Church and State – Part 1

Here’s a case study I had when I was studying a class on Principles of the Christian Life at Columbia Biblical Seminary in South Carolina. I am publishing it here because of some recent discussion I have had with some people about the separation of church and state and the role of religion in politics. I think it’s worth thinking about, and I welcome your comments.

I reserve the right to delete comments (they’re moderated). Please don’t 1) use profanity, 2) demean other people, 3) discourage dialog and discussion

Sam was a man of conviction. Before long virtually everyone in the city of Tsuchiura knew that. When the missionary took up his position at the end of every festival parade, bearing his protest sign, everyone noticed because he was twice the size of anyone else, and white besides. His signs didn’t hurt his visibility, either. “These gods you worship are devils” somehow caught the eye.

But Sam’s more important, if less visible, confrontation with his adopted society came when the school year opened or some major event took place. Such occasions, from time immemorial, called for a formal recognition of the gods in brief Shinto ceremony. But the missionary did not want his children exposed to this pagan idolatry. In truth, he didn’t want anyone exposed to it. So he would protest to the public school principal that he was violating the constitution which disestablished Shinto as the national religion. I admired Sam’s courage even when, as an uninvited guest in Japan, I did not feel called on to emulate this approach.

The next time we were in the US, I had a startling experience. The Supreme Court had just outlawed the official prayers in the public schools of America and many Christians were in an uproar. That confrontation of church and state had a familiar ring to a Japanese missionary. Not startling though. The startling thing was a Christian magazine out of Washington, DC which published a highly emotional and uncompromising article condemning the Supreme Court out of hand and affirming our rights — yea, our obligation — to have Christian prayer in public schools. The author? Sam!

The following was on the page with the case study:

Questions to consider: Was Sam right on both occasions? Wrong on both occasions? Right on one, wrong on the other? Why?

Purpose of the discussion: To gain sensitivity to the complexity of dealing with church/state issues and to honestly face the danger of potential hypocrisy when we do not thoroughly and objectively understand the full range of interrelated issues.