My personal struggle with the issue between separation of church and state dates to a real experience in 1998.
I was campaign press secretary for Democratic congressional candidate Marion Berry, and at the time, a member of a Southern Baptist Church. Interestingly, my counterpart, the communications director for our Republican opponent, attended the same church. We were even in the same Sunday school class.
Throughout the campaign, my counterpart, who was also a personal friend, proudly wore a button to church each Sunday in support of his candidate. It’s no particular criticism of him. It was just something I couldn’t do. Personally, I felt more at peace leaving politics at home than bringing attention to them at church.
Fast forward 12 years to the upcoming presidential election and it seems we’re all struggling with the separation of church and state issue more than ever. It’s creating a huge divide that causes me to wonder where it all may go.
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the Democratic National Convention this week was whether the party would make the slightest mention of the word “God” in its platform. At the outset, the Democrat’s original platform made no mention of God. On Wednesday, they slipped in a mention of the divine creator.
I can imagine God sitting on his throne in Heaven wiping his brow. “Whew,” he must have exclaimed. “That was a close one!”
Within the last couple of years, I’ve actually found myself in the midst of “Christian” gatherings where in one breath leaders would pray for the safety of our troops abroad, only in the next breath to label our Commander-in-Chief as the anti-Christ.
It’s difficult to explain what that causes me to feel, so I won’t even try.
On the other hand, Republican candidate Mitt Romney is Mormon. And many of the Christian evangelicals I know would say under their breath that to be Mormon is not to be Christian. I really don’t know. It’s not for me to decide.
Is God a Democrat or Republican? Romney or Obama? What would Jesus do?
As a nation, it seems we’ve never been more divided along the lines of race, the issue of right to life and the rights, or lack thereof, in the lesbian/gay community.
We stand to the extreme left, or the extreme right. Those who stand anywhere in between are labeled as heretics, unbelievers or a hateful people void of love for others.
I confess to find myself in the greyness of uncertainty between the two extremes and don’t believe I’m any of those things. What’s wrong with a simple confession that we just don’t know the mind of God?
Is it wrong to take the life of an unborn child. Yes, I think so. Yet is it wrong to deny a woman her freedom of choice for her own well being as a result of certain circumstances? I simply can’t deny that right. So, I just don’t know. It’s not for me to judge and I don’t believe that makes me a heretic or a coward. I just don’t know.
Evangelicals to the extreme right declare the sanctity of the right to life, yet in his years as governor of Texas, George W. Bush presided over the execution of 153 prison inmates who were condemned to death. Many will argue there’s a huge difference. Personally, I don’t see it. Is strapping someone to a gurney and injecting them with medication that stops their heart from beating somehow not a violation of the sanctity of life?
Thou shalt not kill except behind thy prison walls?
It’s a double-edged sword we wield.
Can a gay or lesbian couple live together in the bonds of matrimony and yet declare themselves as members of the Christian faith? My read of the bible says that marriage is between man and woman, and that any such act would be one of sin. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, I know God also disapproves of the many sinful acts of which I’ve been guilty over my 46 years. Am I unforgiven of those sins? I don’t believe it for a minute. Who am I to judge, or to know the mind of God?
Earlier this week, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan declared the Obama presidency to be the most failed period of governance since Jimmy Carter’s term in office.
I’m reminded of a 1976 interview Carter did with Playboy magazine in which he confessed his shortcomings. Policy and party politics aside, I think Carter was on to something when he acknowledged this about our society’s moralistic judgment:
“Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ Christ said, I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times…. This is something that God recognizes, that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock. Christ says, don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.”
I think it’s one of the more transparent and honest acknowledgments of any president in modern history. Carter didn’t declare himself to be perfect, without fault or all-knowing of the difference between right or wrong.
Many would point to the notion that the framers of our country intended us to be a nation of Godly people, yet they clearly set some boundaries for our own well being that we somehow fail to grasp.
As the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson articulated a statement about human rights that most Americans regard as nearly sacred. Together with James Madison, Jefferson carried on a long and successful campaign against state financial support of churches in Virginia. It is Jefferson who created the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut. During his 1800 campaign for the presidency, Jefferson had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because he did not have orthodox religious beliefs.
Yet with the adoption of the idea of church-state separation, Jefferson authored these words in the Declaration of Independence.
“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.”
The constitution itself says there shall be no religious standard in the qualification to hold federal office. We should stand for what we believe, but also remember the boundaries to which we say we subscribe.
Obama vs. Romney? What would Jesus Do? I don’t know.
And I’m okay with that for now.