I started to read over the weekend a new book by Dr. Wayne Grudem, professor of systematic theology at Phoenix Seminary called Politics According to the Bible. In the first chapter he discusses five wrong views about Christians and government. One of those is the view that government should exclude religion. This is the view that is promoted by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
This view he says espouses a belief that religious people should just stay home and be quiet (that happens to be a view expressed regularly in the comment section of this blog). He also notes those who hold this position believe that “religious beliefs should never be mentioned in governmental functions or on government property and should never play a role in the decision-making process in politics or government,” (pg. 29).
Basically religious people and groups should have zero influence in the political process. He gives several reasons why this view is wrong.
1. It fails to distinguish the reasons for a law from the content of the law.
He cites the court cases in Iowa and in California that overturned a law (and a constitutional amendment) that defined marriage as being between “one man and one woman.” He noted that both courts cited religious opposition to overturning the definitions and that such views should not be taken into account.
In the case of California he notes paraphrasing those who opposed Proposition 8 in California basically said, “in other words, even though 52% of Californians voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman, they were wrongly ‘establishing’ a religion,” (pg. 31).
He said such “exclude religion” arguments are wrong because “marriage is not a religion.” He goes on to make his point:
These arguments also make the logical mistake of failing to distinguish the reasons for a law from the content of the law. There were religious reasons behind many of our laws, but these laws do not “establish” a religion. All major religions have teachings against stealing, but laws against stealing do not “establish a religion.” All religions have laws against murder, but laws against murder do not “establish a religion.” The campaign to abolish slavery in the United States and England was led by many Christians, based on their religious convictions, but laws abolishing slavery do not “establish a religion.” The campaign to end racial discrimination and segregation was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor, who preached against racial injustice from the Bible. But laws against discrimination and segregation do not “establish a religion,” (pg. 31).
He notes based on the way courts are using such reasoning he notes, “all the votes of religious citizens for almost any issue could be found invalid by court decree,” (pg. 31).
2. It overrides the will of the people.
He cites a Colorado Constitutional Amendment that prohibited giving special (not equal) rights to homosexuals that passed with 52% of the vote, and was overturned in 1996 by the Supreme Court because it didn’t have “a rational relationship to legitimate state issues.”. So he notes:
In other words, religious or moral reasons that were sincerely held by the citizens of Colorado were not “rational” reasons. Their votes did not count because they used religious reasons to decide their vote, (pg. 32).
3. It changes freedom of religion into freedom from religion.
From the perspective of American history, another reason that “exclude religion” is a wrong view point is that it twists the positive ideal of “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom from all religious influence” – which is something that is entirely different and something the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the US Constitution never intended.
In fact, the “exclude religion from politics” view would invalidate the very reasoning of the Declaration of Independence, on which the United States of America was founded, (pg. 32).
He correctly notes that the First Amendment was never intended to guarantee that the public square should be free from religious influence.
4. It wrongly restricts freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
With the “free exercise” clause in the First Amendment it is directly opposed to the “exclude religion from government” view as those who promote it seek to prohibit religious people from exercising their religious freedom when engaging in the political process.
5. It was never adopted by the American people.
There is nothing codified stating such view. It has never underwent the scrutiny of the democratic process. Instead it has been enacted in different levels through judicial review by unelected, unaccountable judges which Grudem notes were “taking to itself powers it never legitimately had,” (pg. 35).
6. It removes from government God’s teaching about good and evil.
Grudem states that the Bible says that a government official is God’s servant for our good, (Romans 13:4). He asks, “how can government officials effectively serve God if no one is allowed to tell them what they believe God expects of them?” How can government officials know how to punish evil and praise those who do good, (1 Peter 2:14) if nobody can counsel them on what is good and what is evil?
He concludes by saying:
Since all absolute standards are in some way based on religious convictions and a sense of moral accountability to God, this view would tend to remove from the entire nation any sense of moral standards or any sense that there is any clear way of knowing right from wrong. Therefore, the ultimate goal of this viewpoint is not only for the destruction of all belief in God, but also the complete moral disintegration of a society, (pg. 36).
This view should be rejected wholesale by not only Christians, but anyone who cares about religious liberty.
Note: For further reading, I commend “Wayne Grudem vs. Greg Boyd: Christian View of Civil Government” over at Caffeinated Theology to you.