Skip to content

On Inauguration Day, More Thoughts On Church and State

20 January, 2009

brannansmall1Not my thoughts, however, but those of Michelle, a self-described ‘Christian African-American 30-something woman living in 21st Century America’. She’s responded thoughtfully and insightfully  to my post on James Madison and the Two Kingdoms below, and I didn’t want our readers to miss out on what she had to say. You can read her post on her blog, or below:

I just have to say something…

I can’t keep silent forever!!

And today is such an important day in the life of our nation. Today we swear in our next president. And this particular Inauguration is huge because of the person we are swearing in. We will have our first Black president.

Now, I will be the first to say that our focus on Barack Obama borders on obsession. I can only speak for myself, though, when I say that much of what I feel in my heart is not so much about Obama the man, but the fact that our country has progressed to the point that swearing in a Black man for president is even possible. As a Black woman, this is significant to me.

But, I do want to say one thing here. There has been great debate about Obama’s choice of Rick Warren and Bishop Gene Robinson to participate in the ceremony. Many are dismayed that Obama wishes to make this the “most inclusive Inauguration” in American history. We Christians flip out when we hear stuff like that. But let me be a bit provocative here and pose a few questions…

I came across this blog the other day in which the author quoted one of our Founding Fathers laying out the reasons why he feels government should not declare religious holidays or memorials. I will not quote it here, because it is quite lengthy. But the gist of James Madison said is that in doing this, we confuse the “distinct purposes and roles of Church and State”, and in doing so, can do harm to both. I highly encourage you to read it – it’s good stuff.

But for the purposes of what I want to say here, I will highlight one point:

They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced [Christianity], is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious & political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one Gov[ernmen]t in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea. But reason and the principles of the [Christian] religion require that all the individuals composing a nation even of the same precise creed & wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected thro’ the intervention of their religious not of their political representatives. In a nation composed of various sects, some alienated widely from others, and where no agreement could take place thro’ the former, the interposition of the latter is doubly wrong:

And so, with that said (or should I say, quoted), I say this: I believe that it is a confusion of kingdoms to offer prayers during the Inauguration. It too closely aligns the cause of Christ with the cause of the State…and this to me is dangerous.

I’m just going to put my cards on the table here: I do not believe that America is or has ever been a “Christian nation”. This does not negate the fact that many of our Founding Fathers were indeed Christians themselves, and their Christian convictions guided them as they formed our government. But this does not automatically translate to our being a Christian nation as such, or imply that we have some special status before the Lord. Yes, God has indeed blessed America in profound ways. But again, to imply that this means that we are somehow marked out in the same way as, say, Israel as a chosen nation is simply incorrect.

The civil religion that Madison alluded to in the above quote is the very reason why we struggle so when this type of issue pops up. We have never been a Christian nation; we were founded on the principle that government cannot dictate how we are to believe. What we see today is the natural outcome of that principle – for good and for ill. We cannot in one breath say that we believe in religious liberty and then in the next decry the inclusion of other voices in the public square. This is hypocritical. While we must, as Paul did, invoke our citizenship when we are silenced, we cannot assume that we are right to silence other voices in the same way they seek to silence us. This is wrong-headed, and in my view detrimental to the message we should be spreading.

Hear me clearly on this: I am not saying that we should not pray for our nation, or participate in government or anything of the sort. I am simply concerned to be mindful of which kingdom America belongs to. The fate of God’s kingdom and purposes do not rest in the fate of America; likewise, although we as Christians are citizens of both kingdoms, and should seek the good of the earthly kingdom to which we belong, our future lies in the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world. What kingdom shall we ascribe allegiance to – the temporal kingdom of this world, or the kingdom of our Lord? They are not one and the same…

The White Horse Inn is devoting this year to considering the relationship between Christ and culture, and in fact discussed Augustine’s City of God and walked through this very topic in their program this past Sunday. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this in the future as I work through this in my mind. But as I take in the sights and sounds of the Inauguration today, I can do so with joy in my heart in seeing that we have indeed progressed in America that we can swear in a Black man for president – and at the same time pray (as I am commanded in the Word to do) for that president and our leaders that they make wise decisions for the future of our nation…

Thanks Michelle!


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: