Honestly Thinking

Honestly thinking (& rethinking) about God, the universe, and everything in between

Must Our President Be Christian? What Even Evangelicals Get Wrong About Separation of Church and State

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“Separation of church and state.”  Few phrases have caused such division and controversy.  From the famous Scopes Monkey Trial to battles over the Ten Commandments on public display to stories of high school coaches praying with their teams, there is no shortage of opinions.

Recently, the phrase has even become part of the dialogue in Republican presidential primaries.  After, I questioned the faith claims and behaviors of one of the leading candidates, several objectors decried, “What about separation of church and state?”

Surprisingly, evangelical Christian supporters of the candidate – ones who in the past have traditionally defended this is a “Christian nation” – have begun using a slight variation on the phrase when they proclaim that we are electing “a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief.”

But all of this is symptomatic that even evangelicals have become victims of a great misunderstanding about God.

I shared in my recent post titled “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Supreme Dictator of the Universe…and You’re Okay With It” how God is the ultimate source law of the universe.

As the ultimate source law God not only initiated and controls all the physical laws of the universe that govern us (laws of gravity, energy, motion, etc) but also what I call the “personal laws” – love, compassion, intimacy, grace, justice, forgiveness, as so on.  These are the laws that humankind must obey if it most wants to flourish.

Furthermore, I explained how, in using the name “I Am,” God identified himself  not only with the most personal concept there is (the “I”) but also with the biggest possible concept there is…existence.  For what is bigger, more powerful or long lasting than existence itself?

In another post, I explained how God as the source law of all other natural laws is, therefore, also the most natural part of the universe.  We have created a false supernatural line separating God from the very natural world.  Consequently, as we discover more and more about the universe, coming up with natural explanations, God gets smaller and smaller to us all the time.

In the end we have managed to compartmentalize God. 

We dedicate days that are specifically for him and other days that are not.  We erect buildings designed to serve him and other ones that are meant for our normal daily lives.

We deem both activities and professions as either “non-secular” or “secular,” separating out the “religious” from “regular” parts of our lives.

And we’ve managed to put the sciences in a category wholly apart – as though this ultimate source law had little to do with them at all.

Such compartmentalization is obviously a far cry from the concept of God having the bigness of existence.  And when you replace “God” with the word “existence” you begin to realize how ridiculous it all can be.

Do we have days or building where we acknowledge existence and ones we don’t?  Do we tell scientists to do their work but just don’t acknowledge existence’s part?

Do we have movies or songs where we celebrate existence but other ones where we have to pretend that existence doesn’t exist at all?

And what about when it comes to questions of separation of church and state?[i]

Should we fire teachers for talking about existence?  Should we forbid public buildings from displaying existence’s rules like “no running through the halls” or “smoking is bad for your health?”

Because here’s the thing about God: God does not exist within the context of religion or the confines of a church building or a day of the week and his existence isn’t dependent on people’s beliefs at all.  God exists every day and in every place whether we’d like him to or not.

But if we’re not supposed to acknowledge God in state buildings, and yet God is the source law of ALL laws, does that mean we need to remove a2 + b2 = c2 from our schools as well?  After all, that is a natural law of existence, is it not?

Likewise, does separation of church and state mean that we shouldn’t choose our leaders based on laws of dignity and respect?

Now some at this point will get concerned and ask, “Is Steve advocating a theocracy?”  And I would say, “Absolutely not!”

There are legitimate reasons why our founding fathers set things up the way they did.  For one, it must be acknowledged that, though God exists, there are differences in opinion of what he’s like.  And anytime you put broken, potentially selfish, individuals with different opinions in too much power over others’ spiritual lives the results can be devastating and even counterproductive.

Additionally, the primary concern that the early founders had was not with God but with the church institution and the intermixing of it with government function.

James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” once wrote:

The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both (Letter to Edward Everett, March 18, 1823).

Anytime you mix the different disciplines of groups the results can be negative.

For example, in any given hospital you will have different staff and departments.  There are doctors to perform the procedures, administrators, the billing office, cafeteria staff, a pharmacy, and many others – each one with a different function.  But if cafeteria workers started performing surgeries, or billing office personnel started filling prescriptions, or even (as some support staff will agree) if doctors did the billing, it could obviously be very disastrous.  And depending on the person, if one of the administrators did the cooking, it could also be calamitous.

