Friday, April 01, 2005

Church and State

The media and many secular players are calling for an affirmation of the separation of church and state. They say the church is getting too close to government, that too many of our public servants rely on personal faith to form law and that we need to remove all evidence of religion from our public places.

Boy, do they have it wrong.

The need is not to keep religion out of our government. That cannot be possible when our country is largely a people of faith and the government is made up of representatives of those people. Primarily Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, Native American, Spiritual and vastly varied from there, our country is populated with people born of faith, seeking faith and finding it.

Most faiths have moral laws and conduct expectations, to greater and lesser degree, and these attributes are anticipated of a person professing such faith. These qualities are a part of that person, who they are and how they relate to others. Most people of faith consider these religious laws to be the historical basis of common law today.

We cannot keep faith out of our government, because the people that make up our government, like our country, are largly a people of faith. To keep the faith out, would be keeping the people out. No people, no government.

The need is to keep our government out of our religions. We cannot let the concept of "religion" be co-opted by those allied with the right wing Christian Coalition. We cannot let them spread their political spin with the Word tied to it as if in agreement or support of their policies. We must step forth in faith proclaiming the Truth about the poor and the environment, about civil rights, being truthful, peace above war and real family values.

The religious right has spoken so loud, and gotten so much media time, that they do harm to the perception of Christianity as seen from other religions and among the secular. The neo-con religious right are in many cases the Sadducees of today, the wealthy upper class religious party taking the intent of the Bible and turning it to their own gain, doing a discredit to God as they wallow in their own love of money, power, and greed. Many non-religious Americans are pushed away from Christianity because they associate the church with those whose fine shirts have overstuffed collars and whose lips are wet and rosy.

From the Beatitudes as recorded in Luke 6: 20-26:

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Strong words and well worth considering. John Kerry did well in quoting Abraham Lincoln when he said, and I may be paraphrasing here, “We should not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on God’s side.” When we read the Scripture above, this is an apt prayer.

Unfortunately, the Democrats only partly get it. Some like to proclaim Faith, although generally only quietly and when to their advantage. There are strictly secular elements in the Democratic Party that have voices heard throughout when policy is being formed. John Kerry proclaimed faith, was properly humble, well spoken, and rang true to me, but it was too little too late when faced with the relentless onslaught of Karl Rove’s minions. Faith needs to be spoken of clearly and as often as it comes to front of mind, but humbly.

For those of Faith to trust that the Democratic Party has faith, those leaders that have Faith need to address the issue consistently and often.

We need Faith at the forefront in the Democratic Party, spoken with sincere voice. That voice doesn’t come from practice, it comes from the heart and the mind when the Truth is known deeply. We need to point to the social issues that Jesus spoke of in the Bible, and attribute them to Jesus publicly. More of our Democratic leaders need to get deeper in their Faith by spending time in group Bible study and prayer. It’s easy to go to church on Sunday, hide out in the pews and say you are Christian. In truth that can be a simple Christian Faith and may well define half or more of the Christians in this country. I do not mean to demean their understanding of their Faith; in fact I want to acknowledge it. But without a more consistent personal attempt to truly understand the Word which can only come with study of the Word and discussion of the Word, one cannot speak to nor witness the Word.

Some of the Democrats will say that they have a moral compass covering these social issues outside of faith, that it is simply the right thing to do and it needn’t be defined as a religious issue, that it is an issue of mankind. It seems they are afraid to publicly proclaim their faith because the GOP owns that turf. No party owns religion, but the public perception may be that Christianity is aligned with the Republicans. We need to change that by publicly speaking of faith on a regular basis but this proclamation comes with a caveat: this is not a strategy that can be faked; nothing rings more falsely than insincere faith to the learned ear.

I have been listening to Air America during my twice-weekly commutes into Los Angeles. I hear some of the speakers speaking of prayer or saying, “I will pray for you.” I think it a great thing, but in some cases it rings hollow to me even though I know (hope) it is well intended. Prayer is a personal thing, even when done in public. Hearing a person pray can be a beautiful thing, and inspiring. Let’s not put on a face of piety unless it is sincere, please. I hope, and pray, that I am wrong in this paragraphs thinking.

The Word is the Way and the Word is Christ. Read the Bible, consider its historical place, consider its source, and learn to keep it at the front of your mind in all instances. Then you will be able to speak it from your heart and mind, talking the talk that others of faith will hear.

Speaking of historical place, the Ten Commandments are a piece of legislative history and should be treated honorably. Those tablets have as much to do with our law as does our constitution; they are global in nature as compared to our national papers. Both should be revered.

8 Comments:

Blogger JP Manzi said...

Interesting site you have here, going to spend some time reading thru all your posts....glad to have come across it.

4/26/2005 9:52 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks JP. I look forward to your comments.

4/27/2005 10:47 AM  
Blogger JP Manzi said...

