Church and State

The separation of church and state. This is a notion that I’ve heard my entire life. Early in life, I learned it was essential. Later in life, I was told it was some sort of persecution that “the church” didn’t have more influence over government.

But do we really want these interests combined? Why has the attitude of church-goers changed? Why does this seem to be the new rally cry of white church-goers, to insist that the church is supposed to be the mouth of the state?

Good questions. No good answers.

There are many white evangelical Christians insisting that the separation of church and state is to go against “the founders” of our country.

Really?

Did our founders, some of them professing Christianity presumably, believe and intend that we were to be known as a Christian nation (even while they supported Native American eradication and the institution of slavery)?

Did the founders really think that the ideals of this new America were to be inseparable from our current views on “who is in, and who is out” with regard to salvation? Many “famous” WECs would have us believe that, but they also have a lot of books and other media to sell us too, so it’s a bit hard to parse capitalism from Christianity these days.

Many WECs believe there is no debate to be had here. Many WECs believe this new president has been put in office, by God himself, to help “defend” the notion of this being a Christian nation. Many WECs are adamant that he is bringing Jesus “back to” the White House, but the ideas promoted today, by this new president in 2017, are as toxic and anti-Christ as anything we have seen in our history.

But wait, that’s not all, because this president knows he has full-throated support from a select few groups in this country, and the WECs are his biggest defenders. Not only that, but he is also aware that the WECs organize themselves together multiple times a week, and on the weekends, where they have talking heads (read as preachers) promoting “conservatism”. The WECs have “local leaders” that carefully craft messages which can defend his every move, and he has taken full advantage. He knows that many of these WEC leaders have a pulpit in front of his populist crowds, and now he is bringing even more music to their ears.

This week this new president has been touting a “repeal” of what is known as the Johnson Amendment. He wants to allow pastors of congregations to no longer be “muted” so that they can speak freely from their pulpits on who they think should be elected. Obviously the Johnson Amendment, with its imposed level of discernment (a discernment that Christ followers should seek whether or not it is legislated by the way), if it were to be reversed would not be limited to merely presidential elections. This would affect every election from Washington DC down to the local county highway superintendent.

Does this trouble anyone in “the church”?

Do my fellow WECs see the potential negative impact this could have on the work that churches, for centuries, have been instituted to uphold regarding the poor, the weak, the outcast, or the marginalized?

Many of my fellow WECs hear this type of propaganda and immediately think “Yes, it’s time we get back to our Christian roots!” Admittedly it is appealing to many, but if we look a little closer at what would come out of this, the outworking of such capability is literally scary as hell.

Imagine if churches and religious institutions were given full access to voice political opinion from the pulpit. Imagine the “rallies” that would ensue on Sunday mornings. Imagine what our churches could become, and how far they could stray from the message of the gospel than they already have.

In the current climate of a perceived “persecution” complex, most really can’t imagine what would develop, because most are thinking this would be a good thing. Most are thinking “It’s about time we got our voice back!” The problem with this mindset is most of us never had our “voices” taken away from us. Most of us can say, and do, and worship, and move around our communities any which way we choose.

We have only been told that we have lost our “rights”. Over and over we have been preached at, and lamented together, that we have somehow lost our “privilege”.

Privilege is a heavy thing.

In a Christian worldview, privilege is something that can’t be left for self-consumption. Privilege is something that is supposed to be leveraged for anyone we come across that might not have the same privileges that we have. Privilege is what made “the rich young ruler” walk away from Jesus.

So what about this church and state thing? What would happen if pastors in local congregations could give outright voting instructions to their congregations, instead of the passive aggressive, wink and nod, guilt complex directives they dole out today?

Well, the short answer is, the pulpits would ultimately become “bought and paid for”. Every community church (and especially the enormous ones) could become an institution dedicated to a lobbyist function, yet with this special treatment they would not be held accountable for any such thing. They could comfortably allow voting instructions and never have to share who their biggest “tithers” were (or maybe I should say “donors”).

If the standards (however unenforced they might be) of political discernment that we understand today for tax exempt religious institutions are walked back to allow these persons of “spiritual influence” to give explicit verbal direction to their congregants, then we might as well be selling commercial advertisements on the big screens in the church sanctuaries during the offertory, because the end result is the almighty dollar.

Anyone standing in front of a congregation could easily be bribed by the “biggest giver” to speak directly to the desires of those who have the deepest pockets. Our “ministers” would be unabashedly on the take from anyone with money who needed to get a message out. Our bulletins would have not only scriptures, but paid campaign adds (and Sunday lunch buffet coupons) printed all over them.

How bad could that be you might ask? Capitalism is the blood that runs through the veins of democracy anyway, right?

Be careful what you wish for. Whatever tainted messaging you think you hear today in your churches, whichever way they might lean, would be so much more influenced in this environment. Every verse that was read, every hymn that was sung, every benediction prayer that was prayed, would be done with a thought in the back of the mind of the deliverer. A thought that every salesman in the world worries about, because if it is not appealing to the audience, then maybe they just won’t “buy” it any longer. Empty seats, and even worse, empty offering plates, are the biggest fears any local preacher might have.

For those of us who are living in constant tension between our primal desires, and our gospel calling to live above those desires, is this really what we want? Can we afford to sell out to the highest bidder?

A case could be made that in many ways, at least in the WEC communities of worship, this has already happened. Just look at some of the national known WEC leaders who have the most visible social media “pulpits”. They have already lost the ability to critically process what has been going on, or to help any of their own “followers” wrestle with the impact this new administration’s “policies” is having by contradicting our long held tenets of a Christian faith. I don’t have to name them, because these (mostly white male) leaders are all embarrassingly obvious, and the micro progression is already speeding through the ranks of WEC mega church pastors down into smaller, mostly white, congregation pastors as well.

Time will tell on whether we will come back to our gospel senses, but we can already see where the trend of this wide road is leading, and it is getting wider by the day.

And we all know where the wide road leads.