Posts Tagged ‘church and state’

The March on Washington, 1963, Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, looking from the Lincoln Memorial where King spoke

‘…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.’

Introduction:  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”  dated April 16th, 1963, was written to clergymen who did not like the non-violent protests of civil rights movement. His letter is an apologia, a defense of  non-violent protest against injustice.  It is a long letter. Below are citations from it.  You can read the entire letter here.

Reflection:  Dr. King wrote this when I was nine years of age.  One of the most important inventions of the 20th century is still the television.  We saw in black and white on the nightly news non-violent protesters beaten, hosed and pursued. I still remember my Father saying this is not America.  This letter is a measured response to the resistance to resistance to evil.  I have emphasized a couple of quotes below that I think are especially needed in our time about the Church.

First, note that Dr. King had no troubles with the “separation of Church and state”.  It was not about the 10 commandments in a court house but in the courts of public opinion and policy.  Still is.  It is not about manger scenes alone in public squares but His Incarnation for us in our public squares.  

Second, he had no trouble invoking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as reflective of our “Jude0-Christian heritage”.  We must not be either as we witness the executive and judicial branches of government usurping our founding documents to enforce health care and abortion, and abortion as health care. Since the State can do that as a supposed “moral good”, then what is stopping said State from even more curtailing of our Constitutional liberties?  This is a state  defining marriage contrary to all the Jude0-Christian heritage.  As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory wrote, When the Church is excluded from the public square then the State will become the church.  No one could convince Dr. King that the Church did not belong in the public square.  Yet, many are still doing that these days in the name of immoralities and abortions of conscience.  We must take heed to his words.

  • I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my a particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
  • We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
  • You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”
  • Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
  • We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
  • But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
  • There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. (emphasis my own)
  • Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
  • But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
  • One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

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Mark your calendar!

Plan to watch “The Intersection of Church & State”

this Sunday, Sept. 30.

Our friends at Lutheran Hour Ministries have produced “The Intersection of Church & State,” a one-hour documentary that will air at 5 p.m. ET Sunday as paid programming on the Fox Business Network.The documentary looks at the multi-faceted topic of church and state from a theological perspective, emphasizing how the church and state can work together for the betterment of society. “The Intersection of Church & State” traces the history of cooperation between these two groups — in bringing care to the needy, the settlement of refugees, the adoption of children, the service of military chaplains, and other ways. It also considers how these historic church and state partnerships are jeopardized.The program features the comments of respected church leaders, including LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. It has been reviewed and approved for doctrinal integrity by the LCMS.Please check your local listings or visit www.intersectionofchurchandstate.com for show times. If you are unable to watch the program, you can download it online beginning Sunday. You also can purchase a DVD with a discussion guide that can be used for Bible studies, men’s or women’s groups, or as a tool for individual study and research.

PS: You also may be interested in accessing the LCMS’ educational resources about religious liberty. You can find articles, a timeline of the fight for religious liberty, frequently asked questions, videos, a Bible study and a sample letter you can personalize and mail to your representatives. To learn more about the LCMS effort to protect religious liberty, visit www.lcms.org/freetobefaithful.


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From Martin Luther’s Sermon (1534) on the Gospel, 3 year lectionary, 7/15/12:

“…(King Herod Antipas feigns) an interest in John’s preaching, readily admitting: This man really preaches well. For he was afraid of John, knowing that he was godly man and that the whole country stood in awe of him and considered him to be a holy man. But beware, lords are lords, and always seek their own interests above those of other people. As they say, It is not good to eat cherries with lords; they eat the cherries and shower you with the pits; and the favor of lords is as capricious as the weather in April. No lord takes kindly to rebukes, except those of an extraordinarily pious nature who could take it. David, Josiah, and Jehoshapat did suffer the reprimands of the prophets; but the other kings refused it, and had such prophets and preachers beheaded.”

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The front cover article of The Week (9/9/2011) has  a cartoon of Gov. Rick Perry, holding a Bible, and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, hands in prayer position, with the title:

“A Matter of Faith: Should politicians be judged on their religious beliefs?”

My short  answer:  No. Not as a constitutionally mandated religious litmus test for candidates:  it does not exist in the Constitution as we will see again.

The Church has lived under many different kinds of government, including Caesar, pagan Caesar in the 1st centuries of her life.  When the Apostle Paul exhorts us to obey Caesar and pray for him, the Caesar was Nero.  If government stopped wrong doing, then  it was doing one of it’s primary functions and so insured peace.  See Romans 13: 1ff. It’s based on Biblical facts in Romans 13: 1ff, etc.:  The Lord rules in two ways.  In an earlier posting  Labor Day Loving, which was about the Reformer’s rediscovery of the two Kingdoms, I posted:

“…the Lord works through two ways, through His left hand and His right hand, that is the kingdoms (nations/government:  temporal) of this world and through the Kingdom of God, or the reign of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ coming into the world (eternal)…what unites the two kingdoms is:

1.  The Lord is God of both.

2. The Christian is called by the Lord to serve in both.”

The Church is not called to wield the temporal sword, that is coercive power, to control society.  At the time of the Reformation the papal Church did exactly that in many and various ways.  In a parallel way, the State/government does not enforce the Kingdom of God, the Church, for its citizens.  The two realms have two different vocations.  When we confuse the two then we have the prospect of tyranny.

