Bob Tamasy: The Mythical ‘Separation Of Church And State

Monday, May 17, 2021 - by Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Our founding fathers did a remarkable job in writing the U.S. Constitution. Not only in building the framework for a new, independent nation, but also in anticipating what needs and circumstances would confront the United States of America in the future, both near and far.

 

Most of us remember the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, but did you know the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791? That’s nearly 230 years ago, yet in many respects these amendments make as much sense now as they did then.

 

These days there’s considerable debate about the meaning and application of several of the amendments, including Amendment I, which encompasses the rights to worship freely and speak freely, as well as freedom of the press and the right to assemble.

What I’d like to look at is the beginning of the 1st amendment, which states very simply, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

 

This was specified because the United States was in part the byproduct of people fleeing from Great Britain, where the state had established the official religion, restricting the practice of other faiths. As a result, today in America we have a cornucopia of religions and belief systems from which to choose. And most would agree that is as it should be; no one should be coerced into what they should or should not believe.

 

Somewhere along the line, however, the intent of this amendment was turned on its head. Instead of restraining the government from dictating a specific religion, it’s become interpreted by many as a taboo for exercising one’s faith in the public square. There are those who would argue that faith – or religion – has no place in politics, education, science, or any other discipline.

 

This isn’t a new development. It’s a growing trend that started gaining traction in the 1960s and has been building momentum ever since. But I find it hard to comprehend how someone devoted to their beliefs, especially followers of Jesus Christ, could hang their faith at the door no matter which sphere they enter. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For in him [Jesus] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

 

Some folks seem to compartmentalize their faith, putting on their religious masks on designated worship days but acting as if God does not exist the rest of the time. For born-again disciples of Christ, however, that’s not an option. They can’t help but bring his or her beliefs into whatever they do, whether it’s working, going to school, passing laws, or even in adopting worldviews for help in sorting through the complexities of everyday life.

 

As the brilliant writer, theologian and apologist C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” In the life of faith, there is no separation. It’s not like a hat or coat we can conveniently put on and remove whenever it serves our purposes.

 

We’re admonished in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” In essence, we’re there to serve Him and His purposes.

 

Whether in the halls of Congress or a schoolhouse, the Oval Office or an office cubicle, when we as Jesus’ followers are there, He’s right there with us. The Lord doesn’t reside in the sanctuary, but in our hearts, as Galatians 2:20 declares: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

 

Years ago I heard the following quotation that’s generally attributed to George MacLeod, a Scottish clergyman. It encapsulates the importance of diligently avoiding any separating of church and state, church and workplace, or church and classroom:

 

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be, and what churchmen should be about.”

 

The building we typically call “the church” may be the place we congregate on a regular basis, to worship and be reminded of the Lord’s call on our lives as members of His eternal body. But we’re to exercise that call in the world around us, wherever He chooses to place us. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).


* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is btamasy@comcast.net.


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