Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2007

Religious scholar champions separation of church and state

April 15, 2007


Derek Davis doesn't mince words when it comes to his opinion of President Bush's so-called "faith-based initiatives," which provide federal funds for faith-based social service agencies.

"I don't really like it," says Davis, an expert of church-state issues. "I think it's got problems. I sort of anticipated exactly what is happening now - Bush is circumventing Congress and appropriating money to agencies under his control. Of the funds, 99 percent are going to Christian churches.

"If we're going to do it, at least pretend to be fair and respect America's diversity."

Davis has spend much of his career studying the relationship between church and state, and he'll bring that knowledge to a series of events in Lawrence the next few days.

He's the 2007 Theologian in Residence through a program sponsored by 18 churches, faith organizations and university departments.

Davis dean of the College of Humanities and interim dean of graduate programs and research at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. He served from 1995 to 2006 as director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, and from 1993 to 2006 was editor of the Journal of Church and State.

"Church-state issues are always interesting to people, in part because religion has so much to do with the history of this country," Davis says. "For most people, Christianity is a backbone for this country. It's a glue that holds everything together."

Whether it's displaying the Ten Commandments at courthouses, having "In God We Trust" printed on money, saying the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or the push for federal assistance for religious education, Davis says he expects church-state issues always to remain controversial in the United States.

But unlike some who think having a strict separation harms religion, he believes that separation actually helps both government and religion.

"Some separationists want to marginalize religion, but I believe (separation) is good for government and religion, for the nation. If you can free up religion to be all it can be, there's a benefit for the nation. It's not about tying religion down or marginalizing it."


aveteran 11 years, 2 months ago

In the meantime, the government picks our pockets to line the pockets of people like Pat Robertson. I call it faith-based robbery.

jmcmeans 11 years, 2 months ago

If Christians want to preserve religious liberty, they should support the concept of the separation of Church and State. Because it wasn't the ACLU, the Supreme Court, or Thomas Jefferson who created it. It was Jesus.

Many Christians today believe that Church and State separation is a founding Christian principle. For example, Jesus was born into an almost totally theocratic society. Jesus and his apostles and disciples could have easily incorporated much or most of the theocratic elements of Judaism into Christianity, but they did not, as is clearly evidenced from the New Testament scriptures and the known history of the first two hundred years of Christianity. Thus, separation of church and state can be said to be one of Christianity's founding principles.

When Christianity became the semi-official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 300's, it marked the beginning of the persecution of Christians by other Christians. Christians in Europe and Asia called Novations and also Donatists who lived in North Africa were the first victims of a Christian State union. These early Christians were persecuted over the issue of church governance. The victims of the persecution believed this new Church-State union or rapprochement was intended to serve the interests of the state and a few ambitious churchmen, not God.

As a result of a continuing series of abuses carried out by various Church-State unions in Europe, in 1457 the Moravians in Bohemia denounced all unions of church and state.

In the year 1524, Anabaptists in Zurich advocated the practice of the separation of church and state.

In 1631 in America, Roger Williams advocated that the Puritans "separate church from state in their colony."

Until only recently, the separation of church and state was considered a vital and non-negotiable principle of the Baptist denomination, which traces their roots back to the apostolic age. According to the Southern Baptist Statement of Faith which can be found on their website, "Church and State should be separate."

The Bible is the constitution of Christianity. It is illogical when political conservatives who believe in a "strict constructionalist" interpretation of the U.S. Constitution fail to employ that same principle in religion, and neglect or ignore the beliefs and principles of the founders of Christianity as revealed in the Bible.

These are only a few of many examples of the practice of the concept of the separation of church and state predating Jefferson, the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. Email if you wish to read a copy of a longer article on the subject with more historical examples of Christians who believed the separation of church and state was one of the founding principles of Christianity.

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