The Separation of Church and State: Really?

If you haven’t been living in a cave the past twenty or thirty years, you’ve heard all the arguments over the separation of church and state. Years ago (twenty-eight to be exact) a liberally minded pastor told me that separation of church and state was a bogus notion. The ground for his opinion was the fact that the state gets clergy to marry people (a state function) at no cost. To him, the idea that church and state should be completely separate was negated by this fact alone. I hadn’t heard that argument before (or since). I found it to be an interesting take from a guy I would have thought would be standing on the other side of the proverbial fence.

Most everyone I know agrees there should be some sort of separation between the ecclesia and the secular, governing bodies. The real argument, of course, lies in the definition of the phrase. What does separation look like, how far should it go, and who defines it? My conservative friends say it means the government should stay out of church affairs. My liberal friends aver just the opposite. The church should stay out of the business of governing.

“You want your voice to be heard…”

I’m not going to rehash those arguments here. Better minds than mine have laid out the varying positions much more cogently than I could. It seems to me, however, neither side is very consistent.

Regardless if you’re what we label as a conservative Christian or a liberal one, you have a vested interest in how your government operates—in how its policies are implemented. You want your voice to be heard, and you want things to flow in your direction. Obviously, the latter is not going to happen in every instance—maybe in many instances.

Lots of friends who want the state out of the church’s business would be happy to embrace public policies that would ensure (even bolster) religious freedom, protect the preborn, and uphold traditional family values. My pals on the opposite end of the spectrum want the church to avoid telling the government what it should do (or to even have a say). Yet, they want the government to be about the Biblical business of the church (i.e., feeding the hungry, giving sanctuary to the alien, and healing the sick).

“No one actually wants separation.”

It seems to me that no one actually wants true separation of church and state. What we really want is for the government to do what we as a church have failed to do. If we can’t (or won’t) accomplish our stated Biblical tasks, we want the secular powers to accomplish those tasks for us.

Maybe it’s time for the church to do what she was called to do. Instead of relying on secular authority to do our jobs, maybe we ought to actually do them ourselves. We are overzealous in guarding our private time, and hoarding our personal fortunes. Then we expect the ruling bodies to take up the cavernous slack we leave behind.

Shame on us!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

The Death of a Saint

Each January, I attend the March for Life in DC. I’ve done so for over two decades. I have the routine down pat.

I arise early, drive to the Metro, and hop a train to South Capitol. I then walk to the United Methodist Building (across the street from the Supreme Court). I attend the Life-Watch worship service there, walk the two miles to the Mall, listen to the speakers, and march along with a few hundred thousand pro-lifers back to the Supreme Court.

I’ve been doing this for so long there are a few people I expect to see each year. Three of them are fellow Methodists that always attend the morning worship. When I arrived at the UM Building this year, I was running a tad late; so I dropped my coat off in the chapel and headed for the restroom for a quick pitstop.

As I deposited my wrap, I glanced around to see if my three usual’s were present. Two were—one wasn’t. I didn’t think too much of Ken’s absence at first because it was not totally unusual for him to be late.

“Did Ken die?”

United Methodist Building

But as I ducked into the restroom, a strange thought briefly passed through my mind. I wondered to myself, “Did Ken die?” I don’t usually think this way, and I quickly rejected the idea that he was gone. After all, he was still a young guy, he was known to arrive late upon occasion, and he always showed up.

When I got back to my seat, a smart looking, well-dressed gentleman sat next to me for worship. We introduced ourselves to each other, and his name sounded extremely familiar. I surreptitiously got out my phone and Googled him. Sure enough, he was who I thought he was (Mark Tooley—President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy). This distracted me from the fact that I was neither seeing nor hearing Ken (who tends to be boisterous—you don’t have to see him to know he’s in the room—loud laughter and even louder “amens” always give him away).

We weren’t very far into the service when one of the leaders made the announcement that Ken Stewart had recently passed away. For some reason, I was not surprised. I assume it was the wild, random thought that had shot through my mind a few minutes prior. The rest of the service was a bit of a blur, however.

A Barrette Ministry to the World

Ken was one of those guys who was more concerned for everyone else than for himself. He was known for his long, silver hair that he usually had pulled back into a ponytail. He made hair barrettes that said things like “Jesus Loves You” and tried every year to get me to join him in his “barrette ministry” to the world.

Like all the saints who have touched my life, I will miss Ken very much. Maybe for next year’s march, I’ll join him in his barrette ministry. It would be a fitting tribute.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]