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I spent this summer in Oklahoma working in the inner city. Most people don’t connect Oklahoma and the inner city, but Tulsa actually deals all of the problems – poverty, violence, gangs, prostitution, high school drop-out rates, teenage pregnancies and more – that occur in major metropolises. More than anything else, I learned this summer that helping the poor matters. It matters because God cares about the poor. He punished Israel because they ignored the poor:

For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless and turn aside the way of the humble… (Amos 2.6,7).

We probably don’t think of ourselves as “trampling” the poor, but how often do forget “the needy” as we buy ourselves a new “pair of sandals”? When confronted with this, we tend to respond that people in America are needy because they don’t work. In other words, they deserve to be poor. I have two responses that I believe should temper this mentality: 1) God chooses to love us even when we are spiritually impoverished because of our own sin. He keeps loving us even when He knows that we will misuse His grace 2) In the Bible God doesn’t put qualifications on what kind of poor we should help. It says in Psalm 113:7 that “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”  It does not say that “He raises the poor who are poor despite their hard work and ingenuity from the dust and lifts the needy who fell into need even though they were responsible and disciplined from the ash heap.” I’m not espousing charity without wisdom, but I want to see Christians develop a compassionate heart that breaks when they see poverty, knowing that God loves these people.

So, what should helping the poor look like? Is it promoting soup kitchens, canned food drives, free health and hygiene clinics, etc…? While there might be a place for this sort of thing in a certain context, welfare does not work. I saw firsthand this summer the destructive nature of welfare systems. On an economic level, welfare discourages productivity by giving people an incentive to stop seeking jobs – often they cannot afford to maintain their standard of living with the kind of job they would get instead of their welfare checks. Perhaps more harmful though is the attitude that welfare cultivates. Without parents and other role-models who have good work habits, children don’t learn how to work. They quit trying in school and drop out. They don’t hold down jobs. A member of the church that I worked at told me about his experience with one of the teenagers who has been touched by the ministry: “I love ****, but I gave him a job, and the fact is he doesn’t do well.” The teenager was not a cost-effective employee. These victims of welfare also fail to understand social relationships appropriately. The students in our tutoring program constantly asked for things, complained when we would not acquiesce, and had no concept of gratefulness for what they did receive. These patterns in children turn into cycles of poverty that affect entire communities of adults. Even worse, this sense of entitlement translates into how they think about God. They think they merit God’s blessing on earth and in heaven – they do not deserve suffering or punishment.

Unless the Gospel changes people, pulling them out of poverty will only manage to change the kinds of sin they deal with. However, Christian education programs can make real progress in improving the physical and spiritual conditions of the poor. Education programs are fundamentally different from welfare because they give something and demand something. With a new realization of responsibility, the students begin to grasp the consequences they deserve as sinners before a just God. Christians should be able to see the value of outreach that educates the poor – especially with an emphasis on literacy. It allows people to read God’s Word! This can happen on small levels. You don’t have to go all “Freedom Writers” on us. You don’t have to write and pass a piece of legislation to increase after school programs. You can find a child that needs to be tutored in reading!

These thoughts may not profound, but I write because this summer gave me hope for the poor. In the past, my thoughts on poverty have been mainly frustrated diatribes about what the government should not be doing. Finally, I have begun thinking soberly about what Christians can and should be doing. For more information on the amazing program in Tulsa, Oklahoma and how to support it, please visit One Hope Ministry.

As one who has recently graduated from high school, I can easily remember back to when my twelve years of education were painfully monotonous and seemingly unending. Once the thrill of entering high school had fizzled away, there was only one thing I looked forward to:  graduation. And now I am graduated. Oddly, in hindsight, the years seem to have flown (not dragged) by. Sometimes we say hindsight is 20-20, and I think it is true. The fact is, K-12 education comprises a relatively short amount of our lives. And because it is limited, it is no wonder there is such a vicious fight as to what ideologies are crammed into the curricula.