At the same time, every person in that hospital is still working for the same ultimate purpose and vision – to help patients. Thus, if God created the universe and this world for a purpose, the fact that there are different functions for individuals and institutions, does not excuse us from living out God’s vision and purpose.

The phrase is “separation of church and state,” not “separation of God and state” and as we’ve already noted, God does not exist within the confines of church.

Even Thomas Jefferson in the very same letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he mentioned the phrase “separation of church and state,” recognized the existence of God when he stated:

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

The main point is, yes, we can spend a lot of time arguing about “separation of church and state” and what it means – whether prayer should be allowed in school, whether crosses can be used as public memorials, whether faith is essential for public office – but that does not change the fact that God is still there.

We can fight over whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in a courthouse or not, but regardless of whether the words remain, it is still wrong to murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, covet, and dishonor your parents.  And it would even be foolish not to take a break from your work once in a while and even more foolish to put anything above the laws of God/existence.

Not believing in God and choosing not to follow him doesn’t make him or his laws disappear.

Now in regards to the recent phrase by Evangelicals that we are electing a “commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief,” it is absolutely correct that we are choosing someone for a very different function than the pastorate.  But when the implication is that the faith and personal behavior of that individual is no longer important, then I’m afraid those who speak it are guilty of the same kind of compartmentalization of God.

According to Evangelicals own teachings Christ is God and all things were created through Christ (John 1).  If God, and thus Christ, is the source law of all that exists, that means that the rules of this world are a reflection of Christ’s very character.

And, therefore, Christ’s character reveals to us the very personal laws that enable humankind to best thrive in the universe.

What is that character?  Paul gives us a clue to some of it when he tells us the fruit of those who follow Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  He then goes on to tell us, “against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23).

Would it not be wise then when choosing someone to effectively lead our country that we choose someone who can live by those standards?

Other than Christ himself, is there anyone perfect who can always live out every one of those rules?  No.  But that’s why we also have the laws of forgiveness and grace for those humbly seek it.

Does the President of the United States have to be a Christian?  I believe that’s really the wrong question.

The question is: does this person have the behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that reflect how humankind can best flourish?

But when that person’s character runs antithetical to the very nature of the creator of the universe, no matter what that person promises they can do, the question then becomes, “At what cost?”

Some fear that we have no choice – that choosing someone who is antithetical is the only way to defeat someone whom they see as even more antithetical.

But the question is, who or what do you fear?

Do you fear the other candidate, or do you fear the one in charge of all existence?  Because no matter who ends up becoming the president, God is always there.

And I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the ultimate source of the universe, I’d like to make sure I’m always on his side.

 


 

[i] Please note: when it comes to discussions specifically about the constitutionality of religious establishment I feel that the phrase “separation of church and state” is an incomplete interpretation and is often used as a biased way of avoiding the actual language of the First Amendment.  For me any debates about the constitutionality must incorporate the actual words which state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Regardless of whether Thomas Jefferson may have used the words “separation of church and state” in a letter, there is a reason why the framers of the Bill of Rights chose the final words they did; and there is a reason why many try instead to use a different phrase when making arguments.  In this post, however, I mainly stayed with the phrase “separation of church and state” in order to contrast theology with common vernacular.


I would love to hear from you.  Please tell me what you honestly think in the comments section below!

16 Comments

  1. How many of our past presidents have actually been Christians?

    • Steve Baldwin

      March 11, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      That’s a great question. I’ve not personally done a thorough investigation of the faith of all 44 presidents. I would imagine if you did you would find a variety with v some very devout and some not so much but with most claiming at least some connection with Christianity.

      But the main point here is that IF the universe was indeed created through Christ, then it would make little sense to compartmentalize God and say that Christ-like principles apply when doing one job but not another.

      • Steve with all due respect Id like to ask you how would feel about King Cyrus for president. What would you think about Sampsons character or for that matter King Davids, Moses, Rahab ect.

        I was just attacked by strangers on a friends post. They took your blog about Trump and your assumptions for his voters to heart. They called me disgusting amid other hateful remarks.
        I was shocked to find that you were a believer who tore down and defamed a man because of his blatant sin and character flaws. A man that could very well be Gods pick for the hour.
        A foolish thing, yet isnt it the foolish things God uses to confound the wise?

