Sunday, March 12, 2017


Sunday Reflection: The Church and State and Me

This week I get to go back to William and Mary to give some talks. If you are in the area, the primary public lecture will be in 201 Washington Hall at 7 pm on Wednesday the 15th. All are welcome.

My visit is sponsored by the Libertarians and the NAACP at the College. That may seem like an odd combination, but it is not so odd, really-- they both have a strong interest in limiting government intrusion on human liberties, an intrusion that (especially in my area) often is focused on minorities.

Freedom is an American ideal, but is it a Christian one?

Certainly not in the sense of freedom from moral restriction; Christianity requires an awful lot of self-restraint. But in a broader sense, any faith requires a strong independence from other moral arbiters, including the state.  I realize that the Constitution does not literally create a wall of separation between church and state, but fear that if the two are intermingled it is religion that comes off the worse. One problem with school prayer is that an atheist child might be forced to pray, but also wrong is having secular teachers lead religious students in prayer. It just doesn't work, and one risk is the decay of religion's edge of deeper truth.

Religion is in its nature anti-authoritarian, since people of faith will (sometimes) answer to a power higher than a political leader. I know that in America now too many people have conflated those two the higher power with the political leader, but that is not always so, as witnessed by the political upheavals that are often driven by people of faith resisting an unjust leader.

There is space for religion in the state (that is, people of faith can pursue the virtues they favor through politics), but not so much for the state in religion.

Of course, on a previous visit to the 'Burg, I gave a sermon in the College's Wren Chapel (and it is a state school). So... there is that, too, to cut against any absolutist impulses I might have....

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