People are waging a war of words concerning the role of religion in a democracy and whether the Christian faith should have any role in America’s future. An organization titled Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has sent out a plea for donations to fight what they call “Christian Nationalism.” They maintain that the government cannot support Christian values. With that goal in mind, they are engaged in several lawsuits against prayers at public gatherings and government support of schools with religious connections.
The opposing view comes from groups like the Association of Mature American Citizens, publishers of AMAC Magazine. They maintain that a “moral society flows from a focus on freely held faith” (James Madison). They also quote John Adams: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” AMAC also heavily quotes Jefferson and Washington in the view that America was founded by men who saw Christianity as the basis of human rights. What is the role of religion in a democracy?
There is a difference between maintaining that faith has no role in determining the rights of people and believing that there is only one faith that calls for certain moral rules to be law. Jesus made it clear that there is a separation between what we give to the government and what we give to the work of God. Matthew 22:21 says clearly, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Thomas Jefferson said, “Neither Pagan nor Muslim nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.” That teaching is biblically sound, but the government must have a moral standard to govern by. In Romans 13:1-6, Paul tells Christians to support those who govern, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (verse 3). The question is, “How does a government decide what is right and what is wrong?”
There are experts like Peter Singer, the DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, who maintain that the government should put to death anyone who is mentally ill, of great age, or in the late stages of a terminal disease. This flies in the face of Christian teachings, but some states are already implementing it in various ways, such as government support for the destruction of human life. If a politician holds to a religion that teaches that those who reach the age of 50 should be killed, how will that influence the practice of the government?
Madison talks about a “moral society,” and Adams speaks of the Constitution being made for a “moral and religious people.” So, what is the role of religion in a democracy? Christians support the separation of church and state, but the moral teachings of what is right and wrong cannot come from scholars, politicians, or some religions. The future of our children and grandchildren depends on getting people to understand that right and wrong do exist, and not all religions and political belief systems understand that.
— John N. Clayton © 2024