I really enjoyed this read, it was quite refreshing. I am a christian who has been all over the map poilitically. As of late, my faith and political views have been growing towards progressive. Thats OK with me. When I hear someone say "You said you love Jesus, but I ask you to SHOW me you love Jesus". It floors me and makes me question "What have I done for God's Kingdom?" Its amazing, the Democratic Party does so much of God's work and doesn't even know it. The social causes the DNC embraces is what His life was all about, caring for "the least of us". I was once a Green, then a Republican (neo-con) and this past year a paleo-con. Now I see my self sliding over to the other spectrum. I want to follow the footsteps of Christ and that leads me to the cause and mission of the DNC although as of all parties, they do not have all their stuff together. I am not sure why many in the DNC are afraid to embrace faith (as you have stated)I have a lot to think and pray about. Again, I enjoyed this, I would like to add this to my blog roll. Look forward to more.....

4/28/2005 12:25 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks again, JP. Each of us can only do that which we can; it's difficult to impossible to walk away from all our worldly responsibilties and do nothing else but God's work, hence we do what we can when we can. Inasmuch as I teach a youth group at church, go on mission once a year, and speak out in forums public and private about the goodness of Christ and the redemption he offers, I know it isn't enough. I need to be more active locally at the food bank, at protests, and other socially progressive functions. Most of us do, probably.

The DNC, from my perspective, does do a great deal more of God's work than does the GOP. The GOP talks a pretty good line, if from an extremist interpretation, but their actual works go against the Bible in many ways. I sense a backlash against the GOP's claim to Christianity though. Terry Shiavo's case put many off, and the filibuster issue seems to be doing the same. We should be thankful that some of the neocons have gotten so confident, so full of themselves, that they are making the moves they are. Some voters that went with them for a couple of issues thinking those elected would have some moderation are seeing the error of that thinking.

Back to the DNC - they do need to profess some Faith, but I think the humble approach is best and correct. We also need to allow for those not of faith. There have always been those without faith, and those of differing faith. When we are judged, some will go and some won't; as much as we would like to envision a world of Christians, it simply isn't meant to happen. Jesus says, in Matthew 7: 21-23, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never new you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Further along, in Matthew 13: 30 Jesus speaks of "collect(ing) the weeds and ty(ing) hem together to be burned." He acknowledges that at the end of times there will be believers and nonbelievers and not even those who profess faith will enjoy His kingdom.

The point being made is that this country is founded on religious freedom and that includes the freedom to be without religion. To attempt to bully religion onto the public, especially in the volume and tone that the GOP uses, creates animosity, not a good attitude to encounter when attempting change. Faith is shared and taught by example on a personal level, not from a screeching electronic pulpit. Let's hope those of faith within the Democratic Party can speak from their hearts and be heard. Let's hope those without faith in the party find it. But in the mean time, let's all work together to make God's planet a better place and accept each other with love.

4/28/2005 8:41 AM  
Anonymous dv said...

I find your blog most encouraging. The GOP and their in-your-face approach to religious attitudes definitely is a disservice to Christianity.

In the spirit of lively discourse, I would say this about:

"Speaking of historical place, the Ten Commandments are a piece of legislative history and should be treated honorably. Those tablets have as much to do with our law as does our constitution; they are global in nature as compared to our national papers. Both should be revered."

Just not at the county courthouse man! I get angry every time I read "In God We Trust" on our money. Our government was meant to be inclusive of everyone. I used to pass it off as a hold over from a time without the pressures of the melting pot that is our current day smaller world... Until I found out that the "One nation under God" part of the pledge I grew up reciting—(and wondering about)—wasn't added until the 1950s!

These sorts of messages from the government are not inclusive. They effectively drive us further apart. I have no issues with anyone's personal beliefs. But when those beliefs come at me from government institutions, well that's when I feel alienated. Faith is personal. It should never be official. Wars are started over such things.

5/03/2005 11:13 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks for your comment, DV, I take it from your comments that you are atheist or agnostic and I welcome you. It is truly my intent with this blog to show the common ground that all people have in the Democratic Party which is lacking in the GOP -

My point was that historically the Ten Commandments, the tablets that did actually exist and probably still do somewhere, are some of the first written universal laws. Whether one sees them as from a guy that went up on a mountain top and came down badly sunburned or from one's perceived God working through that same guy, they were law for a long time and in many societies still are. It isn't a matter of faith that the tablets existed, it's history, significant legal history. As such, they are deserving of continued recognition. To erase history because it is part of religion is wrong.

As to your anger over “In God we trust” being on our money, my first thought was that it sure isn't something to get angry over, but then I turned the tables - what if it said "In God We Don't Trust" and yes, I'd be downright angry. I don't know what the answer is here, the ACLU may well wind up yanking those notations off dollar bills as they are off just about anything else, courthouses included.

I'll say this, though: I don't know if God should or shouldn't be invoked in any official capacity. Do I like it being there? Yes, absolutely. To have a people collectively praise God is, to me, a very important aspect of community. My reading of the "separation of church and state" leads me to think the intention was to keep government out of religion, not the other way around. On the other hand, my understanding of sharing The Word points to it having to be a personal one-on-one discussion. It doesn't work blaring from a TV, or it works poorly at best. To bully faith, or to belittle those without faith, does all faith no good.

