It’s a tale as old as time. One can find it etched on billboards, angry tweets, and campaign mailers. Intellectuals and pious academics weaponize it, conservatives profiteer on it, and James Madison said it’s to keep America from experiencing the “ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
The visionaries of America erected a wall between Church and State, and for very important reasons. But today’s wall is less a barrier and more a prison.
Today’s Separation of Church and State is the biggest deception of this political moment. Make no mistake — there is a clear and vital separation, but impious and political sages have perverted its meaning.
The first introduction of Separation was in 1644 by Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, theologian, and founder of the Bible Commonwealth. He wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, a profound lens into the intent of the Separation doctrine.
Williams believed that religious life was ultimately poisoned by political influence. He reminds readers of the devastation where there is no separation — with no better example than the Church of England.
In 1534, the English parliament declared King Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England, giving the monarch legal sovereignty over the civil laws of the church, and officially marrying Church and state. The abuse, corruption, and prejudice that ensued were overwhelming; not because the church infiltrated the English government, but because the government penetrated the Church.
Man asserts that this measure was to prevent religion from affecting political policy. That argument is not supported by history, theology, or reality.
When Church leaders pushed for desegregation and voting rights for women, the Separation doctrine was never broached. When pastors urged America to enact child labor laws, the Separation doctrine was nowhere in sight.
Wayne Grudem, a Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, clarifies this point beautifully:
Historian Alvin Schmidt points out how the spread of Christianity and Christian influence on government was primarily responsible for outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); outlawing the brutal battles-to-the-death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404); outlawing the cruel punishment of branding the faces of criminals (in 315); instituting prison reforms such as the segregating of male and female prisoners (by 361); stopping the practice of human sacrifice among the Irish, the Prussians, and the Lithuanians as well as among other nations; outlawing pedophilia; granting of property rights and other protections to women; banning polygamy (which is still practiced in some Muslim nations today); prohibiting the burning alive of widows in India (in 1829); outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912); persuading government officials to begin a system of public schools in Germany (in the sixteenth century); and advancing the idea of compulsory education of all children in a number of European countries.
Society benefited and flourished because of the Church and communities with deep religious convictions. But, when the Church pushed for increased parental rights, a Biblical view of human life, and questioned the principles of our elected leaders — the Separation doctrine was locked, loaded, and pointed at any leader with a pulpit and Bible.
This open fire has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the Separation of Church and State — even the most politically active Church believes in separation. No sincere religious organization is attempting to establish a religious government. No, this campaign has weaponized Separation because it is an easy, effective way to discourage communities of faith from speaking up.
The real kicker is the hypocrisy in its use. When Kamala Harris spoke at the National Baptist Convention, there was no mention of Separation. When the Vice President said that it is her faith that gives her the courage to advocate for abortion rights, the media was silent. When then-Senator Barack Obama spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church during his Presidential Campaign, Politico praised him for his religious convictions.
The Sacramento Bee, a California-based newspaper, has published dozens of articles on a local conservative House of Worship, Destiny Christian Church. Back in August of 2021, Hannah Holzer, a Sacramento Bee journalist, wrote an op-ed entitled “Destiny’s pastor preaches hate. The Rocklin church is a stain on Placer County.”
Hannah Holzer penned “Whether he is unhinged or purposely trying to draw attention to himself, [Pastor] Fairrington deserves to have his church’s tax-exempt status stripped away. The issue, however, is that his delusional preaching could harm other churches and religious institutions in the area.”
However, 15 minutes down the road is Loomis Basin Congregational United Church of Christ. One of their congregation members, Jen Brookover, is running for political office in Rocklin.
Hannah Holzer recently wrote an article about Loomis Basin entitled “In Placer County, one church is healing the community through radical acceptance.” The church has a social justice ministry in which it attends pro-choice political rallies and social justice events. The pastor speaks at pride events and participates in progressive campaigns. Rev. Casey regularly attacks conservative political leaders and pastors in Placer County.
On the Church website, it says they are fighting for a “woman’s right to choose” and against “placing the second amendment over people’s lives…” They continue to say that refusing to recognize marriage other than a man and woman is an injustice.
Hannah Holzer sang a different tune with Loomis Basin, saying that “Many congregants, especially newer and younger congregants at Loomis UCC, have left more conservative, traditionalist denominations for the progressive, liberal-mindedness of the UCC. The Loomis church, for example, is actively healing religious trauma within the community, partnering with Sacramento’s Parkside Community Church to run Intersections, a recovery group for ex-evangelicals and ex-fundamentalists.”
The reality is that those who preach the Separation of Church and State really mean the Separation of Conservative Church and State. Apparently, having a church that engages in social issues is only wrong when it doesn’t align with a certain political view.
The warped view of the Separation doctrine says those with religious convictions do not have the same right to engage in politics as those with secular moral standards.
Grudem combats this argument with the understanding that “The nature of a free society requires that people should be able to base their political convictions on whatever reasoning process and whatever authority they prefer, and they should be free to attempt to persuade others that their reasoning is correct.”
If a Christian politician introduces legislation to define marriage between a man and a woman— pundits claim it's a violation of the separation of church and state. However, if a State Assemblymember introduces legislation that forces taxpayers to pay for abortions, it’s progress.
The reality is that every social, cultural, and political pursuit is based on some moral standard, whether it be a religious or secular one.
Coercion is never the intent or desire of political engagement by people of faith. Compulsion is not the heart of the Church, the faith, or the teachings of Jesus. Using your religious convictions to vote, run for office, and enact policy doesn’t establish a religion or create a theocracy. Voting for laws that align with your personal convictions does not establish a religion.
However, those hostile to faith have created a fallacious campaign that accuses anyone with a Bible of pushing a theocratic, fascist movement in America.
Ronald Reagan said that “freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”
There is a golden curtain between Church and State. But this divide is meant to prevent the government from knocking down the doors of the Church, not from people of religious conviction from exercising their civic duty.
Allow the Church to do what it does best — care for the poor and destitute, advocate for the marginalized and hurting, and champion policy that protects families, communities, and people of faith.