The Church Versus State Debate

As an outside observer of U.S. and Canadian media I am often bemused at how often some of my Christian friends across “the pond” allow themselves to be diverted into often vacuous debates over what America’s Founders “intended” when they wrote the separation of church and state into the American Constitution. Not that I suggest the debate, per se, is pointless. It’s just that two other key issues are rarely raised. First, the mandate provided by populations in the U.S. and Canada, where about 80 percent claim some form of Christian belief. Second, the critical intellectual link between culture and religion. According to ARDA (the Association of Religion Data Archives), about 80 percent of the U.S. population identify themselves in some way as Christian, whether or not they lay claim to a specific church affiliation or regular church attendance. The figures for claimed Christian belief are equally impressive in Canada and the United Kingdom. About 75 and 80 percent, respectively, according to ARDA. These statistics alone provide in each country an overwhelming national mandate that gives a privileged position, role, and public status—a mandate that acknowledges the Christian church’s singular influence on American, Canadian, British, or Western culture and its values. Such a heritage demands not only public acknowledgment, but confers a civic right, with appropriate symbolism, to social and cultural recognition.

As the abject failure of multiculturalism in Europe reveals, cut the umbilical cord with culture’s formative religion—its beliefs and teachings—and it quickly loses its moral compass and the roots of its identity. That is precisely why Islamists cause so much friction in Western societies. Islamists recognize only too well how culture and religion are intellectually and politically indivisible. In Germany, France, the U.K., and other countries, Islamists constantly confuse Western liberal social design, persistently confuting liberalism’s multicultural goal by opting for the right of social separation, not integration.

Secularists and atheists further confuse the issue by persisting in the liberal multicultural agenda through a self-destructive culture war in which the opening battleground is the public square of national symbolism and any suggestion of a prevailing national religion. Liberal secularists themselves represent their own subset of viewpoint of course, a minority faith of sorts if you want to see it that way. To make an impact from a minority position they first need to score some frontline victories. The Founders never envisaged the exclusion of God from the public square. But the modern failure to reassert the religion-culture nexus in the church versus state debate, including by Christians themselves, is leading inexorably to that end.

Church Versus State

Even the way we couch the debate is unhelpful. Church versus state suggests church and state are inimical. Clearly, as the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian church teaching make clear, they are not. All government is invested with authority to act as God’s agent (Romans 13), though not all government acts accordingly. Consequently, “church and state” would be more helpful terminology. Whatever the drafters of the Constitution intended, they knew the importance of God as central to good public social order. In choosing the formal separation of church and state, however, they declined to have either dictating the detailed terms to the other. That did not mean they did not recognize the key role the faithful should play in keeping government acting according to godly principles—in public life, as well as in private lives. They would have fully concurred with the great friend of America at its inception, the British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, that “all human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory; they have no power over the substance of original justice.”

The Founders were attempting to avoid the problems some of them had personally experienced in expressing their faith under monolithic church authorities. Nonconformism or dissent via failure to attend church services under the authority of the seventeenth-century Church of England could, for instance, result in physical incarceration. They viewed the separation of church and state as keeping apart public legal responsibility and personal faith; embedding tolerance for the latter in the former. While the privatization of belief brings its own problems—to which the ongoing fracturing of global Protestantism is vivid testimony—the writers of the Constitution were determined to make the new union of the states a place where religious freedom could flourish.

Had they foreseen how the age of enlightenment would take tolerance to a whole new level making the individual the arbiter of his or her own truth (postmodernism), they may have sought to balance “separation” of church and state by qualifying the parameters of the separation. What they did not foresee was the impact that enlightenment modernism would have on intellectual relativism—ultimately, how culture and religion would be viewed as independent of each other. But what is culture, other than the visible outworking and character of an identifiable pattern of socially stable, usually religion-rooted, belief? Better still, muddy the waters further by lumping all cultures together as moral equals.

