Church/State Duplicity?

In an article in ETHICSDAILY.com, James L. Evans, pastor of a Baptist church in Auburn, Alabama, said that he was “an ardent proponent of the separation of church and state.” Later in the column, he said this: “For instance, it should be people of faith at the forefront of the call for health-care reform. When Jesus says on Judgment Day, ‘I was sick and you did not take care of me,’ what will we say? We didn't want government-run health care so we just let 35 million people do without it?”

In other words, the good pastor delivered of himself the mother of all oxymorons, i.e., that separation of church and state is vital while at the same time it’s okay for the church, represented by him, to demand that the government do the church’s bidding, in reality absolving the church of what Christ told his followers (the church) to do, not the government. One wonders what Evans would do if a government official informed him as to the allowable content for a sermon, thus absolving the preacher of having to discover that for himself and then delivering it.

Evans also had this to say: “Likewise it should be people of faith leading the charge to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.” The church didn’t send the troops to either Afghanistan or Iraq. Those actions were strictly government endeavors, approved by Congress. But Evans believes that the government should pay attention to the church’s (or at least his) demands and withdraw the troops. This is the pastor’s conception of the separation of church and state? One wonders what he would describe as a joining of church and state. Responsible people see the neutralizing of terrorism-supporting states as the Constitutional requirement of this government to keep this country safe.

This is Evans again: “There is a time-honored role for faith to play in our public life. Since the days of the biblical prophets, the voice of faith has called for justice and peace in our common existence.” Okay…there seems to be nothing wrong with that statement insofar as the “voice of faith” makes itself heard. The problem arises when the term “justice and peace in our common existence” is defined. Evans thinks the church (or at least he) knows what justice and peace are, ergo, the government should fall in line with its/his thinking. Is that attitude one of separation of church and state? Obviously, justice and peace as defined by elected officials are thought by others to be worth fighting for. At this time, that’s the government’s position, ergo, the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. This doesn’t even get to the matter of just exactly what justice and peace are…or even what “common existence” is, as opposed, for instance, to simple “existence” on the planet, as if anyone could go trucking off to another planet for an “uncommon existence.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright was said to be speaking truth to power in his pulpit, using wildly exuberant damnations of this country even to the point of saying God should damn this country…he even said that was in the Bible. He can preach that from the pulpit all he wants to (and he does), but he (the church) can’t presume to tell the government what it should be doing, although he’s a popular – perhaps the highest profile African American in this country – to demand some type of reparations (outgrowth of black liberation theology or something like that). That’s his shtick with regard to what the government should be considering as policy, and it’s as wrong-headed as Evans’ demand on behalf of the church that the government change its troop deployments.

Evans wound up his piece with this: “If Amos were around these days, he would have much to talk about. And one of the things he would say might sound something like this: How is it that so many followers of Jesus concentrated in one country can't do a better job securing justice and peace for everyone, and especially for the least of these in our midst?”

And there’s the rub, of course. Substitute the word “church” for the word “country” in that quote, and that would be the question Jesus would ask. He expected no consideration from Caesar (the government) and did not attempt to run the government in his time as a representative of the church. This is a lesson for Evans and other members of the “religious” community. They have the right to inveigh against government to their hearts’ content but no right to expect government to do their bidding officially…or even to listen. Shades of the Inquisition!

One is reminded of the Clergy Network cobbled together back in 2004 and made up of ministers as a PAC for only one purpose, the defeat of George Bush in the November elections. The CN was partly funded by George Soros and featured on its board James Dunn, once a key player in church/state affairs. That outfit was disgusting…a bold attempt to work the church’s will on an election, though not all churches, of course. One probably could not find any significant representation of evangelical churches in that miserable collection of pastor-politicians. There’s a lesson there for everyone, especially those who actually don’t understand the church-state relationship.