Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tough Topic Tuesday: God, Government and Gospel

This is Pt. 2 of our posts working through this work by Pastor Wayne Grudem.  The purpose of the series is to explore the relationship between God, the Government and the Gospel.

You can find Pt. 1 here.

B. Wrong View #2: Government Should Exclude Religion

The opposite error from the “compel religion” view is “exclude religion.” This is the view that says we should completely exclude religion from government and politics. According to this view, religious beliefs should never be mentioned in governmental functions or on government property and should never play a role in decision-making processes in politics or government.

This is the view promoted today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). According to it, religious belief should be kept at home and quiet. There should be no influence from religious groups in the political process.

Examples of this view are seen when people object to prayers being given at the beginning of a city council meeting, or when groups demand that the Ten Commandments be removed from public places. Supporters of this view seek to prohibit religious expression in high schools, student-led Bible studies, prayers before sporting events, or even a valedictorian talking about his or her faith at graduation.

1. It changes freedom of religion into freedom from religion

The “exclude religion” stance is wrong from a Constitutional viewpoint, because it twists the positive ideal of “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom from all religious influence”— which is entirely different and something the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the U.S. Constitution never intended.

In fact, the “exclude religion from politics” view would invalidate the very reasoning of the Declaration of Independence, on which the United States of America was first founded. The first two sentences mention God twice in order to say that God’s laws authorize independence from Great Britain and that God is the one who gives human beings the rights that governments must protect:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.…"

In other words, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that both the laws of nature and of God gave our country the right to become an independent nation. They claimed divine authorization for the very existence of the United States of America! Furthermore, the signers said that the purpose of government is to protect the rights that are given to people by God (“endowed by their Creator”). This is hardly “excluding religion” from government or important government publications.

The First Amendment to the Constitution likewise declared: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” What they meant by “an establishment of religion” was an established state church, a government-sponsored or government-endorsed denomination or specific religion. But they did not intend this amendment to exclude all religious speech and activity from government building and activities, for our nation’s early political leaders continued praying publicly to God at government events, even having church services in the Capitol for many years.

The phrase “separation of church and state” does not occur anywhere in the Constitution. It was first seen in a letter from Thomas Jefferson in 1802, in which he assured some Baptists in Connecticut (the Danbury Baptists) that the government would never interfere with the affairs of their church. The First Amendment was never intended to guarantee that government should be free from religion or religious influence. The only “freedom of religion” that was intended was freedom from government sponsorship of one particular religion or denomination.

2. It wrongly restricts freedom of religion and freedom of speech 

The First Amendment also excluded any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. This is directly opposed to the “exclude religion from government” view, which actually seeks to prohibit Christians and Jews and others from exercising their religious freedom when speaking or giving a prayer at a public event. Their free exercise of religion is taken away from them.

This view also wrongly restricts individual freedom of speech. Why should a high school valedictorian not be free to express her own viewpoint in her graduation speech? Speaking a religious opinion in public is not compelling people to accept that viewpoint!

3. It was never adopted by the American people 

The “exclude religion” view was never adopted by the American people through any democratic process, but it is being imposed on our nation by the exercise of “raw judicial power” by our courts, and especially by the Supreme Court. This has been an increasing problem for the last several decades in America.

The Supreme Court decision Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) was especially significant. In that case the court said that government actions “must not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.” It did not say “advancing or inhibiting one particular religion” but “religion” in general. (An earlier decision in 1947, Everson v. Board of Education, had said something similar.) This kind of “exclude religion” view was never adopted or approved by the American people but simply decreed by our Supreme Court, taking to itself powers it never legitimately had.

4. It removes from government God’s teaching about good and evil 

The Bible says that a government official is “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4), but how can government officials effectively serve God if no one is allowed to tell them what they believe God expects of them? The Bible says that government officials are sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14), but how can they do that if no spokesmen from any of the world’s religions are allowed to give them counsel on what is “good” and what is “evil”?

Such a viewpoint has to assume that there is no God, or if there is, his moral standards can’t be known. And by rejecting the idea of absolute moral standards that come from God, this viewpoint leads toward the moral disintegration of a society.

We see the payoff of this view in the rampant moral relativism among today’s young adults who were taught as children in “exclude religion” schools, schools where “because God says so” could no longer be used as the strong foundation for moral conduct as it had been for the first 200 years of this nation.

Courage and Godspeed,

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