In the 1930s, a group of Lutheran and Reformed pastors and theologians issued “The Barmen Declaration” as a response to the Nazi’s formation of the “German Church” to insure Nazi ideology and national unity.  The pastors said that the Church does not fulfill the vocation of the State and the State does not fulfill the vocation of the Church.

One of the best ways this has been implemented has been, I think, in our own country, in understanding the proper vocations of the two kingdoms or rules, is  in The Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is the italicized part that interests us here (but the entire amendment is an integral whole).  Since there is not official establishment of a religion, nor the prohibition against it’s free exercise:  Could a Jew be president?  Of course?  A Mormon? Yes.  An atheist?  Yes.  Even a Lutheran!  The Congress can not establish a religion as the state church, mosque or synagogue or…and this is crucial:  even to establish state atheism! (BTW:  see the former Soviet Union)  I think that this is what some people want. The President also can not establish a religion nor denigrate or deny such.

So how  should we judge elected officials and the politicians to run for high office? The criteria to judge a president is clearly spelled out in The Constitution in the oath of affirmation of the President:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This oath is the basis of all the oaths that Senators, Congressmen, officers in the Armed Forces take! Will said politicians to the best of their ability, “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”?  This is essential.  Would I prefer a Christian president, senator, etc.?  Yes! Necessary, no:  as long as they do what their oath requires.

At a recent pastors’ Bible study, a colleague said that the wrong-headed thing we did was use the term “homeland” and the ‘homeland’s protection, in regards to terrorism.   He pointed out that never have we ever said that our goal is to protect the “homeland” (sounds nationalistic in a bad way to me) but to an idea and an ideal:  The Constitution!  These words formed our country, and are still doing so.  This again is what all federally elected officials and the Armed Forces are to “…preserve, protect and defend” against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Will the president, congress, Supreme Court, go beyond the rule of law? Will they do what the words order? This is what matters most.  So the government which wields the temporal sword, as it says in the Constitution, is to protect our country so that the Constitution may be lived.

In the old and ancient Star Trek, Kirk has follow up on a renegade star ship Captain who has interfered with another planet’s development.  The people on this planet are in a bloody war between Asian-looking tribes, the Coms and a white barbarian tribes, the Yangs.  It makes no sense to Kirk, until the climax, when the Yangs win and they bring out their sacred colors:  The flag of the USA!  Kirk realizes Coms means Communists and Yangs means Yanks, Yankees!  Oh, yes, it is preposterous!  And in the final scene, the Yangs bring out also the sacred box with the sacred words, the E Plebista. Take a look:

I know: it’s out there and even hammy and goofy, but I find something prescient about this.  Have we forgotten our written compact till it has become gobbledygook?

Yes. But can we as individual citizens of this realm, this Constitutionally ordered land, judge our politicians based upon their religious beliefs? Of cours we can!  See the rest of the 1st Amendment!  So what the executive editor at The New York Times, Bill Keller,  recently wrote, as reported in The National Review, is just wrong, vis-a-vie the founding documents of our nation:

“I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this land.”

Is Mr. Keller saying the Declaration of Independence is wrong? I too want to know if a candidate ascribes to an authority higher than himself!  If one ascribes to an authority higher than one’s self, this means government is not the end all and be all.  Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, sees the acknowledgement of a power greater than ourselves as crucial for freedom from alcohol addiction.  I know this is not the Christian faith, but is sure a prelude to it or can be.  It is a humble notion:  we are not god.

But Mr. Keller is up to something else.  He  wants a candidate to have  no fealty to anything higher than the Constitution. Contra Mr. Keller, we have always recognized an authority higher than ourselves!  The Declaration of Independence’s famous words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Watching President Obama’s recent address to a joint session of Congress, there emblazoned above him are the words:  “In God  We Trust”.   Every one who takes a vow, say in Court, does so on a Bible.  Mr. Keller is free to his opinion but it is not written into the documents of our founding nor in law.  I must conclude that Mr. Keller wants atheism for his candidates…or for them to shut up about faith, thus wanting to abridge their free speech. He wants state-sponsored secularist atheism.  The problem with Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann’s free exercise with it for a a Mr. Keller is  they do not keep faith in the closet!  Constitutionally, they do not have to!  But Mrs. Bachmann might be terrible at defending the constitution but a Buddhist might be good at it!

But the scary thing is:  if there is no authority higher than the Constitution (which the founders wrote there is!), then it must follow that the authorities,  that is government, is absolute!  This has never been the compact inherent in the Declaration nor the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights.  A Mr. Keller wants to stop the free exercise of religion or severely curtail it and maybe more.

It is written  in the New Testament we are to pray for Caesar.   We are to pray for Caesar not pray to him.  This was a revolutionary idea in the Roman Empire.  Still is.

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