Summary: We need to restore to society a common moral code by being a light of Christ actively involved in our communities. Religion should be in government but government must not be in religion
As we struggle to understand to live out our faith and God’s will in our lives, we know that God does in fact care about all of the issues we will address during our Tough Issues Sermon series. Can anyone who is a believer truly think that God does not care what we think regarding criminal justice and the death penalty? Or euthanasia? Or how homosexuality is looked at and how homosexuals are treated?
Some people though have suggested that these are merely “secular” issues. But while we try to make distinctions between what is sacred and what is secular, God does not. The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). “For God, all issues, all circumstances, and all people are part of God’s domain. Separating the sacred from the secular is a false dichotomy.” (Adam Hamilton, “the Separation of Church and State”).
God cares about government. In fact he is the author of all government. Romans 13:1-2 (NRSV) “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (see also Gen 9:6) God created government not in the sense of monarchy or democracy, Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative but in the sense of order, responsiveness to human need and justice. Though, in the Old Testament Kings were often recognized as divine appointed by God. They were considered God’s chosen regent and clear guidelines were given for them with the understanding that God was the head of government. However, these guidelines were written for God’s covenant people in a unique period of time. “They do not apply today because our modern government is not a direct inheritor of the promises God made to the nation of Israel.” (Probe Ministries “Christian View of Government and Law” by Kerby Anderson).
Many would argue that United States is God’s nation, a Christian nation, founded and designed to be Christian and that our laws should enforce the doctrine of Christianity over all other religions. Our Founding Fathers came to America seeking religious freedom. They had suffered under a church-state government in their homeland. They had watched alliances form between religion and government producing oppression and tyranny on their own shores. “Many colonies, for example, had provisions limiting public office to “Trinitarian Protestants” and other types of laws designed to prop up the religious sentiments of the politically powerful. Some colonies had officially established churches and taxed all citizens to support them, whether they were members or not. Dissenters faced imprisonment, torture and even death. These arrangements led to bitterness and sectarian division” in America (“Is America A Christian Nation?” by Americans United for Separation of Church and State)
Therefore when they wrote the U.S. Constitution they wrote it as a secular document. It does not contain any mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact the Constitution refers to religion only twice, first in Article six which reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” And secondly in the First Amendment which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This is fairly simple; our founding fathers wanted to make sure that no one church or religion would receive the endorsement of the nation. No one religious sect would have power over the others. They wanted to ensure that Congress could not prohibit the free exercise of any religion. And while the Constitution does not use the phrase “separation of church and state” it was clear they understood and wanted the separation of church and state because they believed it would be good for all faiths including Christianity.
This is a good thing. “The experience of countries with established churches seems to indicate that every time the state gets involved in religion, religion ultimately loses. The church loses it voice and its vitality in countries where there is a strong link between the state and a particular church. The state too often uses religion as a tool, and the church loses its nerve in speaking up against the state as was the case with the official state church in South Africa for many decades and also the case with the state churches in Nazi Germany” (Adam Hamilton)
The United Methodist Church supports separation of church and state. Our Social Principles were first adopted in 1972 and have subsequently been revised at successive General Conferences. According to the Book of Discipline, the Social Principles “provide our most recent official summary of state convictions that seek to apply the Christian vision of righteousness to social, economic and political issues.” And they state, “The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and state. In some parts of the world this separation has guaranteed the diversity of religious expressions and the freedom to worship God according to each person’s conscience. Separation of church and state means no organic union of the two but it does permit interaction. The state should not use its authority to promote particular religions beliefs (including atheism), nor should it require prayer or worship in the public schools, but it should leave students free to practice their own religious convictions. We believe that the state should not attempt to control the church, nor should the church seek to dominate the state. The rightful and vital separation of church and state, which has served the cause of religious liberty, should not be misconstrued as the abolition of all religion expression for public life.”