Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What do Religion and Federalism have in common?

Religion and the Federal Government are strange bedfellows, some would argue they are too closely related, others would say that they are too separated. I think that Church and State have more in common than we might think, and that the commonalities will make us uncomfortable.

Remember this video?

It made the rounds on the internet about a year and a half ago. Many people whom I dearly love think it's brilliant and wonderful, and many others, also dearly loved, think it's terrible. But the fact that it both exists and is popular says something about our cultural view of religion.

The single most viewed post on my blog came when North Carolina voted to add a discriminatory amendment to their constitution last May. The change to their state constitution made me rethink the pride in which I hold my home state. Then, earlier this month, I encountered this nonsense.

If only this were an April Fools Joke. But alas, it is not. Here's the full bill.

This Bill does not, as many people may assume from the headlines, establish a State Religion for North Carolina. Rather, it endorses a principle known as "nullification." Nullification essentially says that States can interpret what actions are and aren't constitutional, and ignore federal actions that they deem unconstitutional. These issues have popped up a number of times through history, and seemed to have gained some popularity over the last couple of years.

Anti-religious sentiment on one hand, Anti-federialist feelings on the other. That says something about who we are as a people, even if we don't share those feelings.

What I see reflected in these two disparate works in a mistrust of institutions. The larger the institution the less we, as a culture, tend to trust it.

The video contends that the institutional church is manipulative and coercive, and that a personal relationship with Jesus should not be constrained by that institution.

The NC Bill, and other nullification laws, make the same claims about the Federal Government, that its interest is in maintaining its own power, not in serving the people who have entrusted them to govern.

"I don't need the church, I can love Jesus all by myself"
"We don't need the government, we can solve these problems by ourself"

Now for the word of the day:

Antidisestablishmentarianism - the belief that establishments (usually the church) should not be dissolved.

I put myself pretty firmly in that camp. The Church certainly has mistakes for which it will be judged, and the Federal Government does as well. But large bodies of committed people working together have also accomplished some of the greatest good in this world.

Because the truth is, as John Donne wrote, "No [person] is an island, entire unto [themselves]." We exist in communities and need one another. If we just opted out of the culture it would affect more people than just ourselves. These establishments, Church and Government, serve two radically different purposes, but both recognize the truth that we cannot do what needs be done by ourselves.

What do you think? Are we our own? Do we need each other? Do we need established bodies?


  1. I believe we do need an established body. Without it, as we have seen, there are splinters of the Church. I don't believe Christ would have wanted many bodies of Christ. There is only One body of Christ, the Catholic Church. This doesn't mean that you have to be a Roman Catholic to be a member of the body of Christ. All Roman Catholics are Catholic but not all Catholics are Roman Catholic. We have to also remember there is no such thing as a perfect church. To think this is absurd. Its like the idea the grass is greener on the other side. It never is...unless it has an irrigation system in. :p. I feel all Christians need to gather together, for if we continue in the discourse of separation, the government will become the new "Church", forcing its own teachings instead those of God.

    1. Thanks for your comment Chris, I really like having a Roman Catholic perspective in my life.

      I think it's interesting that you firmly support an established church while expressing distrust in the federal government. Care to say more about that?

      Also, is it the church's responsibility to provide the "irrigation" to which you referred? What does that look like in the 21st century?

      Thanks again for the feedback!

  2. I distrust the government ever since they have kicked God out of it. If we continue to live under the impression that we are all gods and can do whatever we want, then like Rome, this country will fail. Americans are under the dream that this country won't fail and will continue to sleep. Once we put God back where He belongs, then I can trust this government again.

    As for the Catholic Church, God is and always has been in the focal point. Front and center. Granted there might have been some back sliding, the Crusades, but has gotten back on the right path. If the Catholic Church can apologize for any wrong doing when a corrupt pope was in rule, then why can't this country?

    Pope Francis, I believe, is doing a great job of "irrigation". He listens to the Holy Spirit and let's that guide Him. It will take some time for the brown spots to turn green again, aka. Priest sex scandals, but in time they will become an Irish green. :-)

    1. Pope Francis is a big deal, historically and theologically. Not that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was an empty suit, he was also a significant figure. Pope Francis, however, is the first Jesuit and is a changing the way people view the whole of the Christian Church, not just the portion which he oversees.

      God should be the focal point of all Christian thought and behavior. Christians, as fallen people still working out their salvation with fear and trembling, will not get everything correct all the time, but are discerning the will of God through the presence of the Spirit.

      To get back to the point of the original post, we cannot enact the will of the spirit on an individual level. That is not the manner in which God has chosen to act in the past. God calls us to be together and to move forward in faith and love.

  3. Back in the 1960s when politics were vastly different, William F. Buckley debated William Sloan Coffin on a show called Firing Line. It was a model for intelligent, respectful debate that we seem to have lost in this country in favor of yammering heads on cable news and talk radio.
    One of Coffin's lines from that exchange speaks to your last few words:
    "Am I my brother's keeper?"
    "No, I am my brother's brother."

    1. Thanks Mike! That's a really cool connection! Do you think that we, as brothers, are also keepers? At least to some extent?