The principle of separation of church and state is documented in the first amendment to our constitution. Its importance derives from the historical fact that state sponsored religions have been a primary source of tyranny in numerous countries and societies. Our founding fathers wanted to avoid any possible occurrence of an alliance of religion and civil government here, and thus the constitution strictly prohibits the establishment of a favored religion in our society.
As noted above, this guiding principle represents a dramatic change from the historical precedents of the institutional church. The church as an organization came into being during the time of the
Not surprisingly, this new state favored church not only patterned itself after its sponsor organizationally but it also propagated doctrinal positions which lent credence to the sanctity and legitimacy of the Roman government and its emperor. Thus a synergistic relationship between the church and state was formed very early in the history of the institutional church. The tradition established in this earliest church development was thereafter perpetuated in countless church/state alliances throughout
This longstanding, close relationship between church and state has had an undeniable impact on the development of the doctrines associated with so called orthodox Christianity. To suggest that these doctrines were the result of careful and unbiased scriptural analysis as opposed to being developed under the guidance and influence of authoritarian civil rulers is to deny the historical realities.
In that regard, no doctrine of orthodoxy has so well served the needs of both the organized church and its civil sponsors than that of future judgment and eternal punishment. Anything that instilled fear and encouraged subservience was welcomed by a church which needed members to do its bidding and the government which required taxpayers, soldiers, and docile, longsuffering citizens.
Though Americans have paid lip service to the church state separation issue, our mainstream churches have largely preached a “gospel” which supported and sanctioned the workings of the civil government, its laws, and its policies. No group promotes patriotism as a crowning virtue like the church does. Patriotism, despite the great significance attached to it by many, is really nothing more than unquestioning loyalty to ones country (the “my country right or wrong” mentality). In this unrelenting promotion of patriotism as a virtuous necessity, the church has served the purpose of the state most admirably. In countless other ways the church has provided biblical justification for the actions of the state and thereby encouraged public support. Often these same actions were later repudiated as a more enlightened and egalitarian citizenry re-evaluated past practices.
In return, the
More pointedly, the most fundamentalist of our churches cry out for even greater interaction between church and state. They even claim that the founding fathers did not really oppose a church/state relationship. If these groups had their way, we would be living under their notion of a theocratic state.
The church’s continued propagation of a message of an eternally angry and wrathful God has created and sustained an atmosphere of fear, conflict, and recrimination in our society which then colors all our political processes, legal systems, and government policies. Despite our lack of an officially sanctioned religion, we still feel the effects of an organized church which is allied, if unofficially, with the civil government. We, therefore, suffer the effects of a “de facto” church/state alliance. There is little wonder that the secularly minded among us are so vociferous in denouncing church/state collusion. The historical precedents indicate nothing but negative consequences from such intimacy.