“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” – John Adams
The Founding Fathers were well aware of John Locke’s extensive argument for an institutional separation between Church and State in his Letter Concerning Toleration. Yet Locke, like the Founders, contended that this did not imply a mutual exclusion between Religion and Government. “Magistracy,” he wrote, “does not oblige the magistrate to put off either Humanity or Christianity.” The main point of separating Church and State is so that one institution does not usurp the role of the other. While the terms sound similar, an integration of Religion and Government means that the government should not fear when religion enters the public discourse or influences policy, nor should religious Americans shun the political process or feel cut off from the public arena.
But how does this play out practically?
The Founders differentiated between these two “separations” in the laws and policies they enacted. Thomas Jefferson, for example, passionately opposed giving tax money to certain religious denominations because it would be “respecting an establishment of religion.” However, he supported allowing religious services to be held in government buildings and gave tax exempt status to churches in the District of Columbia. The difference was that these measures promoted religion in general, which is foundational to a stable civil society, without endorsing one particular religious establishment.
Christians should always oppose any policy or idea which restricts their ability to advance religious values in the public arena. The present trend to remove any trace of “religion” from political debate, public schools, and court opinions is not merely a healthy Church and State separation, but a malignant attempt to abolish Religion from Public Life. When Religion is instead welcomed into the political sphere, and all belief systems are advanced, we give the Truth the opportunity to free a culture captivated by empty philosophy.
It is the separation of Church and State, and the religious liberty that results, that fosters an environment for Christians to promote Truth in the public sphere. Christians must therefore not shy away from political involvement. Our political opinions should be based on Scriptural Truth because only God has a correct perspective on what is truly best for human society. We must actively advance those principles in conversation, voting, and influencing public officials. Let us not hide the lamp of Truth under a bowl, but rather put it on its stand, so that it gives light to everyone in the house.