Should Religion and Politics Mix?

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Daniel Before Nebuchadnezzar, by Salomon Koninck

   “O Belteshazzar (Daniel), chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation….”  (Daniel 4:9 ESV)

It is amazing that a representative of a minority nation like Israel could have such political and religious influence on a powerful ruler like Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel begs an important question for our own day: Should Christians avoid involvement in politics, rather than try to influence the State with Christian beliefs?  Or, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, does the First Amendment establish a “wall of separation between Church and State”? 

A blog post will not do justice to this argument, but in the spirit of Independence Day I will share some thoughts on this controversial matter.  

First, an all too brief historical background: Jefferson’s phrase comes from his letter to the Danbury Baptists, a persecuted minority who wanted to eliminate the official “state church,” not to establish one.  They simply wanted to protect their First Amendment right to a “free exercise of religion.” 

But does this mean a complete separation of Church and State, as interpreted by a 1947 Supreme Court decision (Everson v. Board of Education) ?  Does Jefferson’s wall, by limiting a religion’s ability to influence public life, violate rather than protect the free exercise of religion?  Should the State have the authority to define what religion is and how it should function in society?  When the State, quoting Jefferson’s wall, defines religion as a strictly private matter, does it exceed its Constitutional limitations? 

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of the Christian right or left — far from it.  There is a profound difference between serving Christ and serving the State, and it is very easy to drift towards the latter.  But the First Amendment, as I understand it, allows religious perspectives to compete in the public sphere, without government inhibition, on the same terms as other values.  Jefferson’s wall does not seem to allow this.

 

  

 

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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6 Responses to Should Religion and Politics Mix?

  1. julie says:

    They asked this question on my campus when I was in college. It was right as I was coming to faith. Should religion involve itself in politics? Think my answer is the same today. If Christianity is false, it has no business anywhere. If it is true, it must be central.

  2. Carol says:

    Well, I do agree with Julie that because Jesus requires that we center our lives around him, how can we expect to eliminate Him from our political arenas? Frankly, I don’t want to think about a government devoid of Judeo-Christian influence. Some might say we are living without Him in our governmental bodies right now!
    The problems with religion in politics come from weird religion influences, and I am talking about radical Islam here. No, thank you. Keep it out. Already pervading our public education systems, taking over some cities. Not good. Islamists, radical or not, are indoctrinated to believe that Islam is superior and can be imposed on others against their will.
    This is not the same threat that some may have felt with Catholicism because we have lived among Catholic Christians, among Jews, among atheists. Not many of us have lived among Muslims in America.
    I doubt that Jefferson foresaw this development. It’s a sticky wicket.
    Would that our only concern were whether or not there is a wall. Non-J-C’s must wrestle with this, too.
    Would love to suggest a solution, but don’t know one.

  3. Janice says:

    I think we all agree that Jesus needs to be the center in every part of our lives. Carol, Mike Blackburn spoke at Chapel last Sunday and talked about the Muslims that live in his area. Mike never gives up talking to them about Jesus. I think this is what Jesus would like all of us to do which is not easy. I also do not know a solution for the growing number of muslims and atheists. We need to pray about it.

  4. Carol says:

    We as Christians need to acknowledge that the devil is very good at his work, since the Garden of Eden. Why should we be considering these issues in a blog? We Americans have taken for granted all our freedoms; now we are looking at drastic changes and most of us regret the compromises that further remove God from the center. God at the center is not PC. So often choices are either to be PC or to side with others on the Rock.
    God remains rightfully so a righteous God who does not share His throne. He allows men to make a choice for Him to rule in their hearts and have Him direct their lives, or not.
    For millenia, man has attempted to achieve a perfect society and he has not done so. Man is never going to do this. Not in the plan. Corruption abounds.
    We can only be free in Christ, not in government.

  5. Ann Denbow Simmons says:

    Religion and politics have always mixed. Henry the8th had this very problem with the Catholic church. The Popes have always tried to rule over and in politics. Daniel Chapters 1-6 were written in the time of the Babylonian captivity, probably about 600 B.C. to about 539 B.C. and also at the onset of the Persian Empire. It was not until their captivity in Babylon that the Jews realized that the God they worshiped was not just in the land of Jordan but also could follow them were ever they were. Daniel’s them was that God is sovereign over the whole kingdom of man. The name Daniel means “God of my judge” and I would consider him to be a statesman in the alien court of Babylon. Daniel seeks to evoke a full commitment to the laws of God by the very people who are being persecuted in Babylon. If we look at Matthew 24:15 Jesus refers to Daniel in his teachings. Jesus even quoted from Daniel 9:27. Even John in the book of Revelations draws his imagery of the apocalyptic from Daniel Chapter 7.
    Daniel was willing to risk his own life to prove the power of God. How many of us would be willing to do the same?
    The Ist Amendment has allowed many organizations who are religious based such as the KKK, Christian Identity, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City followed the Christian Identity movement and had and gave out copies of the book “Turner Diaries”, Anti-abortion extremists, the IRA and yes Islam and the list goes on and on. The KKK is the oldest and longing running terrorist group in the world, they were started after our Civil War. The majority of the students in my college course who have taken my final exam felt that it was this amendment that has opened the door for terrorist organizations and has allowed them to meet and have rallies in the US. The first rally for the Islamic Jihad against America was held in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1980’s. the Mosqe. I do not believe that Jefferson foresaw what this one amendment would force upon our country in later years. America was formed by individuals who sought America to get away from persecution from religion within the countries they lived. The world is not the same now as it was when our nation fought for its independence and established its Constitution,

    I taught a college course titled “Middle East History through the Bible” and loved every minute of it.
    I think Carol, I answered part of your previous question!

  6. Carol says:

    Yea, you did, Ann. and I thank you.
    Continued good health!

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