        Your opinion obviously matters, yet people are using it as a tool to dispurse hatred.
        I would kindly ask you to prayerfully rethink this one.
        Shalom

        • Steve Baldwin

          March 13, 2016 at 3:36 pm

          Hi Ann, I am sorry that people ended up calling you hateful names. That is unwarranted and uncalled for and I would never advocate that.

          At the same time I must ask: Trump is known for calling people derogatory names. In fact he specifically called a woman “disgusting” for wanting to go pump breast milk for her child. So why be OK with him doing that while publicly denouncing others for doing likewise?

          Or if you believe in offering grace to Trump’s imperfections, why not offer grace to these others making comments?

          I do believe in offering grace to people’s imperfections. I think you will find that in the majority of my posts which I would encourage you to take a look at.

          But Trump is running for president. Do you believe we should not judge any candidate as to whether they are qualified for the position? Do you believe we should not share with others during an election our thoughts about a candidate’s worth? If so, have you maintained that consistently yourself and never pointed out problems with any of the other candidates because they might be God’s pick for the hour?

          God may very well be using Trump, as He did King Saul, or Nebuchadnezzar and other leaders who tried to fly in the face of God. And if that is the case I will accept it and respect him as my president if he wins.

          However, we live in a democracy and right now we have the opportunity to choose who is best. If we willingly choose someone who violates God’s principles we will be held accountable for it.

    • Steve Baldwin

      March 15, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      By the way, Elaine, after responding to hundreds of different comments sometimes I go back and reread what I wrote. I went back to my response to your initial question here and removed the word “irrelevant” because I felt it was inappropriate and didn’t express my heart. Your question was a very relevant one and I really do mean it’s a great one. I’m not the one prepared to fully answer it without a lot of research but I would love to hear from anyone who has a good perspective on it.

    • Its not if every President has been Christian but should they be and the answer is yes ,, And for years America’s President were Christian and those following were or they held to Biblical Morals. The Declaration of Independence and its sister the US Constitution both Declare and proclaim God is God of America, and it was God fearing Christians who founded America for the Glory of God and the advancement of His Salvation through Christ Yeshua .
      The Christian writers sealed the Constitution with these words ” IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1787″ God of the Bible is Lord of the Constitution of the United States of America, and all 50 states Preambles likewise declare and proclaim the same, if you doubt me look up your states preamble better still look up all 50 .

    • All of America’s founders and framers were God fearing Christians . Only Christians were qualified to hold an Office on any level. The Christian writers of the Constitution wrote laws that reflected Gods laws not laws that would conflict . We , America has a Biblical Constitution and I know this how? Because the Christian writers sealed the Constitution with these words ” In The Year of Our Lord 1787 ” if you check your states preamble you will see that it makes clear in that it proclaims and declares God of the Bible is God of their state.. In fact ALL 50 states proclaim and declare the same in making mention of Gods many Names .

  2. Thank you Steve,
    Extending grace is a given when your walking with Christ. Why should we extend grace to one and not the other?

    First I’d like to clarify that I dont condone Trumps ungodly candor. Yet at the same time, should I not extend him the same grace as others, I mean after all he is a lost sinner. Its evident the man is not saved, yet.

    My point is this Steve, you wrote a clearly bias blog on a candidate. There was not one good thing that Trump has done that you credited to his account. If God looks past our ungodliness, to extend His grace, why wouldn’t you?

    We are not selecting a preacher for our church community, we need someone that can get the job done dont you agree?

    We can dig up dirt on any of the other candidates, but as believers we are not called to target anyone. Hence casting stones. I dont care for Hillary what so ever but Im selective in how far I go in sharing my opinion, what would Jesus say ?

    You asked me :

     Do you believe we should not share with others during an election our thoughts about a candidates worth?

    Only God knows someones worth and he would have that not one should perish.
    We are not called to faultfind, even if we do it stating facts. Particularly when you leave out the good side.
    We dont know what God may have in store for that person.
    We can however voice our opinion, thats our God given right but if it cant be done in all fairness, we should refrain, honestly speaking.

    You also asked:

    If so, have you maintained that consistently yourself and never pointed out problems with any of the other candidates because they might be God’s pick for the hour?

    I have not intentionally targeted any candidate by finding every fault out there to reinterate what you referred to as their worth. Despite any propensity to do so, I’ve had conviction and have learned for the most part to set a guard at the door of my mouth.

