Secularists demand a privatization of faith when it comes to issues in the public square, unless of course, one’s religious ideology is congruent with the current ethical milieu. If people are willing to get with the times, as the secularists posit, or be conformed to this age (Rom 12:2), as Paul would describe it, then their faith is welcomed by the tolerance brigade with open arms. Not only this, but as the infamous Jerry Falwell once noted, “The structure of American society makes political issues out of moral and ethical issues.” Who is allowed to determine what issues belong in the public sphere and when religious convictions are permitted to inform political stances? The answer is whoever argues the loudest, with the most force, reason, and clout. Christians are not commanded to wait for the return of their King in hiding. Instead they are called to shine in the darkness as the light of the world (Mt 5:11).
President Obama once unashamedly disclosed that it was his faith–more specifically his reflection on the golden rule (Mt 7:12)–that led to his affirmation of same-sex marriage. Here, the President, the colloquial leader of the free world, made clear that it was his religious convictions that informed his political position on the issue. Not surprisingly, the secularist does not protest, “Leave your religion at the door!” It appears that, if the conclusion reached is agreeable to the mob’s agenda, only then is one’s religious rationale permissible. If not, they are urged to restrain their faith convictions, exercising them only in private.
Undoubtedly, Christians should do a better job contextualizing their “religiously motivated” beliefs into universal values. On the other hand, they also ought to be subject to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1) by giving heed to President Obama’s prophetic instruction, “If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences.” Sometimes the sacred does not, will not, and cannot be ‘translated’ into the secular. Additionally, in those moments, a tolerant society must let religion take its place among the pantheon of opinions and lifestyles, and should be given as much credence as the rest.
Separation of church and state simply means that there is no state sanctioned church. But surely the remnants of a civic religion, which are still woven throughout the tapestry of this nation, are still evident (e.g. references to a Creator in the Declaration of Independence, “In God we trust” on money, “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance, Scripture readings and prayer at the Presidential inauguration, etc.). As Stephen Carter, an American law professor, rightly commented about the social hegemony of secularization, this modern notion of separation of church and state treats religion as merely a hobby with no social relevance. The blaring reality is that it is impossible to suspend one’s religious (or non-religious) beliefs when entering into discussion that concerns the public square. Convictions of conscience are not a coat that needs to be checked in on the way into a restaurant. Beliefs are ingrained in people, and should not and cannot be separated from the lenses through which they process all reality. While the efficacy of an argument from faith may be bolstered if translated from belief into universal principle, in a democratic republic, it should not have to be.
Cited in Mac Brunson and James W. Bryant, *The New Guidebook for Pastors * (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2007), 188. ↩
Quote from a transcript of President Obama’s keynote address at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal “Building a Covenant for a New America” conference in Washington, D.C delivered on June 26, 2006: “Transcript: Obama’s 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal Address on Faith and Politics,” accessed May 9, 2014, http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/02/21/transcript-obamas–2006-sojournerscall-renewal-address-faith-and-politics. ↩
Cited in Dennis P. Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World, Kindle Edition (Baker Academic, 2002), 253. ↩