Separation of Church and State
Earlier this month, Dr. Rich Scarborough -- pastor, and founder of Vision America -- sent out an e-mail talking about the role of Christians in American government.
This past week the Republican State Convention met in San Antonio, Texas. I was invited to speak at a Values Voter Rally at 8:30 PM in the Menger Hotel, across from the Convention Center. Once again, to my great delight, hundreds gathered to hear a Gospel artist sing and a Baptist Minister speak. As I spoke about the importance of Christians being salt and light in the moral and civil arena, the crowd erupted in applause several times and at the end, they stood to applaud.
As I left, I bowed my head and thanked God that many Christians are getting it! We are the Church and in America, we are the Government. Tell me, how do you separate the two without removing all Christian influence from the public arena?
I'd like to respond to that question.
"We are the Church and in America, we are the Government." That phrase sends chills up and down my spine -- and not in a good way. True, the Church is made up of God's people. True, most of those people earnestly desire to follow after God and live lives that are pleasing to Him. That does not, however, make them saints on earth. Christians can be just as prone to hubris, arrogance, and greed as non-Christians. The fact that a person is a Christian does not, in and of itself, mean that he or she should receive my vote.
Many Christians go into government with the goal of "Cleaning up Society." The American Family Association, and the Parents Television Council, for instance, strongly dislike much of the content on prime-time television. Their preferred solution is to make it illegal to broadcast certain language, show certain images, or portray certain ideas on broadcast television. Other groups want to criminalize all homosexual behavior, criminalize certain styles of dress, certain behaviors (like smoking and drinking), or criminalize any public vulgarity.
I have a big problem with this. It is an attempt to impose Christian morality by force. It is an attempt to make the entire country live according to Christian values and display Christian behaviors. A large portion of the nation is (or claims to be) Christian. A significant percentage of the country is not. (If 70% of 300 million people are Christian, that means 90 million people are not Christian.) These laws would force everyone to exhibit Christian behavior, regardless of the whether or not they truly love God and want to please Him. I believe this is wrong, that it is nothing more than forced hypocrisy.
Rather than making Christianity appealing to non-Christians, these laws would only reinforce the impression that Christianity is about following rules and living a certain way. Rather than communicating the great Truth -- that true Christianity is a relationship with an awesome Being that wants to know me personally -- these laws would reinforce the belief that Christians are concerned only with rules and controlling people. In short, legislating morality would Christianity odious to many of the unsaved, rather than desirable.
Why should I force someone who doesn't love God, who doesn't understand God, and who doesn't want anything to do with God to live under God's rules? God Himself doesn't require that. God allows billions of people around the world to live in sin each and every day. God allows each person on earth to live their life as they will. God allows each person the freedom to accept Him or reject Him. True, God desires certain behaviors and attitudes from those who love Him. But God doesn't impose His will anyone, even Christians.
If God does not force unbelievers to live according to a certain set of rules, I don't believe I have any authority whatsoever to rule over them. If God has voluntarily relinquished control over people's lives, how dare I pick up that control and attempt to wield it myself? Such behavior is rank arrogance -- an assumption that I know the mind of God and I know exactly what penalties and punishments He wishes to impose on those who disobey Him.
God desires one thing, and one thing only, from non-Christians: that they recognize His control over the universe, submit willingly to His authority, and love Him before all others. Everything else is secondary to this. Once a person's heart is aligned with God's, right behaviors will follow. If a person's heart is not aligned with God's, no amount of laws will improve his character or bring him any closer to purity.
I believe government has a responsibility to protect its citizens against aggression and fraud. Government should be concerned with prosecuting rape, murder, theft and fraud. I do not believe government should be concerned with the behavior of its citizens -- that is rightly the role of priests, pastors, and churches.
How then should Christians behave in government? If I do not believe that they should legislate according to their moral beliefs, how should they legislate? Christians should follow the advice of Micah 6:8
He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Over and over and over and over again throughout Scripture, God's prophets and apostles urge His people to act justly -- not to accept bribes, not to treat the rich better than the poor, not to withhold from those in need. Over and over, God exhorts His people to treat everyone equally, to deal honestly, to honor contracts -- in short, to live with integrity. How many of our Congressman and Senators truly live up to these requirements? How many of our supposedly Christian legislators live up to these requirements? This how a Christian should act while in office. Christians in government should stand up for the oppressed, deal justly with everyone, and enforce the law equally on the rich and the poor.
Being a Christian legislator should not associated with enacting Christian morals but with display Christian values while in office. Christian legislators should set the standard for honesty, integrity, and humility in government. A legislator who displayed those moral values would be far more valuable than one who simply voted to fine television stations over vulgarity or who simply voted to require certain minimum standards of dress.
"How do you separate [Church and government] without removing all Christian influence from the public arena?" You separate the two by letting the church reign supreme in matters of morality and letting the government protect people's bodies and property. If Christian government officials focus their energies on ensuring that all people are protected equally and that government conducts its operations with integrity and humility, the Christian influence on the public arena will be huge.
Ultimately Christianity does not need the support of America's government in order to survive. Whether or not the Ten Commandments are displayed in America's courthouses is not nearly as important as whether or not America's people have the Ten Commandments written on their hearts. A Christian government can do nothing to write God's law on people's hearts, but it can ensure that all people are treated as God commands -- equally, with love and honesty.