Separation of Church and State
History has shown that religion and politics can be a very dangerous mix. For this reason, the founders of the American republic have enshrined the concept of separation of Church and State in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. But the question is: Can Church and State be completely separated and wherein lies the danger in both being mixed? If we fail to recognize the locus of the danger it is very possible that the very danger that we fear could be realized where we least look for it.
I feel blessed to live in a country where our National Anthem is a prayer in which virtually all the blessings that any nation could ever desire from the Almighty are prayed for. I feel blessed that annually, our political, institutional and civic leaders meet at a National Prayer Breakfast to seek God’s guidance and blessings for the nation. I feel blessed that I can see and hear the Prime Minister in Half-Way-Tree Square join with religious and civic leaders to pray for our nation. And what a stirring prayer it was! But is there a problem with these things as some people imagine?
Back in 311 AD Galerius issued the Edict of Toleration that legalized Christianity and effectively started the process of ending the terrible Roman persecution of Christians. Two years later, in 313 AD the Edict of Milan signed by Constantine and Licinius went even further and allowed Christians to organize churches and have confiscated property returned to them. Political leadership could hardly be seen as having erred, by carrying out such actions.
But then things changed. Emperor Constantine presided over the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that ended with Arius and two bishops who had dissenting religious views being condemned and exiled. That was the start of another phase of persecution that saw Christians persecuting Christians. This continued for more than a thousand years over a period that has come to be known as the Dark Ages. The Church effectively became a political organization.
Whenever political power is used to advance a religious objective, the result is almost always persecution. This type of persecution is not restricted to the use of the political power of the State; it happens also by the use of the political power that church leaders have within their church organizations.
Further, when religion is used to advance a political objective, the result is almost always persecution. So, if one political contender, as was Constantine when fighting against Maxentius in 312 AD, decide to use a religious ideology, symbol or slogan, as Constantine did with the Cross, to galvanize political support, in order to overcome other contenders, that spells danger.
But when political leaders of various ideologies, without advantaging any political movement over another or advantaging any religious organization over another meet to pray for the good of the nation, this could hardly be seen as a bad thing.
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).
- Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6)
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