Separating Faith and Government

In early November, 2012, prior to the Presidential election,  I left a church I had been attending.

Inside the weekly bulletin was a sheet of paper, with both political candidates named, comparing where they stood on certain issues. It was an obvious attempt by the leaders of that church to sway my vote to what they considered the moral “Christian” vote.

Excuse me? My political stance is no business of any church. I walked out that Sunday, fuming, never to return. I had already made up my mind who I was voting for and I found this sheet of paper an insult to separation of church and state, Christianity and my political freedom.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 

On the website for the Bill of Rights Institute, I found an interesting article in regard to an 1802 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in to the Baptist Church in Danbury, Connecticut. The first two paragraphs of this article read:

Thomas Jefferson wrote to a letter to a Baptist Church from Danbury, Connecticut, in which he explained his beliefs about federalism and the meaning of the Establishment Clause. Jefferson did not address the subject of state-sponsored churches, but assured the congregation that the federal government could not interfere with their church or offer special favors to any particular sect.

He wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” This phrase became so famous that many have come to believe it is in the Constitution, though it is not. Jefferson’s letter has been used by the Supreme Court, including Justice Hugo Black as “almost an authoritative declaration” as to the Founders’ intent for the Establishment Clause. However, Jefferson’s views on the First Amendment are complicated; two days after he sent the letter, he attended a church service conducted in the House of Representatives.

This leaves me with the question, “What was Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation?”

A friend of mine recently posted a meme on Facebook regarding separation of church and state. Even though our views differ both politically and in religious faith, we agree on this matter. I believe, in this current day, that the intertwining of religion and politics has become a misinterpretation of justice and scripture. One that promotes judgment, division and the worship of false idols.

I have to believe this is not the society our founding fathers wanted for the United States of America. We are supposed to be a melting pot of both political and religious freedom. These freedoms should never be glued together, manipulated, or used in a manner that demoralizes, denigrates, ostracizes or makes fun of any one person or their beliefs.

Yes, of course, a politican can have a Christian faith and those of us who have this faith can pray for our government and political representatives. We can vote based on our own spiritual and earthly beliefs. To go beyond, however, invites brokenness on both sides.

Here’s the deal. I’m tired of political parties that claim to be the voice of Christianity and of Christians who worship false political idols.

Jesus Christ is the chosen one, no one else.

I’m tired of votes being tied to Bible verses and Bible verses used to justify hate and bigotry.

I’m tired of being told to read Bible verses so I “understand” why I should vote a certain way.

I’m tired of Christianity turning a blind eye to the behavior of their politicians when actions are immoral and illegal, then turning around and loudly complaining about a Christmas coffee cup that has hurt no one.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m tired of politicians who hold up the Christian “carrot” in order to win votes.

I’m tired of politicians who claim to be Christian, but line their pockets with money from lobbyists.

I’m tired of politicians who offer thoughts and prayers, but never any action to resolve serious issues.

Politics and religion never mix in a good way. Neither seems to be a subject one can talk about these days without getting into a heated debate over opposing opinions. Facebook, Twitter and social media in general are filled with angry disagreements and taunting memes over the two subjects. It’s a cacophony that is disheartening and tiring.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson would think of today’s society. Since he attended a church service in the House of Representatives over two hundred years ago, would he think it acceptable? In the U.S., Christians are walking a fine line between honoring their God and worshiping politicians who are no more worthy than the rest of humanity.  As well, I see politicians abusing or using faith to further their career and be re-elected. I’m ready for the binding together of religious and political factions in the U.S. to end. For Christians to keep politics from entering their faith and church. And for politicians to stop using the “faith card” in order to claim their side is somehow heavenly sent.

My current church keeps politics out. Our pastors never preach on the subject or tell us how to vote. Our faith community is a mix of liberal and conservative, of differing ethnicities and incomes, a gathering of humanity. Yet there are no heated political debates in our building because we’ve chosen to love each other, love people and worship our God. Political beliefs and voting choices stay outside the church doors.

