Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Separation of church and state?

I got in trouble with some people that I care deeply about a few years back when I kicked up a fuss about mixing patriotic imagery with spiritual activity. Recalling something that my literature professor said years before - "When you put your hand on your heart, face a flag, recite words from memory, and sing a song with a tear in your eye, that looks a lot like worship." - I determined to love my God and love my country - but not necessarily to mix those to affections too closely.

Why? In a word - and a fancy word at that - syncretism. "The combination of two or more different forms of belief or practice," syncretism always dilutes faith. The first commandment forbids the worship of anything other than God. The second commandment forbids the fashioning of an idol. Maybe I am overly sensitive (a charge that has almost never been applied to me - just ask my wife), but I am simply uncomfortable with expressing fidelity and devotion to anything or anyone at a time set aside solely for the worship of God.

That being said, I have no problem with that door swinging the other way. That is, I believe that the more we inculcate the Christian values that our founders held into the marketplace, into the classroom, and into our legislative and judicial bodies, the better off we will all be as a society.

One might say I want to have my communion bread and eat it too.

I suspect Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center would.

In a piece detailing the debate between the two Senate candidates from Delaware, Paulson reviewed their verbal sparring over the First Amendment as it applies to religion. Christine O'Donnell stated, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" It isn't, of course. Some would say - most actually - that it is contained within the First Amendment which guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Therein lies the rub. Some read this to say that the church house and the state house must be kept completely separate. Proof of this point is a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third President, in which he wrote that the First Amendment created a "a wall of separation between Church and State." He is not alone among our nation's founders in expressing such sentiment. The Bill of Right's author, James Madison, expressed similar thoughts.

To better understand the thinking behind the writing, though, one must look only to the actions of the author. What did Thomas Jefferson do?

He attended church. But, with some notable exceptions - Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama included - most of our Presidents do. So where did Jefferson attend? He attended the church that met in the United States House of Representatives. The one where he had the Marine Corps Band play for church services each Sunday. It was, in fact, the largest church in our nation at the time. And it wasn't the only federal facility used for such a purpose. Songs and sermons reverberated each Sunday from the walls of the Supreme Court building and the Treasury, too.

What is more, as President of the D.C. School Board, Jefferson insisted that two books be taught in schools - the Bible and the Isaac Watts Hymnal. He even supported mission work, signing a bill to pay for the construction of a church building for the Indian territories and for the salary of chaplains to the Native Americans. The Congress, with the President's signature, even approved a bill for the printing and distribution of Bibles for Native Americans.

Say what you want about Jefferson - and there is plenty, what with his deistic ideas and his cut and paste New Testament - but Jefferson was not one to exclude religion from government and public life. Why then are we?

Admittedly, I am loathe to incorporate Americongraphy into my Sunday worship but am quick to incorporate God into public life. Accuse me of promoting a double standard if you want. You might be right. But I will stand with Jefferson.

Frankly speaking, I am, I think, in pretty good company.

1 comment:

Soren said...

Amen and yea verily! You knocked it out of the park bro! Some great thoughts here.