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.]