While the majority of America’s citizens are Christian, our country is also home to other faiths (Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism, Buddhism) and to those who don’t subscribe to a religion or a God. Is it fair if the political landscape of our country is based on the religion of majority? Is the minority then represented by their politicians or are they just another group of people to be dismissed and ignored as lesser than?

Know and understand this is simply my opinion. If you disagree, that’s fine. We’re all entitled to speak our own beliefs. I ask, though, that your comments are thoughtful and respectful as I don’t want to add to the anger on social media.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Can we begin to separate politics and Christianity in a way that might better serve our people and country?  Do other countries struggle with separation of government and religion?

17 responses to Separating Faith and Government

  1. loisajay says:

    I have to tell you that I don’t usually do long reads, but this captured my attention, Mary. Good post. Growing up Catholic, I remember our church being totally in love with the Kennedy’s. Back story didn’t matter–they were Catholic so they were wonderful. What would Thomas Jefferson think of our society? WE cannot even believe what is going on, so I cannot imagine what he would think. Everything has gotten so angry and hateful and out of hand, as far as I see it. I used to laugh at Sandra Bullock’s line in “Miss Congeniality” that all she wanted was world peace. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m not laughing now.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks for reading, Lois. I fear that Thomas Jefferson would not believe his eyes or ears at what’s happening in this country. I really have to believe he did not intend for politics and religion to be so mixed together and not in a good way. There is no room for a Christianity that promotes politics and no room for politicians that use that faith for their own gain. It’s unethical and immoral.

  2. Mary J. I love how you phrased “a misrepresentation of justice and scripture.” Thanks for what you said about “Bible verses used to justify hate and bigotry.” That resonates because more than once that has been done to me, with people who had “acted like” friends telling me I shouldn’t be suffered to live (from one because of a fraction of my beliefs, and the other simply because I write fantasy stories). I consider that a death threat, and it was heartbreaking for it to come from a friend.
    Yes, I’m tired of all those things too. Hugs.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I’m so sorry that friends of yours thought God gave them the power to judge. Give any one group too much power and it overtakes their moral compas. I hope one day the word “Christian” will have a fully positive tone and not be linked to politics. One day soon, Teagan.

  3. Dan Antion says:

    Thank you very much, Mary for giving this post the obvious thought and consideration you did. This is the best thing I have read on this divisive subject. I am contemplating finding a church and, frankly, I am worried. I’ve left churches for a variety of reasons, and I have vowed that I won’t join a new church unless it suits me. The church you attend sounds pretty good to me (but it’s a long commute).

    The most disappointing thing I’ve experienced was when I attended the church I grew up in, after my mother passed away. The minister was harping on political issues and he wasn’t saying what the minister(s) I grew up with would have said. He wasn’t telling us to look into our heart, to consider what Jesus said and what Jesus would ask us to do. He was telling us who was right, who was wrong and what our opinion should be.

    As yo know, I grew up in the 60s. Our minister preached and educated us around the many divisive issues in the news, from civil rights, to racism, to drugs and the war, and he NEVER crossed the line. The only time he ever took sides on a issue was when it came to the Steelers.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Dan, you are welcome. This was something I had to put in writing and get it off my chest. I’m not sure when or how faith leaders decided that doing a political party’s or candidate’s bidding was okay, but it’s something that is driving people out of the church – because taking a political stand is not God’s work. These pastors should be preaching about helping their communities, loving their neighbors without prejudice and everything else that Jesus taught us, not about how we should vote.

      I hope you find a church that suits you, Dan. It’s important to find a place that feels like “home.”

      • Dan Antion says:

        Thanks Mary. I’ll let you know. I think I’m going to visit a few after the holidays are over. It’s like joining a gym, except this is the peak time.