Some say religion should be on the public school’s teaching agenda, along with subjects like biology and mathematics. In fact, many Christians have argued this. In his letter Of Education, the famous Puritan, John Milton, said, “The end of learning is… to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him….” Evidently, Milton would be disappointed with the U.S. Department of Education and the Supreme Court – both of which have said that U.S. schools are to be wholly secular. In short, John Milton argued that schools should teach our children to know God; but the government says we are to teach them what God has made (biology and math). To the Christian, the higher of these two ends is obvious; Milton’s proposal seems more enriching.

Might I point our attention to an important, undeniable fact: like it or not, America is a diverse nation. And this is a fairly new phenomenon. My parents lived in a nation labeled “the melting pot.” Assimilation, not diversification, was the pride of their land. But today, it would be fundamentally un-American to say such a thing. President Obama, in his inaugural address, acknowledged (and rightly so) that America is “shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” To compensate for this change, age-old institutions like Stanford University are renovating policies to prohibit expressions “intended to insult or stigmatize an individual or a small number of individuals on the basis of their sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation or national and ethnic origin.” When our Judeo-Christian God was removed from the public schools, America was simply acting consistently with Stanford’s perspective. Just as I wouldn’t want my children to go school to be taught that Allah is the one true god, so America’s Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists don’t want their kids learning that my God is real.

What is public is shared; and what is shared must be shared in an egalitarian manner. Some have argued that all religions should be taught with the same amount airtime and textbook-space. This would bring equality, they say. But this politically correct notion loses sight of K-12 education’s most noble goal: instructing students on how to think (as opposed to what to think). For the majority of students, the majority of material learned in grade school will not be useful for future enrichment, learning, or work (this is arguably most true with religion). It is the educator teaching study skills, critical thinking, and social skills that truly prepares students for tomorrow. Ultimately, the habits learned in school are more important than the content learned. So the content should be neutral to allow for a profitable learning environment for all. It is neutrality, rather than plurality of content, that prevents factions of society from claiming governmental bias. Yes, in public education, it is clear that religious neutrality is what sustains religious equality.

“Why do I have to study chemistry? I’m never going to use this,” says a frustrated high school student. Parents and teachers tend brush off these kinds of questions with superficial answers about how chemistry is important because it is involved a million other details of life – your body, your food, the technology you use, etc… However, this reply misses what the student is really asking. They actually want to know, why should I be educated? In fact this question underlies much of what Christians are trying to figure out in education.

When conservative Christians discuss education, they almost immediately arrive at the issue of what role public education should play. It is easy for some to try to isolate their families altogether (through homeschooling or small private schools) from what they feel is a failed system. This attitude ignores the conclusion that follows from a few simple premises:

  1. Education is important
  2. The majority of people receive their education from the public system
  3. If we care about people and we care about education, we must care about the public system.

The second premise is not too controversial, and the idea of caring about people will hopefully not be argued widely in Christian circles (see Jeremiah 29:7, Matthew 25:31ff., etc…). Thus, I will focus on the first premise. I was raised to believe that education is important. I believed it unquestioningly until one day when I was listening to a speaker at a homeschooling seminar. The speaker was enthusiastic about giving children the best education possible, but a man stood up and asked a question. “I am a plumber,” he said, “My boys are going to be plumbers. What should my goals be in their education?” The man’s account of his life reminded me of 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” Where does education fit into that command?

We have to balance this command to “lead a quiet life” with another example of how to live – the example of Solomon. Solomon writes, “And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). Note that Solomon says that he will seek out ALL that is done. He wants to be informed about more than just Scripture and godly things (indeed, in a fallen world, how can you know what is godly unless you see instances of opposites?). Also Solomon says God has given this task to men. It is not a job exclusive to him. This passage may not seem very connected to the way a lot of people think about education, because the system in our country today lacks the concept of wisdom. Defining wisdom is difficult. Surely “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). There are bricks that build on this foundation. Wisdom is making the right connections. Wisdom is the selection of information to share. Wisdom is asking good questions and learning to answer hard ones. Education should cultivate these qualities, and it is a worthy goal for Christians to work towards an educational system that will do that. In fact, for some Christians, fighting to teach wisdom will be the way that they “attend their own business and work with their hands.”

