Yesterday I had an interesting debate with a friend about faith and politics. We both agree that church and state should be separate, what has alarmed me though is that some folk seem confused what this actually means.
Thomas Jefferson wrote this in 1802 to Danbury Baptist Association in reference to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
In a few words Jefferson demonstrates how though proper democracy, separation of church and State benefits both organisations. The State is protected from having its laws tied into one particular faith. The Church is protected by the freedom to worship in whatever manner it wishes within the common law. I think it is clear what Jefferson thought the roles of the Church and State should be. For both organisations to be as effective, accountable, transparent and open as possible, “a wall of separation” is necessary to insure public confidence in them.
As a Christian, does that mean that I have no place in politics?
It would appear that for some, that is what separation of church and state is. Oh they would allow me to take part in elections, be elected and even govern, as long as I don’t use any Christian teachings to be of influence in legislative matters. In N Ireland this of course has caused a lot of problems. There is an outcry when an elected MLA makes decisions based in part on their Christian beliefs, especially when they use undemocratic parliamentary procedures to make sure they are carried out.
In 1998, 71% voted for the Belfast agreement. This agreement formed the type of government we have in the Stormont Parliament. 71% thought that this system of government was better than the bombs and bullets. 71% thought that this system of government would create a better society and equality for all. What this system of government has allowed among some things are, no to marriage equality, no to abortion for fatal abnormality or incest, no to accountability of government, all because of 71% of the electorate.
I believe that Christians should be fully involved in politics and if elected use the political system that they are elected too (passed by 71% the people) and use their Christian teaching if they wish to influence them. This may not go down well with those that don’t like conservative biblical teaching but until there is proper democracy here, maybe that is their price for peace.