How Separation of Church and State Benefits Christians

Back in 2010, Sarah Palin stirred controversy during her speech at the Women of Joy conference when she called America a “Christian Nation,” and doubled down during an interview on The O’Riley Factor. Many fellow Christians would affirm the notion of America being a Christian nation, if from the rationale that a significant portion of Americans identify as Christian. And as all Americans have the privilege of voting to shape the government, Christians naturally base their voting tendencies off Biblical principles.

Atheists, as represented by groups such as the Secular Coalition of America, spoke out against Palin’s comment, citing the separation of church and state as noted in the Constitution. Others noted how America also consists of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and a spectrum of other religions.

The debate persists. “Keep the Ten Commandments posted in courtroom vs. taking them down,” has become a classic example. Even throughout the 2016 election, Christians expressed how one of the key reasons for voting for Trump was in reaction to a contraction of rights for religious expression that had largely occurred during Obama’s administration. As blogger Jonathan Van Maren elaborates, Christians had felt attacked over the past eight years, after losing business and being labeled homophobic.

While it is completely understandable for believers to fight for their faith, it does raise a question over whether or not that fight should be taken into our nation’s politics. For a Christian to make that determination, it ultimately becomes a matter of what examples could be gleaned from the Bible.

From what I see, the Bible actually builds the case for separating church and state, to the benefit of the believers.

There are many instances in the Bible where faith and politics intersect. But in many of the interactions, God’s people were not often called upon to change the ruling laws. They simply did as God called them to do, even when it ran in contrast to the laws of the time. Only then did God demonstrate how His authority and power transcended anything the contemporary governments could possibly institute. God operates above the law, and He’s not afraid to put us in our place.

Consider the stories of Daniel and his friends when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar selected them as attendants for his court. Part of the Nebuchadnezzar’s rules included requiring them to consume food Israelites considered defiled, and worse, they were required to worship foreign gods they had no belief in. They made no political maneuvers to require everyone else to follow Israel’s ways; they merely did not participate in the Babylonian practices. Despite the punishments placed upon Daniel and the others, God demonstrated His power, keeping them fit and healthy despite the lack of nourishment, and protected them from the flames of the furnace.

There were examples of when God’s people did take political power, but they often did not end well. God even warned the people of Israel when they first petitioned for a king to rule over them like most of the other nations of the time.

Admittedly, the parallels break down when considering our current political system in comparison of Biblical times; there were no democracies back then. In America, we have the right—really a privilege when considering how many people have gone without such rights—to carry a civil discourse regarding our own government. Going back to the “Christian Nation” segment from the O’Riley Factor, the context was regarding the legal perspective over the National Day of Prayer. Bill O’Riley does make a point; legally, we are protected to express our faith in whatever form that might be (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc), as long as one is not being supplanted over and state

However, for the Christian, these are ultimately not political exercises. They are exercises in faith, which I fear may be lacking within many American churches these days. If American Christianity were to face the same challenges Daniel did, would our faith thrive, let alone survive since faith would no longer be convenient? Perhaps it is telling that China—an atheist country under a Communist government with more restrictions on religion than America—is poised to have the world's biggest Christian population by 2030.

China’s trend toward Christianity does not necessarily imply that American Christians should deliberately seek out oppression. That said, voting is perhaps one of the laziest and least effective ways to demonstrate faith. I wonder if we believers are voicing political opinions louder than we are voicing our faith in the Gospel. Would a Christian bakery rather withhold services to a gay couple and make a legal case for the decision, rather than share the Gospel at a personal level to their customers? Would Christians rather vote in opposition of abortion rather than counsel a woman with an unplanned pregnancy?

It sure sounds like it from what I’ve been hearing.

Leave a comment