Thursday, April 12, 2012

Invasive Surgery: Separating Church & State

If I were to ask you what comes to your mind when you think of Washington D.C., what would you say?

The White House. Politicians. History. Overspending. Division. Patriotism. Marble monuments. Dinosaurs. Cherry Blossoms.

On the one hand, the area symbolizes all that has made our nation throughout history, all the best of pomp and circumstance in formalized ceremony and tradition. On the other, it also symbolizes blue and red states bickering my tax dollars away, Senators being tripped up in affairs, and bills weighted down with costly, wasteful pet side-projects just to push through the vote.

Yet, in these thoughts, both reminiscent and cynical, never does God enter the picture. I simply don't think "God" when I think of our nation's capitol.

If anything, I think of the national map's largest yellow star as God"less," a place that intentionally walls-out God in its insistence that separation of church and state means God-silence, God-invisibility, a check-your-God-at-the-door type mentality.

As if taking a scalpel and surgically separating the secular from the sacred is a thing possible.

It's like that 2003 movie Stuck on You about conjoined twins. When one twin wants to be an actor, the producers work to keep the other twin always out of the camera frame or use a blue screen so the computer can literally paint him out of the picture. But even with all this maneuvering, even when it appears that one is separate from the other, the two men are still conjoined.
The same is true of our nation's capitol. Try as they might to pretend God is not there, He is.

On my trip last month to D.C., I found God in the most unexpected of places--the interior of a cold, stone memorial. In the midst of hushed chatter that bordered on almost reverence, the sacred and secular came crashing together.

The words "The Altar of God" circled my head while the walls rang with Jefferson's quotations.

God. God. God. God. God is the great elephant in the room--in Congress, in the White House. Even when His name is not permitted to be invoked because of political incorrectness, what is in a person's heart still drives every decision. One's heart belief in God, in Allah, in Buddha, or in nothing--the heart will always show itself in its legacy.

Call it what you want, but a person's actions, when analyzed and studied, reveal what is of true importance, where one's allegiances lie.

There is no Wife Jennifer, Mom Jennifer, Teacher Jennifer.

There is no Saint Jennifer, Sinner Jennifer. Angry Jennifer, Loving Jennifer.

There is only me--one woman.

Try as I might to divide my life into segments, I am not foolish enough to believe that my heart and mind are not affected by all parts of me.

After all, when that day comes, the Saint, the Sinner, the Wife, the Teacher, the Mother, the Sister--they will all be placed in one hole in the ground beneath the shadow of a single marble slab.


  1. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not, as you seem to suppose, require anyone to separate his or her morality from daily life and decisions. Nor does it prevent citizens from making political decisions based on principles derived from their religions. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The principle, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect.

    Confusion understandably arises because the constitutional principle is sometimes equated with a political doctrine that generally calls for political dialogue to be conducted on grounds other than religion. The underlying reasons for that approach are many, but two primary ones are that it facilitates discussion amongst people of all beliefs by predicating discussion on grounds accessible to all and, further, it avoids, in some measure at least, putting our respective religious beliefs directly “in play” in the political arena, so we’re not put in the position of directly disputing or criticizing each other’s religious beliefs in order to address a political issue. This political doctrine, of course, is not “law” (unlike the constitutional separation of church and state, which is). Rather, it is a societal norm concerning how we can best conduct ourselves in political dialogue. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the doctrine is a good idea or not and whether or how it should influence us in particular circumstances.

  2. Doug: I totally agree with you about what separation of church and state are "supposed" to be. I am completely for a government that doesn't force a certain belief structure on a people. My critique is that "church and state" is being interpreted in modern times as meaning the two are incompatible. The doctrine is being used to push God to the fringes so that one must appear to check her religious beliefs at the door when entering the realm of politics or state.

    Morality is not religion, but religion does inform morality. The problem comes when some have deemed that religion should play no part in politics, that anything that could be construed as advancing religion (such as laws opposed to homosexual marriage or abortion) have no place in the political arena.

    Morality, then, gets equated with religion and is negated by default. Granted, this is not as was intended, but interpretations of the Constitution aren't always as the original writers planned. (Yes, that makes me a strict constructionist). Thanks for the good dialogue.