When the government gets into the God business


I stumbled onto a fascinating article last week in which the current debates about religious liberties were held up to some historical comparison.  What I learned was a bit shocking.  (link to blog)

Apparently in the 19th century in the USA there was a strong movement to pass federal legislation to “protect” certain religious liberties.  There are parallels between the mood then and the mood now among certain Christian groups.  Then (as now) there were some calling for the federal government to enact laws that would safeguard their place in the public arena (translation: prayer in the public schools, Ten Commandments in public places, nativities displays on government properties, etc., etc.).  The legislation ultimately failed to make it into law in part because of the work of a Christian minister and magazine editor named Washington Gladden.

As the article points out:

“In his editorials, Gladden railed against the proposed amendment. The state was “not called to the inculcation or confirmation of religious truth,” he wrote.

Gladden invoked religious liberty – the same rhetoric President Trump and members of his administration have used to reassure modern evangelicals – to demand no special protection be made. Citizens should expect “equal footing for their faith, no matter what it may be,” rather than particular privilege.

Most boldly, Gladden argued that a religion that needed protection from government was a religion that had no reason to exist. He wrote on his editorial page,

If our Christianity is of such a flimsy texture that nothing but a constitutional amendment will save it, the sooner it is obliterated the better for the land.

Simply put, he insisted, religious people had to make their own case for their values. If they could not, they certainly did not deserve greater support. This was a controversial argument in what was largely a Protestant country, but other Protestants amplified it. Other Christian leaders came to see support for the amendment as a sign of weak faith.”

Gladden realized that true faith would thrive and survive without the artificial support of the state.  It’s an interesting perspective that should give us, the church, pause in this current climate.  If the gospel truly is the hope of the world, and if the followers of Jesus truly are empowered with the Holy Spirit, and if the church is on mission day in and day out, won’t that be far more effective than a piece of legislation?  As another writer pointed out, let them be suspicious of your beliefs, but jealous of your conduct.

Will your faith thrive without legislation?  Will the church shine like the light of the world?  That’s Jesus’ plan.  What’s our plan?

-Pastor Mark

P.S. – Our next Rooted Experience begins on September 11th. If you’ve been procrastinating or pondering, this is your moment. You can register here for a life-changing ten weeks that will help you connect with God, his church, and your purpose!

Posted on September 7, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hmmm… Ignores the 1st government intervention (Constantine, Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.; seems like both the article and the blog is in response to the current political polarization, including unstated biases! Hmmm…

    • Are you suggesting Constantine’s intervention was a good thing? Not sure Constantine is anything other than another example of the same

  2. Constantine??? Not sure what Keanu Reeves has to do with all this……😊 But I would say this.
    This proposed “Religious Freedom Task Force” talked about in the article, I’m sure has a lot to do with the fact that we’re in an election year but I think it’s also a reaction to the culture in our country today of “let’s vilify and hurt people that disagree with us or offend us in any way”. It even happens in church sometimes.
    It kind of sucks that someone would lose their business because they wouldn’t bake someone a cake. Right, I know, all they had to do was bake a stupid cake. But then again, all the other folks had to do was find a different bakery.
    Or if some small town in Pennsylvania can’t display an historic nativity scene that was purchased by school kids who raised money for it in the 1930s, just because someone a thousand miles away whose never even been to the state heard about it and was offended.
    Or if someone said churches can no longer have a tax exempt status if their Pastor says offensive things like…… “same sex marriage does not meet God’s Standard”.
    It’s an interesting article for sure. Just saying its complicated. Sin has that effect on things.

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