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Getting Church and State Right

April 27, 2012


Not that we ever can get “church and state” completely right. 

But we have to keep trying, right?

We citizens of the United States seem to be at a critical juncture right now.  There are actually many aspects of this–political, economic, cultural and religious, to name a few.  What I think we have seen actively expressed, particularly since the economic collapse and the election of President Obama, is that religious underpinnings of people’s thinking–fears and hopes plus much more–drives more of our behavior than we tend to realize. 

Which way is this behavior going to go? For you personally and for us/US nationally?

One trackable element of religiously-influenced behavior is voting. Now, this has layers.  The media will increasingly look at a couple of them but almost totally ignore the deeper levels that matter most.  They will analyze Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and how broadly Christians (non-Mormons) may refuse to vote for him based on just that.  Similarly, President Obama’s Christian faith may be re-examined.  It has already been much noted that many Christians don’t believe he is a Christian at all, but rather a secret Muslim.  These are interesting issues to follow, but are only the surface. 

Perhaps we will hear some reflection on whether or not we are a “Christian Nation.”  But it just is not in the nature of news or popular media to really dig into an issue such as this.  Indeed, many people are ready to fight, perhaps to die for the concept of a Christian Nation.  Exactly where did the concept come from, how historically valid is it, and why is it so, so emotionally charged?

So how does our faith inform or direct our voting (or any aspect of our citizen thinking and actions)? I’m not going to even begin to answer that here.  Ultimately I can’t answer it for anyone besides myself anyway, though I could suggest some good possibilities.  What I will offer is another statement from my “Progressive Christian Invitation to Mission” that deals with this issue… as a challenge to us all to both think about and dialog with each other around it, vital as it is in our country’s direction right now! (This is point 6 of 7):

6. We determine to apply the many socially-driven aspects of Christianity to local, nation-wide and even global social organization, legislation and such, knowing that how Christians think and act as citizens affects governance.  We believe neither progressive nor conservative Christians are willing to divorce their understanding of the “kingdom” or “commonwealth” of God from issues of earthly life, whether personal or communal. Only careful thought and extensive discussion, which we pledge ourselves to, will lead to a deeper understanding which is particularly critical right now. 

Are you willing to begin (or continue) that dialog right here? This blog draws readers from across the theological spectrum among Christians, with some readers of no religion or other religions… any and all are welcomed to share thoughts and questions!  


4 Comments leave one →
  1. K Nelson permalink
    April 30, 2012 1:49 pm

    What a very deep and intriguing concept and food for thought. I too believe that our nation is torn between what we are and what we would like to be conceived as, in reference to religious drive. It would be an interesting to see the factual statistics as to what the majority of voters claim as their religion and then compared to how many of those persons are actually affiliated or active members off that religion. I think that we as a people like to claim, but not necessarily practice Christianity. We are quick to judge based on religious affiliation but not too solid on what our own claim of religion is. How can we be a melting pot, have freedom of religion, and then turn around and contradict that foundation with statements of disgust of ‘differences.’ If we are one nation under God, then what religion does God belong to? Perhaps it is time to rethink those historical statements of our Constitution and replace them with words that pertain to what we ARE as a nation now. Perhaps then we could start to come together as one People. Lets keep talking to one another and making the connections in our community. Continue searching for a peace of mind in beliefs and the freedom to individual personal religions. Step away from the ideas of superior religions over others and draw closer to the a God who is bigger then our President.

    • April 30, 2012 6:43 pm

      Thanks for the great thoughts, K.! You’ve put a number of important concepts into very few words… several significant observations. Unfortunately, our culture is not geared to much thoughtful reflection, and most people have lost the interest or patience needed for it. But there ARE pockets… some in formal education, some in public media–here and there, once in a while in a church (!), and hopefully more than I may think in personal conversations.

      To select just one of your themes, I love the song by James Twyman titled, “God has no religion.” Yes, religions are inevitable as organizing points for thoughts and social groupings, etc. And they CAN be positive, healthy places to foster mutual exploration and careful thinking about the nature of who we are, our purpose, and “who” or “what” has “created” us or the conditions needed for our emergence.

      My own slowly-arrived-at view is that whether we call that “being” God or something else, we DO need, both emotionally and scientifically, a realization of something beyond ourselves, bigger-than and yet not distant and barely accessible (if at all). Such a “God” is what we all exist within and, in a tough-to-grasp way, he/she is expanded and made greater by each of us. This God draws each of us through love and “persuasion,” having created the inner drive toward oneness and love. This God does not ever use coercion (threat of hell or eternal separation, e.g.) to scare us. Rather than “scare the hell out of us” he/she “loves the hell out of us.”

  2. K Nelson permalink
    May 1, 2012 1:56 pm

    So Howard, do you know what religious claim is most predominant with our US voters? On a larger scale do you know what the most practiced religion is, the most populated? Not that the masses are going to change my heart, but I am curious as to what is all out there. Thanks for responding and delving a bit more on a personal level as well as giving more opinion to chew on. Talk again soon.

    • May 1, 2012 5:45 pm

      K, I’m not sure what you mean by “religious claim” here. If I catch your idea fairly closely, I would say predominant are “believers” with a primarily “literalist” approach to the Bible and with traditional (at least until the 1700’s, tho challenged since) beliefs of core dogmas. Their percent of the total population is high in the South and much of the Midwest, and their percent of all Christians is even higher there. The West (including SoCal where we live!) also has a strong element of this, tho the percentages are much lower.

      As to specific groups the “Southern Baptist Convention” (recently renamed as Great Commission Baptist, I’ve heard) is the largest single denomination of Protestants, at over 16 million, officially. Now, Roman Catholics are nearly 25% of the US population, at around 55-60M. Protestants, of widely varying beliefs, some very progressive, are about 110-120M. Of those, about 60-70M are Evangelicals (including most Baptists and many other denominations, plus a good segment of more liberal-trending denominations). Evangelicals themselves range from quite literalist and dogmatic to pretty open, with broader ways of understanding the Bible. As you may be getting from even this brief overview…, it’s very complicated!

      For what it’s worth, the United Methodist Church, which sponsors the Claremont School of Theology where I did PhD work, is the 2nd largest Prot. denomination, at about 13 or 14M. (I’ve personally not been Methodist, though I resonate positively with parts of their history and theology, especially the more recent Process Theology aspect, which is broader than just Methodist, for sure!)

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