    In love,
    Ann

    • Elaine Pollard

      March 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      I just wonder if the grace extension applies to our current President, or just Donald Trump? I’m not totally singling you out, but I am a bit put off by a lot of my fellow Christians lately who when Mr. Obama ran for president, were besides themselves with acrimony that he was not a Christian. However, it does not appear that Donald Trump is a Christian, and the message is that we need to extend grace.

      I am a black woman and have been a Republican for half of my life. Right now, I’m very disappointed with fellow Republicans and Christians. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people post Psalm 109:8 on their Facebook walls in reference to Mr. Obama. In case you’re not familiar with that scripture, here it is: May his days be few; may another take his office! Of course, none of them acknowledge the rest of that chapter where the psalmist is calling for complete and utter annihilation of an enemy. He wants his enemy’s children to be fatherless; he wants the man’s name blotted out; he does not want his mother’s sin to be forgiven. When people post that scripture, what it says to me is that they hate a person so much that they want him to die, to never get the opportunity of salvation. I don’t understand that type of hatred–especially when it comes from believers. Some of these people that post these things sit right next to me in church.

      Mr. Obama got called out as a racist because of his pastor, but Trump can allude to as many racist things (he’s not dumb enough to say those things outright, he just lets people draw their own conclusions), but oh, it’s just him being a fallen man, we need to extend him some grace. Why is that? What makes one fallen man more worthy of an extension of grace than another?

      • Elaine,
        Im not sure who your addressing this comment to. I actually posted my comment on the incorrect thread it was meant for a post that directly relates to the current election and specifically Trump.

        This discussion does not pertain to our current President in no way, shape or form. No disrespect.

        If you were addressing this comment to me then you need to re-read the post thread. You would clearly see that Im asking Steve basically the same core question.

        “What makes one fallen man more worthy of an extension of grace than another?”

        Shalom

        • Steve Baldwin

          March 14, 2016 at 10:36 pm

          I think I understand what Elaine is saying. Many of the same people who most ardently become upset at anyone who “judges” Trump for his imperfections are the very same people who openly express hostility about the imperfections of our current president. Not saying that you have done that, Ann, but there are many who do. That makes it relevant because it makes it a double standard.

          Even when you read the comments on my other post you will see someone say, “How dare you judge Trump like that” and then they will proceed to talk about all the horrible qualities of Obama or Hillary, etc…

          For many it really comes down to: Don’t you dare judge my candidate for their imperfections, but I have every right to judge your candidate for their disqualifications.

          I am not at all a supporter of Obama in terms of a large percentage of his policies but he has been unfairly judged for his character by the very same people who try to shut you down if you dare to even question Trump’s.

        • Steve Baldwin

          March 14, 2016 at 10:42 pm

          And to acknowledge further Elaine’s point, some of the very same people saying we should give Trump a chance in spite of his imperfections and pray for him (which we should – the pray for him part) essential wish damnation on Obama. Not all are that extreme and perhaps not all intend it, but that is the implied message that is often given.

        • Steve Baldwin

          March 14, 2016 at 10:49 pm

          But bringing this back to the actual article above, grace and forgiveness should be given to those who humbly seek it. Like the prodigal’s father we should be anxiously waiting for those who do. The question is…which of the candidates or current office holders really do humbly seek it?

    • Not electing a Preacher, Where in the Bible does God say a Preacher cannot be elected as a leader ?What God commands is that the people Choose a God Fearing Leader, and a Preacher is not more saved than any other Christian ,all Christians are God fearing and because a Preacher runs for Office does not disqualify him . If one running for Office is not a Christian they are not qualified to hold an Office on any level . Christians founded this nation, America for Gods Glory so putting pagans in power defeats the purpose . God knows best and God commands to choose God fearing leaders ,if you don’t what you soon have is a Godless nation . Let me share this quote with you . If America ever ceases to be a Christian nation ,America will cease to be a free nation.

  3. I get it, no comment regarding Obama.

    Its time for me to end my participation on your blog site Steve. After reading comments I find it grievous & filled with strife.

    have said what I came here to say.

    To answer your question Steve, that would be Ben Carsen.

    • Steve Baldwin

      March 15, 2016 at 10:39 am

       “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people…religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” Linus from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 🙂

      Thanks for your feedback, Ann.

Join the discussion. Please tell me what you honestly think. My comment policy is simple: you are welcome to disagree with me or others on here as long as you do it with respect (no insults, personal attacks, etc). Of course, if you'd like to tell me how awesomely wonderful my points are then you make my unofficial favorite commenter's list. ;-)

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