Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections on the church/state issue

On facebook recently i was asked to join two groups.  One was to "remind President Obama that we are a Christian nation".  The other one was to put Christ back in our schools.  This mentality is frustrating and disturbing for me.  It is rooted in a mindset of the majority.  We only think this is an appropriate move because we consider Christians to be in the majority and any kind of suppression of Christian activity or knock against Judeo-Christian ethics feels like an attack. 

But my perspective is different, in part, because i have lived as a follower of Jesus in place where Christianity is in a minority.  Everything in society operates in connection to the majority faith.  There is prayer in schools, but i would not want my kids to go to those schools.  In fact, Christian families have little choice but to send their kids to private Christian schools so that their kids aren't subjected to prayer and religious teaching (even kids aren't forced to participate, the peer pressure from other kids is difficult for children).  Is this what we want for children of families that adhere to a different faith?  What is more, what about townships and counties where Christians are not in the majority?  The prayers in those schools would naturally be different. 

Unfortunately, the issue is larger than prayer in schools.  There is a tendency for the majority to presume privilege and power, and this is something evidenced throughout history and throughout the world, regardless of the majority faith or ideology.  It is a subtle transition that the majority faith presumes their practices and ethics as normal.

Just today someone alerted me to an article about a Bible study in a private home in San Diego, California.  Reportedly, they have been told that it is illegal for them to continue to meet in their home for religious purposes.  If you are like me, your first reaction is incensed anger.  A private gathering of a few people practicing their spirituality quietly in their private home should not be illegal.  As you can expect, there were a lot comments, most of which expressed their displeasure over this event.  But the reasoning often cited was disturbing to me.  There were comments about our "Christian" founding fathers and the United States being a Christian nation.  These comments betray a mindset that a Christian majority deserves privileges that others may not deserve.  I would have much preferred the reasoning to be applicable to all citizens of the United States, that people have the right to practice their spirituality as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights.  While some argued their point in this way, I was discouraged to see so many appealing to a Christendom that still controls the nation.

Another reaction to the event as reported in the article is that the minority faiths and ideologies are not so minor anymore and are somewhat bitter about how Christendom behaved as the majority.  This is to be expected.  We must admit that we, as Christians, have not always treated those unlike ourselves with the love and perpetual forgiveness modeled by Christ.  Too many examples come to mind to even begin listing the offenses we have caused to others in our nation.

The bottom line in this is that we need to reevaluate what it means to be both a citizen of God's kingdom and a citizen of the United States.  Which one takes precedence?  Are these two citizenships compatible?  What are our obligations as citizens of each? 

But what we need to be absolutely clear about is they are not the same thing and our language needs to reflect that distinction. 


Anonymous said...

good post. I enjoyed reading and thinking about it.

salacious crumb said...

Greg Boyd says calling a country a "Christian nation" is as ridiculous as calling a bike a "Christian bicycle."

M Crane said...

PL, thanks.

Salacious, interesting yet entertaining comparison.