This weekend I graduated from college. As I sat with my fellow graduates – wearing this robe that was big enough to nicely fit an ogre and a hat that must have been designed for nerds in the 13th century – I considered the sacrifices that I had made and will continue to make for my education. I have given up time and financial resources. At times I have chosen education over relationships, work, and ministry opportunities. Why? More specifically, as a student at a Christian college, why study English instead of the Bible? Being an English major allowed me to practice discernment in examining the products of a sinful culture. I could do that in a somewhat controlled environment that prepared me for more intense situations. Francis Bacon expressed it better than I could: “Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider” (Francis Bacon, “Of Studies”).

“The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” – Blaise Pascal

“One good way to end a conversation — or to start an argument — is to tell a group of well-educated professionals that you hold a political position … because it is required by your understanding of God’s will.” – Stephen Carter

The relation of religious faith to the public square, public discussion, politics, whatever you wish to call it, has varied throughout history, but one thing is fairly certain: it has almost always had some kind of influence on the decisions of governments and communities for the sake of the common good. The influence of religious faith in the public square has varied in its success. At times it has been a tremendous force for good, as seen in the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery, arguing on the grounds that colored people were equal in society due to the image of God in them. Or take Martin Luther King Jr., whose religious rhetoric drove the Civil Rights movement to great success. At other times, religious faith has been used to crush the citizens of government, as seen in the dark periods of the Medieval Ages, where the meshing of church and power led to rampant civil injustice all in the name of the Roman Catholic Church’s agenda.  During times of oppressive church/state regimes, the way forward was reform or overthrow, and a renewed sense of justice, human rights and equality usually followed. These reform movements often came from within the church itself, as seen in the Protestant Reformation. But the solution to the problems religion created in the public square was never to shirk religion or religious language completely. Religion remained a powerful voice in public discussion and a motivation for just and merciful public policy up until the early 20th century. But things would soon change.

The dual rise of Secularization Theory and postmodern philosophy in the 20th century saw the beginning of a new suggestion for public policy: remove religious discourse and belief from public policy making completely. Those on the secularist side argued that the principles of reason and liberalism (not left-wing liberalism, but ideological or “Classical” liberalism) were enough to dictate public policy, and asserted that religion was soon to die out as a viable answer to the world’s needs and expansion. Those on the postmodern side, such as Richard Rorty, argued that religious discourse as a kind of “conversation stopper” in the public square, limiting discourse to unprovable, dogmatic assertions. For Rorty, a postmodernist of the finest kind, secular discourse was the most pragmatic form of doing public policy, as it avoided clashes of “metanarratives,” or overarching, cross-cultural statements about reality.   Either way, the key to modern, intelligent public policy is to argue on secular grounds, and exclude religious belief as viable reason for making laws and promoting human flourishing. Arguing about real concerns such as legislation of economic policy, welfare, education guidelines and criminal punishment is all valid, as long as we’re not citing chapter and verse in the Bible, or insisting on a theological or metaphysical basis for our arguments.

Many intellectuals continue to argue for this concept, including John Rawls and Robert Audi. It all sounds so good. Value-free premises, reason as the ultimate arbitrator, and no religious divisiveness or controversy. Sure religion might have a place, but only when confined to the personal, private sphere. Only reason and non-religious dialogue can rule politics and the public sphere. But does this theory actually work? Can it? Christians have stood on the sidelines of this debate, many passively acknowledging the inevitability of a secular public square, and have found it better to join than to be beat. This is only one of the many secular/sacred dichotomies that demands attention from thoughtful Christians.

The point of this post is to address two main questions in regards to secularism and public policy. First, does secularism provide a basis for the construction and implementation of public policy? And second, does secularism actually provide a non-religious grounding for public policy, the kind of grounding it demands? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” then secular public policy is invalid, even on its own terms, and we must seek a better path in the interaction between religion and state.