The Failure of Multiculturalism

An unholy alliance of religionists, secular humanist/liberals and atheists recognize the value of multicultural idealism—mostly in aiding the influence of their own faiths. Individually their representatives claim that the problem with Western culture is it is intolerant in some way of other cultures and religions (a tacit admission, if we would but see it, of the culture-religion link), claiming victim status for their own, which they present as a more tolerant alternative. We should see through this deceit. We can first look at the medieval intolerance of Islamist societies. But, closer to home, at how quickly liberal secularism descends into the very essence of intolerance when it gains power, supplanting the symbols of God-fearing faith with the godless symbols of their own minority faith. After all, what would the removal of “In God We Trust” from the American dollar bill signify other than the false impression that “trust in God” is no longer a majority belief?

As threatening as many Christians see aggressive Islamism, the fact is that civilizations are most always destroyed by first becoming weakenedfrom within. Secular liberalism, or atheist belief, and its aggressive push for a multicultural religion-free secular society is a great force undermining Western cultural civilization from within. Not by virtue of an open assault—that would be to alert too many to the real fray. It does its work by usurping the place of God first in the public place while obfuscating the critical nature of the culture-religion link. Thus the politics of the public square becomes the initial apparently nonreligious political battlefield in which we Christians are seemingly quick to cede first the argument and then the ground to minority opinion. As that arch-manipulator of cultural political opinion, Mahatma Gandhi, observed: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”

In recent times a post-Judeo-Christian Europe has chosen to go further down the path of multicultural secularism. European liberals even went to the extreme of excising any reference to the continent’s entire Judeo-Christian heritage in drawing up its new (failed) federalist constitution. In marginalizing its own religious legacy, cultural bedlam has resulted. The gold standard of moral teaching Judeo-Christianity provided has become increasingly obscured. Culture has been cut free from its roots. Street riots, the Islamization of religious ghettos, growing centralization at the expense of democratic institutions, failing economies, the breakup of the family, and social disintegration are all testimony to Europe’s folly. The U.K.’s David Cameron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, having viewed the experiment firsthand, have each branded the multicultural experiment “a failure.”

A religion-free culture is an oxymoron. Culture will always be viscerally and inherently “religious,” being rooted in the soil of faith beliefs of one kind or another. For the secular humanist, any cultural link with Judeo-Christianity must be broken. For them the Christian faith is the key impediment to achieving the romanticized utopian and ludicrous vision articulated by John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The truth is that, as T. S. Eliot noted, “no culture can appear or develop except in relation to a religion.” Western culture and the values bequeathed remain rooted in the God-given Judeo-Christian legacy, including the public symbolism associated with God at the center of national life, church and state separation or not.

The direct link between cultural values and their identifiable religious roots cannot be overstated. T. S. Eliot and Edmund Burke each described the link as indissoluble. It is a serious mistake to believe that society and its culture, including its moral values, develop entirely independent of one another. To sever the link is to cast the ship of state free from its spiritual moorings. And we should ask ourselves (as the majority will): Why should society meekly capitulate to the will of minority faith beliefs?

In God We Trust

Even in the U.K., where fewer than 10 percent attend church, about 80 percent consider themselves to be Christian. In Canada the statistic is close to the same. That is a mandate. Judeo-Christianity is not merely a private, heart faith. It never was. It is a very public faith. Beliefs that do not translate into public policy are of little use when it comes to doing the godly thing for the common good. But that will require us to stop thinking the church versus state debate relegates our faith to the personal and private realm only—and to get out there and make our case in the public square using every tool, not least that of the majority will.

Edmund Burke warned, “It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.” The secular humanist may shout the loudest, but what they offer is to open the gates to an irreligious, multicultural Trojan horse in the name of “moral progress.” We must actively oppose them and shore up the weaknesses on our crumbling cultural walls. Burke reminds us, “Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.” We have a singular mandate of a clear majority that we can utilize to oppose this particular sin. We should stand on it. Call on it.Use it.

We may not always succeed in winning the debate; but then, success is not our business. Being faithful—in both private and public life—is.

Article Author: Peter C. Glover

Peter C. Glover is British writer, former director of the U.K. Christian Research Network and the author of the The Great Evangelical Disaster Revisited (HardWired Books, 2012)