences the way they conduct themselves in office, but I find their faith inspired values to be repulsive.
Examples of (1) include printing “In God We Trust” on our money, having a national day of prayer, holding a giant campaign event about prayer, or pastors supporting specific candidates from the pulpit. Examples of (2) include opposing requirements that pharmacists fill birth control prescriptions and opposing gay rights. I actually think (2) is more of a problem in recent politics.
One that sits on the edge for me is teaching creationism. On the one hand, it promotes the creationist’s religious views, based on themes similar to those presented in some parts of the Bible. On the other hand, it is an expression of their world view–which is appropriate–but it just happens that their world view is a nonsensical perversion of the faith. Maybe it is wrong on both principles.
Does this distinction work?