One thing should be clarified. This is a question of intellectual foundations, not of description. We are not asking the question, “Can secular people reason and make political decisions?” but rather “Can secularism provide us with the resources and motivation to make political decisions?” Public policy is contingent on questions of what is good for humanity, both individually and as a whole, what is ultimately good and evil in the world, what the purpose and meaning of  human flourishing is, and how power and coercion should balance with personal freedom and individuality. We are not asking whether a secularist can have opinions about these things in the public square, but whether the worldview of secularism provides a basis for making these essential political values intelligible. If the anti-supernaturalistic  assumptions of secularism cannot give us a basis for political concepts like freedom, rights and justice, then we should be open to allowing creative legislation that invokes the supernatural or the metaphysical to explain these values.

Upon reflection on these two vital questions, we will see that a secular public policy cannot work. First, secularism is incapable of making judgments about what kinds of things “ought” to be done in the public square. The magisterial principles of secular knowledge are empiricism and naturalism; knowledge can only be obtained through empirical, scientific means and the pursuit of knowledge, truth and ethics should only be confined to the closed system of nature. But secularists immediately run into problems with public policy when we consider what empiricism and naturalism can and cannot do. Empiricism is an inherently descriptive tool, only able to tell us what “is,” not what “ought” to be in any particular situation.  It can help us pile up statistics, make observations about behaviors, numbers, cause and effect, but can never tell us what ought to be done with those figures. Empiricism may be able to explain in great detail what happens when an atom is split, but it has no ability to tell us whether that information ought to be used to construct atom bombs to destroy weak nations or promote study for safer nuclear power plants that promote humanity’s flourishing. Or it may tell us that there are some pretty quantitative biological differences between a human being and a tree, but it could never tell us that we therefore ought to treat only humans with such thing as “dignity,” or “mutual respect” in our legislation.

So secularism only leaves us with brute facts about the universe and physical material, with no particular reason to choose one course of action over another. The tools of empiricism and naturalism turn out to be not at all helpful in constructing or implementing any particular kind of public policy. Once the supernatural or metaphysical has been removed, all we are left with is a blind system of senseless atoms that collide and rebound, evolving into more complex formations, and such an impersonal system, no matter how accurately measured, will never give us a view into what is good, valuable and moral. Secularism can only reduce moral public policy down to pragmatism, subjectivism and statistics.   But morality, and therefore just public policy, cannot be reduced to these elements.   No matter how loudly secularists may cry for a just, compassionate and fair public policy, the uncaring universe stares back unmoved.

As to the second question, secularism in the public square is incapable of itself remaining free from faith-based, religious language and belief. We have already seen that secularism is unable to provide a “reason” for taking one course of action over another in public policy. How then, do secularists maintain their position? Steven D. Smith, Professor of Law at USD, has a forthcoming book entitled “The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse,” where he argues that secularists, in order to avoid an impotent public policy must smuggle in all kinds of metaphysical and religious ideals to even get off the ground:

. . . the secular vocabulary within which public discourse is constrained today is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments. We manage to debate normative matters anyway — but only by smuggling in notions that are formally inadmissible, and hence that cannot be openly acknowledged or adverted to.

The notions that Smith is referring to are common concepts such as, “liberty,” “justice,” or “self-realization,” that are insisted on by secularists. But these concepts have no inherent desirability or meaning except when aligned with bigger beliefs about human purpose, dignity and morality. In this sense, everyone, including the secularist, is religious. We must assume transcendent and supernatural values in order to make sense of what is “good” and “ultimate” for humanity and the world. Secularists silently smuggle these values in, but under the guise of neutral, rational ideals.

But justice for the weakest of the weak, equality, human rights, economic provision for the poor are not values that can be proved empirically. The “whys” behind these values (“Why show justice?” “Why value equality as opposed to oppression?”) are only provided under a supernatural view of the world, the very view that a secularist must assume without admitting. The secularist’s best policy director is what “works,” but what works is only derived from deeper religious commitments about what we humans are made for, how personal and communal happiness is achieved, and what is noble and right in the world. Therefore, secularists themselves are not void of religious language, and their claims begin to appear arrogant once we see that they are indeed forcing on society their own faith-based worldview and enacting public policy based on that worldview.

