What voice should a Christian have, and where? In other words, should Christians dare express their opinions on any topic which does not pertain to faith, such as politics, perhaps?
On face value, this may seem like a simple question to answer. But think about this, carefully. Where is the line drawn, and by whom? Involvement in a political campaign, such as an election, might be frowned upon. But what about involvement with regard to a political issue? Perhaps the issue is global warming, separation of church and state, taxation, capital punishment, abortion, legalization of drugs, location (or existence) of “Gentleman’s Clubs,” military involvement, the right to bear arms, or the right to free speech? Perhaps the issue is even illegal immigration?
For which of the above mentioned topics can a Biblical example be found to support involvement with, or not?
Clearly, the Bible teaches obedience to government, which might seemingly cover a number of topics.As an example, our country currently has troops serving abroad and some Christians may oppose this. In fact, certain denominations oppose military service altogether. Can a Biblical basis for expression of opinion in favor or opposed to military action be found, or is this simply a political opinion?
What about taxation? Churches enjoy tax free status and I’ve yet to hear one complain about that privilege. So is it alright for a church member to express their views about other forms of taxation? Does a Biblical basis for this exist?
Is abortion a matter for Christian consideration and discussion? It cannot be argued that abortion has a political element to it, and the courts have weighed in, declaring this practice to be legal. Many Christians oppose the practice, though. Are they to take a public stand against it or merely not participate in the practice personally?
The famous wall; what does it mean?
Pragmatically speaking, a total “separation of church and state” is simply impossible, for the very ground the church occupies is governed by the state (read government). And the tax burden from which the church is freed is granted by the government, the same government which dictates the taxes individual church members must pay. In fact, each and every member of the church is under the dominion of the state, or is at least supposed to be, even according to Scripture. But we’ll address that in a bit.
Is it possible the “wall of separation between church and state” which was espoused by Thomas Jefferson has been misconstrued? Jefferson’s words are found only in his personal correspondence, in the form of a letter written to the Danbury Baptist Association. Certainly, Jefferson was a proponent of limited government. That is to say he opposed governmental meddling in a citizen’s life. While he was not present for the drafting of our Constitution, one of his best known political philosophies lives on in the First Amendment.
While our Constitution does not make use of Jefferson’s words, it is not silent on the issue of some sort of separation between church and state. But, it is a very specific separation prescribed. The First Amendment, found in the Bill of Rights, states, “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.” Do these words provide a foundation for Christian churches to discourage a member’s involvement in political issues? Upon reading them, the answer is clearly no.
What the First Amendment prescribes is a sort of unilateral relationship, if you will. As in all unilateral agreements, the restrictions outlined in the First Amendment fall entirely upon one side, limiting only the government’s involvement with religion but not limiting the individual practicing a (any) religion from involvement in government. The first condition the government observes, known as the establishment clause, is the prohibition of legislation to establish an official religion. In other words, no preference for any particular religion will be shown. The second condition is known as the free exercise clause and it prohibits the government (in most cases) from interfering with a person’s religious practice.
Freedom of speech?
With the fundamental tenets of freedom of religion, speech, press and peaceable assembly so clearly outlined, how is it that a church or its leaders could seek to impose limits on those very rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, the same Amendment that protects the rights of the church? Most church leadership, regardless of the denomination, is not likely to attempt to restrict a member’s right to free speech if the topic happens to be abortion. Little concern would be given for the feelings of church members who may have had an abortion, whether they are remorseful for that choice or not. The pro-life position is considered a righteous one, so such a topic is not taboo. Likewise, open and sometimes enthusiastic conversations may occur over global warming, or perhaps the right to bear arms. All three topics are politically hot to the touch.
But then there’s the taboo topic du jour, one which some churches forbid mention of, despite the fact that it’s among the most pressing issues of our time and one for which plenty of counsel exists within the Good Book. That topic would be illegal immigration and I have witnessed, first hand, the attempts of a church to forbid all conversations involving it. Of course, your church is not likely to have an opinion if it is not dealing with the presence of illegal aliens in your midst. For those who do struggle with this issue, your position should be shaped by what the Bible has to say.
What the Bible says?
Almost all are familiar with the Scripture passage which states “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” found in Matthew 22:21 and Mark 12:17. But there is also this counsel, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,” found in Romans 13: 1-7. A like passage would be found in 1 Peter 2:13-15, “Submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the lord’s sake: whether unto king, as supreme; or unto governors.” And there’s still more counsel found in Titus 3:1, “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates.”
God’s position seems clearly outlined in these passages, doesn’t it? It seems we are given the responsibility to obey government and it would be ludicrous to suggest illegal aliens are obeying the government, whether they attend church or not. If then, church leadership can forbid discussion of sinful behavior such as this, what will come next? For that matter, what has come before? After all, many churches now accept homosexuality despite the Bibles’ admonition of the practice. The prevailing rationale of our day now sees many churches accepting that which all prohibited not so long ago, women as ministers. The proliferation of non-denominational churches, often mega size, eliminates the need for one to take a stand on doctrine, other than proclaiming Christ as savior. And of course, church leaders no longer feel a need to dabble in politics only from the shadows, with publicity seeking priests regularly appearing on political talk shows and attention hungry pastors moderating presidential debates.
At the end of the day, the freedom for the church to practice according to their own denomination’s views is protected under the First Amendment. But the church member’s rights may be a bit more challenging to define as the organization does have some legal authority to restrict speech within it’s walls or on it’s property. But the individual member still has every right to free speech elsewhere and also to pursue what he or she believes is backed by Scripture. Seemingly, if it’s supported in Scripture, it should be in harmony with a Christian denomination’s beliefs.
Sadly, the truth is we live in very challenging times. Many people want financially, and the church feels that pain by extension. Growth in membership has always been important and particularly so now when offerings are down in many denominations. So, perhaps growth has become the most important factor, more important even than truth. Church leadership at the highest levels seem increasingly willing to not only look the other way but to actively assist known or suspected aliens. This is particularly true with the Hispanic population, which is the largest growth sector in the United States and also happens to account for the overwhelming majority of illegal aliens in our country.
In this case, church and government may remain separate (at least relative to the First Amendment).But remember that government leaders are politicians, willing on an all too frequent basis to act in their own self interest. And when viewed through that lens, the church may be separate, but not at all dissimilar.
That being said, may God help us all.
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