Thursday, March 14, 2013

Common Good Part 5: Separation of Church and State

I continue my series on the Common Good looking at the issue of Church and State. You can find the previous four posts here, here, here and here.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”
Thomas Jefferson

During this season of Lent and in the context of Church and State I want us to look at Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples that followed Jesus. Scripture tells us the Judas was a less than honest man. He was the one in charge of the purse that was to be used for the poor, widows and orphans, but at times he would help himself. As we continue to read scripture we find it was money played a role in Jesus' crucifixion. Judas was payed in return for turning Jesus over to the religious leaders of the day. The reason I bring this up is to shed some light I what I think Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, "established religion tends to make clergy unresponsive to their own people and leads to corruption.." Judaism, during the time of Jesus, had some favor with the Roman government that was currently in rule. Judas' agreement with the Religious leaders led to corruption that led tot he neglect of those Jesus said his disciples where to minister too. Instead of people being fed and orphans given homes Judas received a payoff so that the religious leaders could turn Jesus over to the local government and be crucified, Judas became unresponsive to his own people and his Savior.

Just recently, I had to go apply for a license to perform weddings in the state of Virginia. To be honest, this has not set well with me. Prior to moving to Virginia I had already performed one wedding in the state of North Carolina and have since performed a 2nd one. The state of NC accept my designation of Reverend simply because I signed the Marriage Certificate that way and according to the 1st Amendment it should be that way. By having to submit my credentials as an ordained clergy the State is in a position to determine what is a legitimate religion. In doing some research I have found cases where clergy of faith traditions other than Christianity being denied the right to marry persons from within their congregations. These people went on to appeal the decision but in our country that guarantees us the right to exercise a faith this should not have happened. Because this is one of the highly debated issues in our country I want to look at an example of a country that the government has an established religion and what the implications are for people not of that faith who live in the country.

Recently I watch a show on HGTV that followed three families that moved from the United States to the United Arab Emirates. United Arab of Emirates is a Muslim country and everyone who lives there has to live under their form of Sharia Law. During this show the families talked about how they had to adjust the law. If they wanted to drink alcohol they had to get a letter from their US company that requested the country to grant them a license to purchase alcohol. The woman learned that their status was one of property, property of their husbands. Woman had to follow strict rules on clothing, Nothing sleeveless, skirts below the knees and they had to cover their hair. The families never mentioned if they had a faith tradition but I wonder how many of us would be comfortable living under a law based on a religion other than our own.

That is the question we have to ask ourselves. I am a Christian and I would not be lying when I said that I could not live in a country and abide by the law of the land based on a religion differnt from mine. As a christian who lives in a democratic country I am not willing to give up the freedom I enjoy to live according to my faith. Would you? If the answer is no then why should we expect people of other faiths to live under a law that is written according our own faith? What makes the United States great, in my opinion, is that we are free. If we take steps to change our democracy to a theocracy then we become no different than countries like United Arab Emirates.

Lastly, from a christian perspective. God gives me the freedom to make my own choices, and Jesus was never legalistic in his message. For me, to be a christian means granting others the freedom to make their own choices and to refrain from making my faith into a government with laws. It only betrays the message that Jesus came to tell. To embrace the common good here is to allow people to be free, just as the 1st Amendment guarantees.