Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just because it's good to remember this...

...and not because I'm trying to pick a fight...

this will be in the announcement sheet in our bulletin this Sunday.

How fortunate we are to live in our nation, which will celebrate its 235th birthday tomorrow! One of the great wisdoms of the founding fathers was their focus on religious tolerance, on keeping the control of religion out of the hands of secular government, and on keeping control of secular government out of the hands of religious leaders.

They had good reason for this. They knew, having seen the power of religion allied with government, how it could stifle efforts at reform and at theological discourse. Many of the first settlers came here precisely because they couldn’t live out their faith as they deeply understood it in the place from which they came. Nations that had an official “state church” sometimes compelled people to adhere to that church’s rules and contribute to that church. That is not what Jesus had in mind, in a statement that might be considered the first endorsement of separation of church and state: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” (Matt 22:21)

Jesus named the fact that mixing politics and religion is dangerous business. It is no surprise, then, that the unholy alliance between the Roman state and the sanctioned religious leadership of Israel led to his death. Such a marriage of church and state serves neither purely.

I’m grateful that our nation was built on an understanding that marriage of church and state is not a good idea. I’m grateful, too, that our decision-making process in government is usually informed by the values that each of us learned from parents and teachers and in Sunday Schools and in yeshivas and in other places of moral teaching of our choosing.

If we start from the place of understanding our moral values, then we don’t need to make a shotgun marriage between church and state. Wise decision making comes naturally, organically. So three cheers for the writers of the Constitution, and for the nation that continues to cherish its values!

I'll let you know what the reactions are, if any...

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