Separation of Church and State: My Thoughts

Separation of Church and State
Separation of Church and State

In his first term as president, George W. Bush, announced his faith-based initiatives. A Christian, President Bush believed that churches (and presumably other religious groups) could play a large role in addressing social problems if properly funded. I remember being at my parents’ house around the time this came into effect; it was all over the news.

Back Then

I commented, “This is good, right? The church gets more funding to do what we are already doing.” At the time, I had not yet gone to divinity school. Daddy, now retired. was still pastoring a church. Jay and I were active in our church, though, and I often lamented the need for more financial support to address community needs.

Daddy’s answer was both immediate and adamant. “Good news? Absolutely not! The church does not need to become dependent on the government for funding!” I was surprised by his vehement response. He continued, “Churches will not become more focused on the mission of Christ when they receive government grants. They will get lazy and dependent. No. Church and state must be separate.”

My father, it should be noted, did not come up with the idea of separation of church and state. That designation belongs to the first Baptist, Roger Williams. Williams came up with a lot of other great ideas too (and some pretty wacky ones); you should look him up. Interesting guy.

Through the Years

Anyway, I don’t have statistics on the results of government funding to faith-based groups and I don’t know if the law even still stands. I do know that God’s Kingdom of justice and mercy didn’t suddenly spring up in 2002 when the plan was announced. I also don’t hear much about folks rushing to church now that they can access state funds. I mean, I could have missed that, but I doubt it.

Years after Bush’s presidency, when I became a pastor myself, I understood why Daddy was so clear on this point. I saw it in practice all the time. For example, frequently church members gave the school (a state institution) control over whether or not their kids went to church. When little Suzy or Johnny were absent, their parents just shook their heads, helpless. “Back in my day they didn’t give homework on Wednesday nights,” or “When I was a kid, a school would never have held a sporting event on a church night.”

Wait, what? The only reason your parents required you to go to church was because you didn’t have other responsibilities? Things were a bit different in my house. Honest to goodness, we could have had the prom on a Wednesday night and I guaran-dadgum-tee you we would have been at prayer meeting. That whole separation of church carries a bit of a sting when you commit to it. Just saying…

Matthew 6:5-6

This Week

This week, the Supreme Court of the US ruled that praying publicly at school functions is constitutional. I haven’t actually looked it up yet, but I presume this means all prayer and not just Christian prayers. Here’s the thing, though, since when is it SCOTUS’s job to legislate prayer?
And anyway, Jesus has already told us how to pray. He said,

“Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, for then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. . . . And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who pretend piety by praying publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Truly, that is all the reward they will ever get.  But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1, 5-6 The Living Bible)

So, yeah, the SCOTUS says it’s constitutional to pray at the ballgame. The Gospel, though, suggests a still more excellent way. As for me and my house, we’ll stick with Jesus.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.