Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Church and State/Law and Gospel


Someone said to me a while ago something about the United States being a "Christian Nation." I respectfully disagreed, but granted that "We're a country with a lot of Christians."

I was supposed to write a post for the Blog Against Theocracy this weekend. But it was Easter weekend as well, and I was sick the weekend before, and I ended up being totally consumed with Holy Week, the stories, the worship, the people: Jesus. I couldn't bring myself to write one more thing, and the truth is, my friend Fran said it so much better than I could have.

And yet....

There are two small things I want to say.

1. The European nations are all "Christian nations," in a sense, in that they have State Religions. If we were to be a Christian nation, which version of Christianity would we choose? Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist? And what would happen to the not-chosen? Not to mention those of other faiths, or of no faith. And if we chose some ecumenical vaguely Jesus-y civil religion, to me, as a devout Christian, this would be a pale imitation of the real thing, religion robbed of its power. It would not be religion that transforms lives, but religion that keeps the peace, religion devoted to upholding the state. This might be comforting, but it is not the radical religion of Jesus and his followers. And many people consider the State Churches in Europe to be, mostly, dead. This is not for me to judge. But for me, the separation of church and state has made a lively, healthier faith.

2. Another model for a religious state is something like Iran, which is an Islamic State. I'm pretty sure most of us don't want to be a Christian Nation in the way that Iran is an Islamic State. Law and gospel are not the same as Church and State, but it's worth noting that Martin Luther noted that You cannot create faith through the Law. Only the gospel, God's radical good news, creates faith.

I treasure the freedoms given in our democracy, including the freedom to worship. I also note that our democratic ideals are imperfectly realized, and oppression needs to be exposed. A church too tethered to the state loses its ability to speak out against oppression. It also becomes a less vibrant voice for the truth of the freedom of the gospel.

14 comments:

Jan said...

Thanks, Diane. I meant to write something for this Blog Against Theocracy, but never got around to it. Maybe it's not too late, but I have so many other posts I want to make, too. Ditto for all you wrote/said!

Wyldth1ng said...

Good point.

FranIAm said...

Oh Diane-this is great. And thanks for the kind words and linkage.

You are very right about the dilution of some state-based Christianity, which would be really awful for those who are not Christian and actually very bad for those who are.

We need to use the faith and the reason that God has so generously given us.

Diane, I so love that new header photo, wow!

LawAndGospel said...

Great thoughts here. One thing I hear from folks who think we need to assert our Christian tradition as a nation is that we should be free to do so. But then does that mean that we are only free to choose the one choice? If God is on our side, whose "God" will it be?

Pastor Eric said...

Very well said. We can't force faith upon people. The great joy that we, as Christians, take is seeing the Holy Spirit at work creating faith in people. It is fun to see this transformation. A state run church would do nothing but inhibit this joy.

Marsha said...

You state very clearly what I believe and how I feel about this subject. I think many Christians agree with this position.

Lindy said...

Right on Diane!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Perhaps we do have a state religion of sorts - the marketplace. I wonder if buying and selling, lending and owing, the market up, the market down, consuming and then consuming more is not our religion.

So many of our government policies seem geared toward an untrammeled free market, you'd sometimes think that the market was the deity.

Sorry if this is a downer in Easter week, but it's what came to mind.

Diane said...

No, Grandmere, I've often thought that the market has become our "god."

Paul said...

Thanks, Diane. Comments in this area are always timely, whether they fall during the designated weekend or not.

Glad you noted that an official religion would hardly be the faith or practice we learned from jesus. I don't want some "tamed" faith to be promoted, thanks. Nor do I want to see any faith imposed.

As Mimi note, we do seem to have a state religion. It seems rather polytheistic to me, with deities of greed, war, power, consumerism, arbitrary concepts of "beauty" et cetera. They are all dehumanizing gods that destroy the good, the true, and the genuinely beautiful. If we had a formalized state religion, I feel certain these would be the gods only with a very thin veneer of Jesus. Horrible to contemplate and not to be tolerated!

And your new banner is cool, as Fran noted!

I trust your health is back.

Rev SS said...

I am in total agreement with what you all have said ... including the comments of appreciation for your new banner, Diane

Rev SS said...

I am in total agreement with what you all have said ... including the comments of appreciation for your new banner, Diane

Pastor David said...

I also think there is some real concern about what our actions as a nation declare to the world - if indeed we are the example of what it means to be a Christian nation.

speeddemon0117 said...

From what I have read about our founding fathers, they actually feared having a state religion. In Europe, at that time, whateveer country you were in, that was what defined what church you belonged to. Our founding fathers wanted to avoid having this problem. That is why the First Amendment guarantees us the freedom to worship as we wish, or if we want, to not worship at all.

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