How Far Is Too Far?

Don’t worry, I’m not getting immoral. I’m just getting political.

Why I’m getting political would be a good question to ask…of myself. Most of the time when I do, I’m not entirely sure I want to be, and yet I’ve no idea how not to be.

That last point is one of the reasons I’m writing about “it.” “It” being that rather large caveat in United States social policy established by the First Amendment: namely, freedom of religion, or…*duh-duh-DUHHHHHHHHHHH*…“The Separation of Church and State.”

Now, before you go off the deep end, hear me openly claim that I am not, nor have I ever been, for the establishment of any particular religion as the sole religion enforceable, protected and practiced under American law. For one thing, that position would be clearly anti-Constitution; for another, in my view, that position would be clearly anti-Christian.

Say what?

Truth. Establishing any single religion as indistinguishable from the state is dangerous. It’s dangerous for those who don’t belong to that single religion, and it’s dangerous for those who DO belong to that single religion.

“Why is that, Mike?” Glad you asked.

All someone who professes Christ has to do, in order to measure their agreement with the establishment of a single religion, is imagine two scenarios:

  • The established, single religion is such an amalgamation of all religions that someone practicing any other religion before the establishment doesn’t even recognize their own religion anymore.
  • Alternatively, and perhaps worse, the established religion is not Christian.

 

Cut and dry, right? Not entirely.

In a new poll, even researchers are shocked to find out how many American citizens want religion to be a part of politics and government. The shocker happens to be how drastic the increase in demand has become; over just the last two years alone, the amount of people in favor of religion-backed political action has gone from a one-third minority to a hairline majority. That’s a rather large gap to make up so quickly.

While I won’t even attempt to speculate as to why this increase has occurred, I find myself torn by it. On the one hand, activities like those of ISIS and the recent upsurge of religiously-based anti-Semitism should make us abhor almost at once the very notion of a religiously-driven political structure.

And yet, on the other hand, a logistical question needs response: how in the world can we hold a faith authentically and completely, a faith dear to us interwoven in ideally every aspect of our lives, and yet not somehow think that politics and governance shouldn’t or wouldn’t be affected by that faith? Do we as Christians not hold in our heritage an historical tie to Israel, with its eras of prophets, kings and judges an unequivocal exemplar of faith-based statehood? Why would we expect to inherit such a history through our faith in Christ and yet not imitate that in at least some regard?

And here is where the crux of such a question bops me right in the nose. The key at this point, I believe, is not that religion should be established by the government or that politics should be bifurcated from the faith community, but rather that an honorable and authentic faith is the very catalyst for ensuring a safe and sustainable common good. In other words, it is not an either/or question, but (surprise, surprise) a practice of complete compatibility. Following Christ transforms our attitudes and desires such that, considering our neighbors as ourselves, instead of forcing our own beliefs on all others, we end up guaranteeing freedom of conscience, religion and expression; instead of threatening others by our dogma, we ensure their safety and well-being by our unbiased treatment of everyone as equals; instead of legislating our personal morality and expecting everyone to be at the same place as us in faith, we legislate protection for failure and growth as full human beings.

So when asked whether or not I desire religion to engage politics more, I would say thus:

Yes, but only if it is true religion, defined as caring for everyone according to their physical needs, not coercing any kind of behavior or conviction. And it seems the writer of the epistle of James agrees.

+MSH

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