9 thoughts on “Should Christians Try to Change a Secular Society?

  1. I am a bit puzzled as to why you are so critical of our nation’s founding principles and religious heritage.

    Church state separation is central to America’s founding principles and faith heritage. In 1644, Baptist Roger Williams (persecuted by “Christian” colonial theocrats, who considered Baptists heretical) called for a “wall of separation” between church and state. Baptists’ “wall of separation” would prevent government from interfering with the free exercise of religion, and prevent government from incorporating religion into governance.

    Generations of Baptists were persecuted, and shed blood, in the fight (against colonial theocracies) for “separation of church and state.” Their triumph finally came in the enactment of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, establishing the Baptist vision of a “wall of separation” between church and state.

    Deniers of church state separation often respond that the phrase “wall of separation” is not in the U. S. Constitution. Well, neither is the word “Trinity” in the Bible, but most deniers of church state separation probably believe in the Trinity.

    More importantly, Christians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries clearly understood that the First Amendment wording – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – separated church from state. Their testimony bears much more weight than the fabricated history loved by many modern conservative Christians and politicians.

    Make no mistake: denying church state separation mocks our nation’s founding principles and faith heritage. Church state separation was good for America in 1791, and it is good for America now. To see the problems of merging church and state, look to the Middle East, where conservative religious law (Sharia Law, based on the biblical Old Testament) rules.

    Church state separation is an American moral value of which we all can be proud.

    Bruce Gourley
    Baptist History & Heritage Society

  2. I much appreciate the knowledge and thoughtfulness you bring to your discussion. I think your reasoning, in some particulars, slips, but it appears there is much on which you and I would agree. It is important, I think, to distinguish between the “government” and other general concepts, such as “society” or “nation” or “country” or the like. You predicate your discussion on the query whether “the United States of America is a secular society.” That, I think, confuses matters–or misconstrues an important point.

    The founders drafted a Constitution that plainly establishes a secular government in the sense that it is based on the power of the people (not a deity), says nothing to link that government to god(s) or religion, and indeed says nothing substantive of god(s) or religion at all except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office.

    Their founding of a secular government is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

    Whether one labels American society as “Christian,” “religious,” “diverse,” “multicultural,” “secular,” or whatever may depend, I suppose, on one’s perspective and purpose. Any of these labels may be accurate in the main, given appropriate qualifications or explanations. Any such labels, though, have little bearing on the founders’ intent in the Constitution, where the focus is on the government.

    Separation of church and state does not prevent citizens from making decisions based on principles derived from their religions. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The principle of separation of church and state, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect. Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

    By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder in society as they will. Given the republican nature of the government, it is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religion, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people’s expression of political will. To the extent that the people’s values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite–the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity’s influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that–and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow “lock in” (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.

    Having said all that, I should add that there may be another source of confusion as well. In my foregoing comments, I speak of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Some champion an associated political doctrine that generally encourages political dialogue on grounds other than religion. In making your comments, you may have had that political doctrine in mind as much, or perhaps rather than, the constitutional principle.

  3. Bruce, thanks for your comments. Like you, I enjoy studying Baptist history, and I fully understand that Baptists have long championed religious freedom and the INSTITUTIONAL separation of “church” and “state.”

    God bless!

  4. Doug, you’re right in the importance of terms and definitions when it comes to discussing important issues such as this. You reference the values of the people changing. I completely agree that the Constitution allows for this. What I’m suggesting is that Christians should speak out and take part in these values debates. We should do what we can to not only advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to preserve a culture that respects Judeo-Christian moral principles. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughtful comments.

  5. “Right now, gay rights groups are lobbying hard for the national acceptance of same-sex marriage. Assuming they are successful (and it appears they will be), is that not an imposition of a moral perspective and/or a social viewpoint? Why is it okay for one side to “impose its views” on society, but not okay for another side to strive to do the same? Let’s cut the nonsense. This isn’t about “tolerance” or “respecting other people’s views.” This idea that Christians must stay out of public policy debates or moral discussions because they shouldn’t “impose their views” is plainly ludicrous. Frankly, it’s disingenuous. Every single group that seeks to change public policy is doing so in the context of “imposing” their views or their moral perspective on the rest of society.”

    bad logic. No, the gay rights groups are NOT imposing their beliefs on you. are they forcing you to get a gay marriage? Of course not. The difference between most christians and these gay rights groups they rally against are that what they are fighting for is the INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM to get married, or to have the same rights and privs that straight people have…. Whereas YOU are imposing your will on them keeping them from doing something you’re okay with doing yourself.

