“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – 1st Amendment
The American Struggle with Tyranny
The separation of Church and State is an issue of great importance, debate, and misunderstanding. The Founding Fathers granted, in the First Amendment, a guarantee that America would have no State Church, no Church of England that could persecute citizens for worshipping differently than the State Church allowed. Such persecution motivated groups of Puritans and Separatists to leave England and seek refuge elsewhere, eventually finding their way to the “New World” to establish colonies.
Over a century later, with the colonies growing in size, Britain began looking for ways to gain more tax revenue from them. King George III instituted the unjust Stamp Act, which required citizens to pay for a government stamp to be attached to every paper and personal effect, and the Quartering Act, both in March of 1765. Then, in order to police whether the colonists were using the stamps, the crown passed the particularly tyrannical Townsend Acts, which allowed British soldiers to write their own search warrants to search the homes and effects of colonists (eerily like the PATRIOT Act of today).
Discontent grew and, in 1770, the Boston Massacre took place, wherein crowds of Boston protestors approached a British fort near Samuel Adams’ pub, calling on the British to go home. The protestors pelted them with snowballs and it is believed that one had a rock hidden inside that struck a British soldier. The soldiers opened fire and killed 5 colonists.
Understandably, tensions grew but the crown replied with more taxes – on tea and sugar. The Boston Tea Party followed and Britain took this as an attack on British property and instituted yet more punitive legislation, adding to what the colonists referred to as the “Intolerable Acts.”
- March 31, 1774 – The “Boston Port Act” closed the port until the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party had been paid for.
- May 20, 1774 – The “Massachusetts Governance Act” brought the colony fully under the authority of the crown, removing any self-governance. On the same day, the “Administration of Justice Act” was also handed down, giving Parliament the power to move British officers to other colonies or back to Britain for trials, effectively taking judicial authority from Massachusetts as well.
The following year, war broke out, after Patrick Henry’s stirring call to liberty (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) and the arrival of British troops at Lexington and Concord (likely to arrest John Jay and Samuel Adams). Paul Revere’s famous ride took place, the Minutemen were scrambled to arms and the first shots of the war were fired there on April 19, 1775.
Once the war was won, a Constitution was written and a Bill of Rights was attached to ensure that government never overstepped its authority to tyrannize the people. Not surprisingly, they guaranteed the right to worship, free of a State Church and State interference. The right to speak out, even against the government, the right to a free press, to petition the government, to protest, to bear arms, to be secure from unlawful search and seizure, to be given due process, to retain all rights not specifically given to the government, and more were given.
It is said that history repeats itself and that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Nowhere is the more obviously true than in America. Everything the Founding Fathers tried to protect in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is and has been threatened. In favor of liberty and personal freedom, Americans have become increasingly tolerant of government intervention and the complete disregard of the Constitution and the rights granted therein.
On a Personal Note – Tyranny & My Work
As a history teacher, no one is surprised when I talk and write about such things. The Constitution, Bill of Rights, government, and politics are part of my work and I am understandably passionate about instilling a love for liberty in my students.
But, I am also a pastor and, in our culture, many wonder why I would occupy myself with such discussions. On one hand, some claim that pastors have no business meddling in politics, claiming it confuses Church and State. On the other hand, many Christians believe in the “two kingdoms” idea that the Church should not concern itself with politics or the actions of the State. It’s not of “spiritual” concern, they say. Both ideas are half-truths and, therefore, completely false.
The idea that pastors or Christians should not concern themselves with politics is constitutionally, biblically, and historically inaccurate. While the words “separation of Church and State” are not specifically written in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, the idea is certainly present; but in exactly the opposite sense most assume.
Many Americans wrongly assume that “separation of Church and State” disqualifies Christians, pastors in particular, from being involved in the discussion. But, the 1st Amendment guarantees that Congress can make no law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…” In other words, Congress cannot pass a law that requires me to worship in a certain way, practice a certain religion, or shut up about my religion. In fact, the 1st Amendment guarantees me the right to practice my religion, talk about it, and complain about the government too.
Granted, this would also bar pastors from insisting that Congress legislate Christian doctrine. I cannot and do not use the pulpit to endorse candidates or anything of the sort and would not expect Congress to establish my religious preferences to the exclusion of others. Such limitations are for my benefit just as they benefit those with whom I disagree. After all, if the government were granted the power to establish the doctrine I wanted as the law of the land, they would have the authority to change it as well and persecute me in turn.
So there is separation of Church and State, in such a way that prevents the Church from being infringed upon by the State and keeps the Church from overrunning the State. It does not follow, however, that the Church has no voice in State affairs. For example, the American War for Independence (or the Revolutionary War) was called the “Presbyterian Revolt” by some because of the heavy involvement of the Presbyterian pastors in the cause of liberty. Those pastors were called the “Black Regiment” because of the black Genevan robes they wore in the pulpit. They did not fight and speak out for the establishment of American Presbyterianism, but for the preservation of the people’s rights, granted by the Creator.
Admittedly, this is a fine line that has been crossed and will doubtless be crossed again. But, just as the 1st Amendment grants an atheist the right to despise the “Moral Majority,” it also grants the Moral Majority the right to speak out. The difficulty for most is that liberty requires us to tolerate someone else’s right to say what we despise, while they must do the same for us.
Some Christians have acquiesced to the demands of secularists and backed out of all public affairs, privately wringing their hands over how the world is “going to hell in a hand basket” and quietly resuming their Bible study. But this is a denial of both the meaning of “separation of Church and State” and the model set forth in Scripture.
Now, many point to Romans 13:1-7 as the final say on these matters. They call all Christians to simply obey the government and keep your head down. But, such an interpretation can only be made by ignoring the rest of the Bible. Christians are to “be subject to the governing authorities” but not when they command that which Scripture forbids. Daniel disobeyed orders to stop praying. Peter disobeyed orders to stop preaching. Nathan did not keep quiet when King David murdered an innocent man. The examples could be multiplied.
So, my conviction is that both the Constitution and the Bible allow and even expect Christian leaders (like myself) to be involved in what is going on in our culture.
To be continued…