America is a country that defines laws by elected representation and it would seem that all the references to God were put in place by elected lawmakers of the day. It will be up to those lawmakers to remove those references and if that is the case, I will be saddened. Those of faith, however, whatever their faith, will continue to share it one-on-one.

And lastly, about war ... peace.

5/04/2005 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of the "little kids" who went back to school after a summer vacation and found the pledge of allegiance had changed. We were instructed to add the words "under God" and, of course, dutifully did so. Thereafter, many of us, automatically, began saying "amen" at the end of the pledge. I do, indeed, understand why some object to the words. When young children suddenly begin to say "amen" at the end of the pledge, it seems pretty obvious that the whole tenor of the pledge was changed by the addition of those words. I am sympathetic to those who feel the words are inappropriate in a pledge which was intended to reinforce the idea of patriotism. It was not intended to be religious in nature. In case you are wondering, I am a Christian, married to a Christian, raised my children to be Christian, and am from a firmly Christian extended family. We are unashamedly so. On Mother's Day, just last Sunday, the entire extended family went out to dinner together. Before we ate, everyone prayed our family's dinner prayer together, aloud, and in public. Our political affiliations are somewhat reflective of that of society in general. The elders are divided, the next generation solidly Democratic, the third generation split between the two political parties. Our babies have no opinion. I am most pleased to have found a forum which gives voice to those of us who believe that Christianity and rectitude are not the exclusive province of Republicans.

5/13/2005 1:13 PM  
Blogger interfaithpope said...

Christian Democrat, I realize that as a non-Christian I'm probably a minority even on this open and welcoming forum. I have found this debate about prayer/"God"/religious iconography in government or schools to be getting out of control. I have heard extreme opinions on both sides of the issue. I heard a case (possibly ACLU?) where a teacher was banned from teaching about one of the founding documents because it mentioned "God" in it. This is ridiculous! Even as a person outside the mainstrem religion of our country I cannot accept that one of the cornerstones of our nation is being censored or debated because of it's slight religious tone. I have read all of the founding documents very recently and none of them offended me or my non-Christian sensibilities whatsoever. I actually found them to be much less God-oriented than I thought with the way the "Religious Right" makes them sound.

With that being said, I would like to respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the separation of church and state. I agree that, as you said, we are a country that is made up of a majority of "people of faith", which I would define as anyone who follows a given spiritual path. It is also completly agreeable that people who are strongly committed to a faith bring perspectives that reflect their faith. There's nothing wrong with that. What I find to be wrong is when we begin to ignore how our expression of personal faith is making other people feel.

I am conflicted about how I feel regarding the "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance. On the one hand, we could eliminate the word "God" and solve it that way. Or those of us that are non-Christian could just assume that the word "God" is just a term to use as our preferred higher being. That would only solve it for those of us that recognize a higher being but would still not include the atheists. So, I'm still not committed to a solution on those yet. I agree with the Anonymous comment saying that the Pledge of Allegiance "...was intended to reinforce the idea of patriotism. It was not intended to be religious in nature." In addition to that, the fact that the original version of the Pledge didn't include "under God" makes me wonder why we couldn't just go back to the original and be proud to say it again. I struggle saying the Pledge because I feel that the tone of the Pledge is Christian and that I'm Pledging something that I'm not really a part of. However, changing all the currency to "In a Higher Power We Trust" seems a little silly so I'm at a loss for that one.

I do feel that prayer in school is an absolute no-no. But even this has been taken to far. I believe that since religious belief is a personal thing, Christians should be allowed to pray in school if they choose but, not in a class-led prayer or to the point of interrupting the main purpose of school... to learn. In the same way, a Muslim should be allowed to bring a prayer rug and bow to the east 5 times each day, even at school if that's the case. But I very strongly feel that any form of religious observance being administered by the PUBLIC schools (we're not talking about private religious schools either) is a violation of the separation of church and state and is a violation of a student's religious rights if they happen to not be Christian. What would be better is a moment of silence at the beginning of each day or class where each student could choose to invoke their spirituality as they see fit.

Lastly, the bru-ha-ha over the ten commandment statue. I can honestly say that your comments changed my perspective on this issue a little bit. I have never viewed the Ten Commandments as a historical example of law and that is a valid point. However, I think that the majority of people feel that they are more Christian than Historical. I also think that it's more the intent, or perceived intent, of the piece that is upsetting. By your rationale because the Ten Commandments are a historical fact and don't have to be taken in a religious context we could also have had a statue depicting an open bible that was turned to Deuteronomy where the details of the Mosaic Law are outlined for the Israelites. And actually, we could have the Bible opened to any verse because the Bible itself is historical record. I guess my point is that pretty much all religions have historical fact and relevance. The question is whether or not we should focus on historical icons that don't make it look like we are pedaling one religion. I think that Christians have a hard time with the idea that their icons and beliefs might be offensive to someone because most (certainly not all) have never been the minority and don't know how that feels. It's a unique experience that everyone should have at some time in their lives. It really humbles you when you remember what it was like to have your beliefs and feelings overlooked or ridiculed.

5/20/2005 10:50 AM  

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