  4. M-R says:

    Right on !
    We currently have a bloody holy roller (whatever) for our PM, and he loves seeing photos of himself waving his arms in church.
    Whilst you and I are not on the same wavelength re religion, M-J, we are definitely on the same wavelength re keeping it and politics are far apart as are, currently, the GOP and the Dems !

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I’ve seen people leave their church and their faith over the non-separation in our country. I don’t know if/when the gap between the political parties will once again move toward the middle and when Christianity will keep its nose out of U.S. politics, but it can’t happen soon enough. I’m so tired of it…

  5. Hi MJ – thanks for your thoughtful post. I am also troubled by the church and state combination. Especially when I see such unholy, un-Christian like behaviour from the state leaders.

    I left the church almost 50 years ago. If there is one thing I miss, it’s the sense of community. Because it is the gathering together to work together that matters to me.

    And I think it just this sort of grassroots effort that will make a difference, to undo the situation in our governments. Canada is following, if not in step with the US as regards Christianity and politics bound together.

    Any change cannot be effected overnight, though. It took a long time to get to this point, and barring any explosive revolutionary event, the grassroots folk will have to dig away, one shovelful at a time, to get out from under the situation we are in right now.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I am hoping that the youth of this world see fit to make a change in a lot of areas, and this is one. I hear of so many who leave the church, like yourself, because of the words and actions of the church or people of faith. It seems to me that faith leaders’ messages should be about their loving. forgiving God, not angry, hateful diatribes in support of Presidents or politicians. That is simply not Christianity in any sense.

  6. marianallen says:

    I’ve left two churches (same denomination) over being told what a “good” Christian’s vote should be. Now I go to Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). First, how could I resist the parentheses? Second, it has no dogma or doctrine but faith in Jesus (however you choose to interpret that). I need wiggle room and a wide berth for my conscience, and this provides it.

    Wonderful, WONDERFUL post, full of passion and COMpassion, sense and sensibility. I hug you mightily across the miles! ❤ ❤ ❤

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks for the hugs, Marian. I’m happy that you found a church that doesn’t tell you how to vote and simply professes faith in Jesus. Sometimes I ponder if, by some slim chance, I’m in the wrong in how I see my faith and the teachings of Jesus, but I really can’t imagine that He would be okay with the current mix of Christianity and politics. Thanks for your kind comments and hugs back at you.

  7. joey says:

    As you know, it’s taking me a hundred years to catch up on my blog backlog, but I am so glad I finally got to this.
    There are too many Christians giving Christians a bad name, and I always enjoy Good Christians who just be Christians and don’t use it as a starting point for justification of whatever moral high horse they’re riding on at the time. I don’t think their high horse behavior would impress Jesus one bit.
    I recall one time when my in-laws got a new minister. Honestly, they’d had three very good pastors prior, going back some twenty years, so we all may have been spoiled a bit, but the new one was terrible. Racist, xenophobic, preaching politics, spewing hate speech and calling out slurs. My husband and I never ‘visited’ there again, and after while, my in-laws left as well, although I don’t know that they heard things the same way, other issues developed. Perhaps one day the man turned up in a sheet — would not have surprised me.
    For the record, I am 100% in favor of separation of church and state. Being a non-Christian can sometimes feel like being a leper, but the Good Christians never mind and love me anyway.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Christians giving Christians a bad name and pastors being nothing like Jesus really burns me, Joey. So it must burn Jesus.

      And, yes, good Christians love their neighbors, no exceptions. ❤

  8. JoAnna says:

    Amen! That church putting that political stuff in the bulletin was bizarre to me. We use a few different supply priests at my episcopal church. The conservative one will sneak in something political now and then, but it’s rare and very subtle. My favorite church leaders focus on the teachings of Jesus. Isn’t that what Christianity is supposed to be about?

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Yes, amen to keeping church to the teachings of Christ. In my mind, there really is no reason to bring politics into a place of worship and I certainly don’t want my pastor telling me how to vote.

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