    You see the difference? You see who is imposing their will on someone else? When you are fighting for your own rights, there is no imposition on anyone else. When you are fighting to keep someone from realizing their rights, then there is imposition.

    Christ told us that we are strangers in a strange land. That we are not of this world. We are to set ourselves up as different from the world. He did not command us to change this world through politics. In fact he said If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight.

    We are commanded to set ourselves apart from the world…. You can talk about how homosexuality is a sin, but there is no difference between homosexuality and lying to god. And yet, you haven’t tried to outlaw lying. You haven’t outlawed Infidelity. You haven’t outlawed gods other than YHWH….

    what makes homosexuality so abhorrent to this generation of Christians?

    Its because up until recently it was okay to be bigoted against this group. But its not any more. Quit judging these people, and give them the same rights that you have, and let GODS LAW judge those who aren’t willing to come to Christ.

  6. I agree with TIM. We as Christians are trying so hard to push others to be Christians that we are not looking at the issues in our own house. Jesus Christ spent more of his time preaching of our salvation and heavenly home them trying to fix the problems that Rome had. Our goals should be to tell people about Jesus and let them choose what they want to do from there. If gay people want to marry let them. Everything that is happening in our society has been fortold in the Bible. I know true Christians should not be surprised anymore than if they hear that Israel and Palestine make a peace pack. What hurts our mission to spread the gospel is that some Christians try to force people to except our faith not remembering that not all of us were once doubtful and not everyone was born from there mom as true believers. As Tim said for some reason we focus on homosexuality like it is a greater sin. ALL sin is ungodly. But it all can be forgiven. All we can do is pass on our faith and let each individual decided from there. When Jesus cracks open that sky, the people that jaws will be opened the most won’t only be non Chrsitians.

  7. Tim and Nicole, if you think I’m singling homosexuality out as a greater sin than others, then you haven’t read other posts on this blog. I deplore gay-bashing and have frequently taken Christians to task for condemning the sin of homosexuality while ignoring other sins. I use homosexuality as an example because it is so prominent in the news right now. I don’t feel I should have to restrict myself from doing that. Homosexuality should not be off limits for discussion.

    I would also like to point out, esp to Tim, that I’m not advocating making homosexuality illegal. Homosexuals have every right in our society to engage in homosexual behavior just as heterosexuals have every right to engage in heterosexual behavior. We’re not debating whether homosexuality should be legal or illegal. We’re debating whether states (and, at some point, all the states) should be required to endorse/sanction homosexual couples by issuing marriage licenses. Should society place homosexual marriage on the same level as heterosexual marriage? THAT is the question — at least as far as civil law is concerned.

    Bringing this back to the issue of biblical morality overall, I have a question for both Nicole and Tim. Was it wrong for the apostle Paul to condemn homosexuality? Yes, I know he condemned a host of other sins as well. Do we get to pick and choose what parts of Paul’s letters we agree with and want to follow? or are Paul’s letters part of Scripture and thus morally binding on all Christians?

  8. Should society place homosexual marriage on the same level of a heterosexual one? The underlying question is, why not? If atheists can marry legally in this country, enter into a binding, legal, non religiously based civil agreement which is still called marriage, why can’t a gay couple?

  9. Hi Damaris,

    If the United States is going to set aside its monotheistic roots and become a purely secular society (as it seems to be doing), then, yes, there’s no valid reason for our government (at the state or federal level) to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. The question is – Should we abandon our Judeo-Christian values, which include a time-honored and long-established definition of marriage?

    Assuming the answer to the above question is “Yes” (and that’s the direction our society is taking), then…okay, but then we need to address the ramifications of that, namely with respect to how we define “tolerance” and “civil rights” and how we protect the free speech and free religion rights of our people. As but one minor example…if a Muslim opposed on religious grounds to gay marriage is a wedding photographer by trade, should she have the right to decline her services to a lesbian couple who plan to get married? As another example…should a Christian marriage counselor (say, not attached to a formal church, but to some private entity) be obligated to provide marriage counseling to gay couples against his convictions? Should chaplains in the military be required to perform same-sex weddings, even if their personal religious beliefs and those of their sending denomination say otherwise?

    As a Christian, I can accept the United States moving in a secular direction. I don’t like it, but I’m not surprised by it, and I can accept it. But I will definitely fight the battle for religious freedom – and not simply for churches, but for people of faith in the public square and in the marketplace. If our society wants to respect the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, fine, but that same society – if it’s truly serious about tolerance – should also respect the religious values of people who oppose gay marriage. And should NOT ask those people to leave their values at home or in the places of worship.

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