Trump candidacy makes case for separation of church and state

Trump candidacy makes case for separation of church and state October 24, 2016

 

 

Evangelical support for the GOP presidential nominee may do more to trivialize faith and secularize America than any liberal or card carrying ACLU member. As of October 14, two-thirds of Evangelicals still supported Donald Trump for the nation’s highest office.

Although Trump has pledged to better protect religious freedom by, among other things, appointing socially conservative US Supreme Court justices leading to the repeal of marriage equality, there’s a much larger issue. By actively lowering the wall of church and state, a Faustian relationship is consummated where both faith and government are compromised.

Trump has patronized many Evangelicals supporting the misguided position that pastors in the pulpit should make political endorsements. If it were to occur, faith and spirituality become politicized.  The holy and divine will appear less sacred, less removed from the mundane.

Although several high level Evangelical leaders have distanced or abandoned Trump, most recently for revelations regarding his lewd objectifications of women that may amount to sexual assault, many prominent religious conservatives are either defending Trump or remain awkwardly indifferent.

In a recent interview, Ben Carson, former GOP presidential candidate and a champion of Christian conservative values rationalized the comments of groping women by a twice divorced, three times married man with a pregnant wife at the time, as “banter” that “goes around all the time.”

Ralph Reed, a Christian evangelical with a checkered ethical past as a lobbyist, is standing behind Trump as is Jerry Falwell Jr.,whose father founded Liberty University. Both preach forgiveness, omitting accountability, while arguing the future matters, not the past.

Liberty University students issued a statement distancing themselves and their school from Trump. Falwell, the school’s current president, responded by calling the students “misguided” and re-enforced the notion of forgiveness.

In a condescending and defensive response Falwell said, “This student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.”

The student statement ended with “while everyone is a sinner and everyone can be forgiven, a man who constantly and proudly speaks evil does not deserve our support for the nation’s highest office.”

The focus on forgiveness without balancing it with accountability almost makes redemption meaningless. Why jail the rapist, the attacker, the bank robber, or corrupt politician? Let God forgive and all is well. Abused children in the Catholic Church were told to forgive bad priests and keep their mouth shut.  Forgiveness without accountability is wrong.

The early idea of keeping church and state separate had nothing to do with containing, marginalizing, or subordinating the holy to the secular. It had everything to do with making sure the divine was never soiled by the secular.  The Christian right has forgotten the lessons of history.

In 1600s, John Smyth called for a distinction between church and state. Roger Williams, founder of Providence, Rhode Island, sought a church-state separation wall in 1644. His concerns were not the formal establishment of a government religion. He feared the negative impact civil structures could have on the sacred, absent clear boundaries. He referred to keeping the “wilderness of the world” from compromising God’s “garden” and “paradise.”[1]

In 1773, Isaac Backus wrote, “Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state not because they’re interests of the state but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state.”[2]

Although there is growing displeasure and condemnation of Trump by Evangelicals, especially women, prominent social conservatives, and Christian student activists, there always seemed a disconnect between Evangelical  ethics and morality and the former casino owner with a Machiavellian-take-no-prisoners approach in business. Before revelations about his aggression toward women, plenty of evidence existed to give Christian conservatives pause, evidenced by comments denigrating Muslims, immigrants without legal status, and women he perceived as unattractive.

Donald Trump’s candidacy should give all persons of faith another reason why the wall between church and state should be strengthened. No pastor – liberal or conservative – should use his or her pulpit to endorse any candidate.

Paul Jesep is an attorney and seminary trained, ordained Eastern Orthodox priest. He is author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis” and “Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America.”

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[1] See Walter B. Shurden, “address Delivered at the Sixtieth Celebration of the Baptist Joint Committee, October 8, 1996, Washington, D.C., centerForBaptistStuides.org and John E. Semonche, Religion & Constitutional Government in the United States (Carrboro, North Carolina: signal Books, 1985), p. 6.  Semonche cites Roger Williams, “Mr. Cottons Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered, 1644,” in The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, 7 vols. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963). See also roger Williams, “A Pleas for Religious Liberty,” ReligiousFreedom.lib.virginia.edu.

[2] Isaac Backus, “An Appeal for Religious Liberty.”

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