This post has not been an attempt to suggest a particular form of Christian interaction with government and politics, but to offer a rebuttal of the secular model of public policy. Christians should be encouraged that secular public policy is neither intellectually nor pragmatically sound, and it shows signs of already dying out. Secular theories are only one of the many spirits of the age, and Christians must form constructive and thoughtful responses to them, as well as move forward with just and virtuous suggestions to the public square.

Sources used and suggested:
Stanley Fish, “Are There Secular Reasons?” New York Times Opinion Blog, Feb. 2, 2010
C. John Sommerville, “The Exhaustion of Secularism.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 52.40, 2006
Tim Keller, “The Reason for God.” – Chapter 1 “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion,” Penguin Books, 2008
Gary Rosen, “Narrowing the Religion Gap?” New York Times, Feb. 18, 2007
Richard Rorty, “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper.” Philosophy and Social Hope, Penguin Books, 1999

Christians engage in culture naively.  They either do not realize the pervasiveness of sin in their own lives, or they fail to recognize the depravity of their culture. They project their own eternal hope for redemption onto this world’s temporal institutions, which leads to frustration, foolishness and disappointment. Nevertheless, we have a host of Christian brothers and sisters who came before us and struggled with these same tendencies. In his book “The Secular Saint” Robert E. Webber observes that Christians interact with culture in at least three different ways.

Webber writes that some Christians deal with culture by separating themselves. In Protestant history this standoffishness is associated with the Anabaptists. Picture a 16th century version of a Montana militia commune that says, “on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that Man could fight the dinosaurs. And the homosexuals” (yes, Mean Girls reference). The Anabaptists believed that:

  1. In the current age there is the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom evil. The problem with this view is that it quickly forgets Paul’s Romans 7 dilemma, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (vv. 21-23). Separationism becomes so busy fighting the evil on the outside that it neglects the evil of our own hearts.
  2. The present church is fallen and needed to be restored. A concern for revival in the church is certainly commendable. However, it should be coupled with faith that, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27). The ultimate destiny of the church has been decided. Contemporary to the Anabaptists, John Calvin wrote in the Institutes, “I always hold that truth does not perish in the church though it be oppressed…but is wondrously preserved by the Lord to rise again and prove victorious in his own time” (Book 4, Chapter 9, subsection 13). If Calvin is correct, then even when the external expressions of the church appear to be “fallen” there are still believers of the true church that need to be shepherded. Utter separation by those who recognize the corruption leaves those believers behind.
  3. Given the need for restitution, a radical break from the state is necessary. This is dangerous because it gives the separationist an excuse to ignore passages that clearly preach submission to the government (Romans 9, Mark 12:13-17, etc…).

Fearing the negative impacts of separationism, the Christian pendulum swings the opposite way into “integration.” Webber points to Constantine’s “Christian empire” as the early example of this. He attaches Luther to this kind of thinking too. Luther viewed Christians as citizens both of a secular and of a heavenly kingdom. What this should actually look like “is a problem that Luther continued to wrestle with throughout his life” (Webber). Personally, I relate most closely to Luther’s conundrum. How can we simultaneously “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28, ESV) and render to Caesar what is Caesar’s?

Is something more hopeful behind Door Number Three? Webber calls it the “transformational model.” It emphasizes the church as a redemptive structure that can change the world. For instance, during the Roman Empire the church was seen to have moralizing effect – making conditions of slaves more bearable, facilitating charity toward the poor, etc… Augustine argued this in City of God. As he tried to understand the world in the context of the traumatic fall of Rome, he encouraged his fellow believers to look ahead to a spiritual hope. As the medieval era progressed, this developed into a concept of “Christendom”. Unfortunately, this opens up Christianity to be blamed for every wrong political move (the Crusades for example). Moreover, for all the attempts to “Christianize” society, it is as full of sin   as it was in Augustine’s day. Today, “conservative evangelicals” maintain their place as one of the most powerful voting blocks, and they are proud of it! I once heard Jerry Falwell boast about how he “took on” five liberals single-handedly on Larry King Live (I assumed that he meant intellectually took them on, but this was never clarified). How does that promote the Gospel?

