Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Separation of Church and State?

Deuteronomy 17-18 describes the roles of Kings, Priests and Prophets. (Judges are mentioned in chapter 16 but I guess without the temporal power of the King their authority would be limited.) Although they're all described together in a cluster and apart from the command for a priest to remind the King of the law (17:18-19), they're just plonked down next to each other. I think what we're seeing here is colliding spheres of authority, an uneasy coexistence rather than the estranged relationship described by the phrase "separation of church and state"  The slogan is meant to protect law-abiding citizens from nefarious bishops and keep innocent congregations safe from meddling politicians. The problem however is that neither the church or the state are neutral or limited to their own narrow spheres. Historically these three spheres have always existed and will do so until the end of humanity on this side of eternity, so it's better to consider their relationship and ideological nature then become spiritual hobbits focused on our own little pietistic patch or moral campaigners forever reacting to some new crisis. What I'm suggesting is not method for interacting with film or responding to abortion but a paradigm for understanding how those two things fit in the larger scheme of things.

[Nathan and King David.]

4 comments:

Radagast said...

But what does "Separation of Church and State" mean? It does NOT mean that religion is relegated to the private sphere.

"Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention... they mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State... This led me to examine more attentively than I had hitherto done the station which the American clergy occupy in political society. I learned with surprise that they filled no public appointments;" -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Chris said...

Philip Jensen has referenced separation of church and state in some of his sermons. Tl;dr version is that it's a helpful concept, but very messy in practice. You might be able to find something on his blog.

Steve Isham said...


The state does not acknowledge the "religion" that by and large impels it -- the humanist spirit of the age.

Jon Eastgate said...

Yes, I think the concept was not intended to make the State irreligious, so much as a bulwark against persecution or co-option, the latter working both ways. It was, in a sense, a pragmatic response to the growing religious pluralism that came out of the Reformation and its aftermath. Catholics and Protestants, established churches and non-conformists, needed to be able to live in peace and to ensure this the institutions of the State needed to be non-partisan.