Two Sunday’s ago, a very significant thing occurred at my church, Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, NJ. Newark mayor Cory Booker and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins both spoke during service, while Howard University (my alma mater)’s Gospel Choir led us in Worship. This was all a part of our Back-to-School celebration.
— DJ Wade-O #TeamJesus (@djwadeo) October 7, 2012
As the tweet above reveals, I was excited about this. The kids at our church were being exposed to two mayor’s and 50 college students who were great examples of making the most of their educational opportunities. Both Mayor Booker’s and Mayor Dinkins’ speeches were superb. Howard’s choir led us in worship with a spirit of excellence and zeal. This was definitely an exciting moment.
While I was excited on one hand, another part of me silently wandered about “the separation between church and state.” Sure Cory Booker and his parents are members of my church, but Mayor Dinkins isn’t. Neither is the first politician to come to our church. Is all of this wrong or even unconstitutional?
Before I answer that, here’s a quick history lesson:
Ever since Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802, the term “Separation Between Church and State” has been a part of the American political vernacular. Jefferson’s letter, was in response to the Association’s fear that if the wrong person(s) got into office, there was a chance that we wouldn’t be able to worship freely. By re-affirming the Constitution’s clause that the US Legislature would not create any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Jefferson was in a sense agreeing with their desire for religious liberty. He further validated this, by stating that this Constitutional Clause then built “a wall of separation between Church and State.”
In layman’s terms, Jefferson is saying that the government can’t force everyone to practice one religion nor can they outlaw the free practice of religion.
Sounds good right?
The problem with this whole scenario is that many people have taken this discussion out of context and applied it to any and everything. Many will say the church should be politically neutral and not even comment on politics. Others will say, politicians shouldn’t come to churches or other religious institutions to campaign. Still some will say the early church wasn’t involved in politics. Therefore, we shouldn’t be either.
Let’s look at each of these myths one by one.
Myth: The church should be politically neutral and not even comment on politics
You can’t say the church should refrain from commenting on politics and then site the Thomas Jefferson- Danbury Baptist dialogue. The Danbury Baptists wrote to then-President Jefferson first and he responded to their concern.
While it is illegal for non-profits to “endorse” political candidates, we see all throughout the Bible, God using politicians (i.e. – David, Daniel, Esther) and those with influence with politicians (i.e. – Nathan, Joseph) to accomplish His will. Furthermore, many of our founding fathers were Clergy. While they likely weren’t trying to establish a Christian nation, it would be impossible for their worldview to not play a role in creating documents like the constitution. Simply put, we’ve been involved in US Politics since Day One.
Myth: Politicians shouldn’t come to churches or other religious institutions to campaign
As long as the church is providing equal opportunities for candidates of multiple views to discuss political issues, we should take no issue with this. The problem stems when Churches and Pastor’s begin to endorse candidates. That’s illegal if the church is a recognized 501c3. Nevertheless, Politicians represent their constituents. Every person should be able to communicate with politicians that represents them.
Myth: The Early Church wasn’t involved in Politics, so we shouldn’t be either
While there is little evidence to suggest that first generation Christians were politicians themselves, near the end of Acts, we see Paul sharing his testimony as well as the gospel with the influential politicians of his day. Paul knew first hand that the only way to stop the persecution of Christians was to convert the persecutors. So while we don’t see the early church “endorsing candidates,” we do see them influencing politicians with the gospel.
We also can’t deny that a part from Paul, perhaps the person who had the greatest impact in the ancient world of the spread of Christianity was the first “Christian” Emperor of Rome, Constantine. He made it legal for Christians to follow the faith without persecution.
The church as an institution shouldn’t be involved in politics. The individuals who make up the church should though. Our history validates this conclusion as does the basis of democracy. The church shouldn’t try to force the country as a whole to serve the same God that we do, though. We should however, share the gospel with each individual, and let God work out His plan for salvation with each person. On top of all of this, it was members of the church, thru the Civil Rights Movement, that fought for the right for everyone to have a say in the political process.
Over To You
To what extinct, should the church be involved in politics?