What’s Wrong with the Separation of Church & State?

NOTE: This article was originally written for the May 2004 edition of Evangelicals Today magazine. It has been edited and re-posted because this topic seems to never go away.

First of all I want to make it clear that I will not vote for any of the candidates running in the upcoming Philippine election.  It is not because none of the candidates are qualified.  It is because I am not qualified.  Being a US citizen with a Philippine permanent resident visa, I am not allowed to vote in the Philippines.

Now to the point.  Since my friend, Bro. Eddie announced his candidacy (remember, this was originally written in 2004) I have heard many opinions about whether or not he should run.  The most passionate negative opinions have usually been built on the shifting sand of the “separation of church and state” doctrine.  I do not presume to know God’s will for Bro. Eddie, but I do know something about the separation of church and state.

Here’s a sample conversation I have had too many times recently:  “Pastor, what do you think about Bro. Eddie running for president?”

My response is usually something like: “Since I can’t vote, why don’t you tell me what you think.”

“Well, I just don’t think it’s right.”

“Why?”

“Because preachers belong behind the pulpit, not in the palace.”

“And why is that?”  I ask.

“You know, separation of church and state, and stuff.”

I have found that if the conversation goes on long enough “separation of church and state” always comes up.  I have heard many church members, even pastors, quote the separation doctrine like it was a Bible verse.  Separation of church and state sounds so spiritual it must be in the Bible.  Right?  Wrong.

If it is not in the Bible, then it must be in the US Constitution since American media mentions it so much.  Right?  Wrong again.

Separation of church and state was actually first mentioned by the author of the “Jefferson Bible,” an edition of the New Testament that removed all references to the supernatural including the virgin birth, the resurrection, and all miracles. Who was this blasphemer who created the separation of church and state doctrine that is so popular in Evangelical circles today?

The separation idea first appeared in 1802 in a letter US President Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of concerned Baptist pastors in Danbury, Connecticut.  In the letter Jefferson assured the pastors he would not allow his non-Christian beliefs to influence public policy because he held the opinion that there should be a “wall of separation between the church and the state.”  Note that this was Jefferson’s personal opinion, not US Constitution and certainly not the Bible.

Jefferson’s separation idea actually did appear in a constitution 150 years after his letter.  The Soviets believed separation of church and state to be essential in building a godless government, so they wrote Jefferson’s separation clause into their constitution. In other words, if we want to build an atheist society, then the separation of church and state makes sense.

However, if we want to build a godly society, then it may be a good idea for Christians to get involved in every level of society, including civil government.

As an American, I cannot vote in Philippine elections, but as a Filipino you must.  As a foreigner I will not get involved in Philippine politics, but as a Christian citizen you must.  It is time for Filipino Christians to come out from behind the non-Christian idea of the wall of separation between church and state and get involved in all levels of the political process.

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Here’s the 2013 edition of Victory’s policy on church and politics:

1. We encourage everyone in Victory, including pastors and staff, to get as involved in the political process as their schedule permits. We cannot be salt and light from the sidelines. We must get in the game and get involved.

2. We will not allow any Victory leader or member to use the pulpit, small group, prayer meeting or Victory name to promote or endorse a specific candidate or a political party. We will use the pulpit, small group and prayer meeting to give a biblical perspective to specific issues without reference to personalities and parties, including educating our members on how to choose their candidates wisely. We will also use the pulpit, small group and prayer meeting to inspire, train and disciple future leaders who will one day run for office.

3. We recognize that because of the advent of social media, pastors now have a platform to influence people beyond the pulpit . As such, pastors are expected to exercise discretion with regards to supporting specific candidates, qualifying that it is a personal support and not representing the church. Social media posts from the pastor should include a qualifying statement that the political opinions presented are in no way reflective of the view and position of Victory.

4. In our desire to see more Christians involved in nation-building, we will take the initiative to pray for and inform our people about and long-time, active members of our church who are running for political office, regardless of their political party, and whose platform generally promotes a biblical worldview. Just as we pray for the success of our members who are in different spheres of society, such as business, media, education, arts and entertainment, military, and sport, we believe that God has called certain people to serve in government, and we will pray for their success as well.

5. At a local church leadership’s discretion, we will provide a forum separate from our regular church activities for candidates running for local or national office to present their respective individual platforms to any of our members who are interested to listen. Ultimately, every citizen will vote for who they want to be in office, and we respect that right. At the same time, however, we believe that providing this forum is consistent with our vision of encouraging our members to be involved in the political process as well as helping promote the Commission on Elections’ drive for voters’ education.

We hope that one day there will be many Victory members serving God and country in all levels of civil government.

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. -Proverbs 14:34

 

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© 2012 Steve Murrell

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