One of the most compelling images I have seen floating around the internet recently has been the one above.
Christian friends, we need to talk. The building on First St. in Washington D.C. is not a church.
It has never been a church, and it should never be a church.
Why is a pastor advocating for a cease and desist order on the weird commingling of church and state that so many people of faith seem to advocate for?
Well, let’s name a few reasons.
E Plurbis Unum
Latin for “Out of many, one,” this is the actual motto of the United States of America adopted in 1782 and officially codified by Congress in 1956. This statement encapsulates the multi-faceted, many-hued, varied conglomeration of people that make up this country. We are not all Anglo-Saxons. We are not all Irish. We are not all Mexican, or Canadian, or French, or Haitian, or Egyptian. We’re a beautiful mosaic of humanity that while lovely, can be a bit unweilding to govern.
The purpose of a government on the federal level is not to enforce religious belief or win converts. The government’s primary task is to make life as safe as possible for ALL people, for all of the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the nones, and the alls. Everyone. What if someone who chose not to eat meat for religious purposes (that were extremely valid to them) decided that all meat should be banned? Government should never be about the few regulating the many, but should be about setting ground rules that everyone can abide by. (And if you feel particularly called not to eat meat, you have the freedom not to eat it.)
When measures are made to create space for all to practice their faith, it is not a slight to Christianity. Because a nativity scene cannot be displayed on government property or the Ten Commandments be hung in a courthouse, it does not mean that the message of Christianity is any less compelling. If that is the case- if the Gospel can be diminished by such actions- then we are in more trouble than we realize.
The Church’s Mission
Okay, so the Captiol Buillding is not a church. Good news! We have churches! Even better news, in this country, we are free to practice our religion, raise our children in said religion, and make choices about how we live our lives based on our religion without penalty.
You are free to support the businesses you wish, the causes you wish, teach your children which values to embody, and even what kinds of food and drink you would like or not like to consume. Unless it is murder, robbery, assault, fraud, sexual exploitation, endangerment of a child, etc. etc. etc.
The government’s job is not to advance the cause of Christ. Christ had some very specific ideas about empire in the first place, so it seems fitting that as Christians, we are the ones tasked with showing the world the love and deep compassion that Christ offers. We are the ones told to model, to go into the world and make disciples, not congress.
A New Call to Action
So, what can we do? Do we just sit back, relax, and stick our heads in the sand? Absolutely not! There are so many things we as Christians can bring to the table that speak to the entire human condition. Off the top of my head, there is: racial equality, gender equality, issues of wages, care for the immigrant and the refugee, visiting and encouraging the prisoner, taking care of the orphaned, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked… does this sound familiar?
Friends, I don’t pretend to believe that even as Christians, we are all of one mind on many of the “hot button” issues of the day, but where I have seen great growth and movement have been the places where Christians have laid down their unique, niche axes and picked up the common plough.
We have a lot of work to do, and I naively believe that it can be done, that peace is attainable, but we have to stop confusing the role of the state with the role of the church.
Kristen Hanna serves as an associate pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A born and bred Texan, Kristen grew up in the Dallas area and received her Bachelor of Music from the Meadows School of the Arts and Master of Sacred Music from the Perkins School of Theology, both of Southern Methodist University. During her graduate work, Kristen served at various local churches in the Dallas area. Kristen grew up in the Southern Baptist Church and was confirmed in the United Methodist Church in 2009. When not planning worship or pondering theological conundrums, Kristen enjoys reading a wide variety of literature, knitting and sewing, solving the world’s problems over coffee with friends, and experiencing the beauty of North Carolina while walking her corgi, Rory.