Instead of reacting in any of these ways, we ought to aim at developing a public theology that realizes that political and secular entities are inherently corrupt but simultaneously fights to incorporate the beneficial aspects of the different models of Christian-secular interaction. This will not look like a neatly defined system. Instead, it will take into account all of the principles on this subject that we see from Genesis to Revelation and prays for wisdom to know where to apply each one. We want to include the separationist’s desire for consecration, the integrationist’s desire for submission, and the transformationist’s desire for regeneration!

For an interesting look at someone one defied the categories and structures, check out this excellent article on Jonathan Edwards: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/julyweb-only/7-2-25.0.html?start=5

Despite all the hubbub in intellectual circles about the relativity of truth, every government adopts its own set of facts in order to effectively and consistently create policy.  A simple example: the government currently established as fact that many Americans are without healthcare insurance – to remedy this problem, reforms were passed.  A more complex example is found in 2003; President Bush thought Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, so he invaded Iraq.  Sure, on an individual basis, we all believe what we want to (this is ultimately inevitable), but on a corporate governmental level, truth is always absolute.  Various proposals are introduced via subcommittees and advocacy groups, but ultimately, only one perspective will be adopted by the state.  The question facing American Christians today is, should the church have a political agenda – indeed, should we be alongside the political advocates, striving to impose our beliefs on our neighbors?

I am convinced the answer depends for each situation – but before explaining further, I suppose I should emphasize that knowledge is very different than belief.  Knowledge is, by definition, a corporate term.  Only groups can create knowledge.  For example, knowledge pertaining to mathematics is established by the consensus of mathematicians.  A first-grader can believe all he wants that four plus four is nine, but his findings will be deemed incorrect because the vast majority of “experts” say otherwise.  We may say his beliefs cannot be substantiated by current standards – and this is true.  But those standards were originally created by mathematicians, the math experts.  If the experts long ago had established a different means to add and subtract, then today’s methods would surely seem false.  And who knows?  Maybe they are false – probably not – but we must always remain open-minded to new ideas before shooting them down.  Galileo’s heliocentric proposals were absurd at the time, but now, they are accepted as fact.  As a rule then, we ought to respect and listen to pioneers like this student; yes, their voices should be heard.  However, once they have been heard, the experts will make the final call and the beliefs of the minority must bow to the knowledge of the majority of experts.  And so we live in an aristocratic democracy of ideas – the majority of elites establishes the knowledge in their respective fields of expertise.  Without doubt, the majority is not always right.  But in order to practically make decisions, certain knowledge needs to be generally adopted.  And in the short-term, democracy is the best possible means to this end.

So should the Church’s voice be added to the din in the chambers of Congress?  Is this even the optimal scenario for the church?  Put simply, it depends.  If Christian principles are aligned with the corporate knowledge, then the answer to the above questions is a resounding “yes!”  If they are not, then the answer is a solemn “no.”

In Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court ruled that schools teaching evolution did not have to supplement their curriculum with creationism lessons.  Seven of the nine justices held that a “balanced viewpoint” was not the objective of the public education system; teaching knowledge was.  After this ruling, the correct response of Christians should have been contentment.  Darwin’s theory may not be true in the church’s eyes – but the scientists that believed in creation were in the minority, and in the public square, they were outvoted.  Corporate society simply held a differing perspective than the church; and that’s all right!  In fact, it is only expected that the church and secular society disagree from time to time.  And it is when these discrepancies arise that the church should remain silent, keeping its beliefs quietly to itself.

But consider the following:  suppose that in ten years, Israel finds itself in danger and the majority of military strategists tell Congress that defending Israel would enhance national security.  In this case, Christians should phone their representatives, muster rallies, print off bumper stickers, and picket the highways.  Protecting the Holy Land is consistent with the corporate knowledge, and thus, the church ought to petition for military action.  When the church’s views are aligned with the aristocratic democracy’s (in this case, the military experts’), it should vigorously plead its case on Capitol Hill.

