Monday, November 13, 2006

Reimagining Christianity 1.7

Affirmation 7: Loving our neighbors includes preserving religious freedom and the church’s ability to speak prophetically to government by resisting the commingling of church and state.
Last week, on a stunningly beautiful autumn day, we loaded up the kids and drove down to Charlottesville to visit Monticello. It was the perfect setting to contemplate the separation of church and state.
In 1802, Jefferson wrote, "Believing... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and 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."
Of course, Jefferson was wary also of the church mingling in the affairs of state. In 1815, he wrote, "Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science."
Clearly, he did not think too highly of preachers!
But what happens when "lessons in religion" happen to turn on questions of justice? What is the role of the church in a time of war? What should the church say in the face of unjust economic structures? What of "love of neighbor" pushes us to an understanding of neighborliness that transgresses societal or even legal definitions such as Jim Crow laws, slavery, women's suffrage, same-sex relationships?
Just wondering ... that's all. And certainly no offense to Mr. Jefferson, who is one of my heroes.

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