While Christians ought to be content with all the decisions of their government, the impacts of those decisions are not necessarily entitled to the same respect.   In other words, it is up to us to believe what we want about teaching children evolution.  Freedom of belief is our personal right.  We do not, however, have the right to be taught creationism, or anything else for that matter.  Freedom of knowledge is not a right.  So, in the end, both the majority of laymen and the minority of experts must submit to the aristocratic democracy’s decrees.  While the voices of the majority of laymen and the minority of experts should be heard – that is their freedom of speech – submission is the only appropriate response to whatever the experts decide.

It might be added that there is one exception.  Sometimes, the governmental structure includes an appellate system.  In America, amendments can be made to resolutions, legislation, and even the Constitution.  Should an unfavorable ruling be made, Christians ought to take advantage of these venues.  But make no mistake; never should Christians publicly denounce a government’s knowledge-based decision without offering a solution.  Abortion may be immoral, but without a case pending before the Supreme Court to contend Roe v. Wade, what exactly is the recourse we demand?  A movement to promote “awareness” of a poor policy is fruitless if a solution is nowhere on the horizon.  Indeed, the outrage of idle and unproductive Christian advocacy groups is no different than the complaints offered up by the Israelites in the wilderness.  Criticism without solutions is a barrier to progressive reform at best and a poor evangelism strategy at worst.

To many, the notion that knowledge is left in the hands of the majority can be hard to swallow.  But it ought not be.  Ultimately, knowledge is a tool used to assist societies in making decisions. However, it is a tool individuals can optionally choose.  If the knowledge of the age seems faulty, by all means, choose whatever substitute you wish.  But should this be your course of action, do not expect everyone else to drop everything and join you.

An Introduction

In America we have an ingrained pride in many things. We are proud of our Founding Fathers, of our Constitution, of our doctrine of the separation of powers, of our democratic republic, and of our separation of church and state. We are inspired when we consider how every religion can flourish without any person being compelled to worship contrary to the dictates of his or her own conscience. We celebrate each religion in its uniqueness… or at least that is what most of us would like to think.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” At first glance, the so-called “separation of church and state” seems rather clear-cut: Congress may not establish a religion, and it may not prevent any person from freely according to the requirements of his or her religion. Unfortunately, this issue is not so simple as it appears at first glance. A whole slew of Supreme Court cases have interpreted the religion clauses of the First Amendment as indicating a general doctrine of separating religion and politics as far from each other as possible. As a result, religious life is sequestered from political life and vice-versa.

Whether this separation is a good thing or not is a major issue at stake in the Christian community. For many liberal and progressive thinkers, separation of church and state ought to imply a broader separation of private belief and public discourse. What they would like to see is the full expulsion of faith from the public square. Faith and reason are distinct nexuses of epistemology, and reason is the only proper mode of public discourse. We have not gone far enough in separating faith and public discourse. For many religious conservatives, on the other hand, the principle of separation between church and state suggests nothing more than a prohibition of the government establishing a state religion. We can bring both faith and reason to the table of public discourse because there is no inherent contradiction between the two. We have gone too far in our separation. So who is right?

We are not out to give definitive answers. Each person must decide for himself what his role (and the role of his church) in the public square ought to be. We are out to raise important issues that cannot be skirted and to offer viable perspectives on these issues. The contributors to this blog do not share any particular political ideology. In fact, we have shared a number of friendly debates among ourselves. We are committed to the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, and we believe that Scripture – along with our God-given faculty of reason – can guide us to make wise judgments concerning political questions. We do not agree with each other on every issue. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find any issue on which we all agree. Yet, despite our differences, we share a common conviction that what we do on this earth is significant and that political questions are meaningful questions to which we must give thoughtful answers. The matters discussed on this blog are ones with which the Christian must wrestle, and we hope to provide a resource for the thinking Christian seeking answers.

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