Entanglement


There are so many stories out there right now concerning church-state relations.  This story from GetReligion speaks of the entanglement of law and religion in the matter of faith healing when children die.  In the past, other couples have been convicted of reckless homicide for not seeking the aid of a doctor.

While I certainly thank God for antibiotics and make use of doctors and nurses (believing that God is actually more glorified in working through ordinary means), I cannot absolutely condemn all occurrences of “faith healing.”  Part of this admission is based on the simple fact that I do not know how much the parents knew about the disease of the child or the ease of access to the remedy.  For instance, I know of a family whose daughter had migraines.  They prayed for her, but she died.  They had no idea they should have been seeking advanced medical help.

In the case mentioned in the story above, there was most likely a good deal of knowledge about the child’s condition, and the parents should have gotten help for the child.  However, we are treading on very dangerous grounds when that determination is given over to a government official.  Not only is this a potential overstep into the private lives of citizens by the government; it may also be a violation of the 1st Amendment of the constitution–establishing religious doctrine.  Can the government tell a citizen it is wrong for him to live by a faith conviction?  What if the government decides that it endangers the life (psychologically–as in Doe v. Bolton) of a 15 year-old to have a baby?  The government might mandate abortions in such a case.  Should parents who dissent for religious reasons be subject to penalty under law for their refusal?  Is medical treatment an obligation, a duty, a right, or a privilege?  Ought citizens to be forced into medical treatment? Which treatments are mandatory?

There are so many knotty issues concerning church and state.  I certainly believe these parents should have had their daughter treated (both for theological and practical reasons).  Their case, however, is one of individual liberty and the role of church and state.  We can clearly see that minors deserve some protections.  We will not ever be comfortable with decisions others make for their children; however, we should also be willing to recognize a fundamental duty of parents to be the primary decision makers for their children.

One Nation Under God (2)


 

Is it true that our greatest danger is keeping God out?  I think it is and will offer some examples in just a moment, but I hesitate in going further at this point under the weight of objection which I sense at the claim that we need God in our national conscience (including our political considerations).  What about the Salem witch trials?  Won’t it mean we will execute people for their beliefs (or unbelief)?  What about the Inquisition?  The Crusades?  It seems there will be no end to the bloodshed once theology enters the discussion, right?

 

Well, what about the Salem witch trials?  The Salem Witch Trials are much more easily tossed out as fodder for feeding anti-Christian animosity than they are understood in their political significance.  Sure, it is not good to burn witches.  On that point, Christians and secularists agree.  Indeed, one will search long and hard attempting to find a Christian who will advocate burning anyone to death for any reason.  Still, the trials did happen, and people did die; it was tragic.

 

The Salem Witch Trials were sparked by Samuel Parris when a group of young girls suffered from unexplained delusions.  The enigmatic expressions gave Mr. Parris an opportunity to exact vengeance on his unsuspecting enemies.  From there, the hysteria grew.  More and more folks besides Mr. Parris began hurling witchcraft accusations against those labeled enemies or those deemed enigmatic.  At the conclusion of the hysteria, 20 people had been hanged: 14 women and 6 men, with some others having died in prison.

 

I neither wish to condone such abhorrent behavior nor defend it.  However, if one is inclined to allude to these trials as an example of why God and faith ought to be kept out of public policy debate, then three further points ought to be considered.  First, Christians are the very ones who appealed for the practices to stop.  Cotton Mather, who himself opposed witchcraft, urged restraint, arguing that it would be much better for 10 accused witches to go free than it would for even one innocent witch to be burned.  Christians held other Christians to account for these wrongs which were committed. 

 

There was a very public call for repentance in Salem; there was a day of public prayer and fasting for forgiveness.  Anne Putnam, one of the original delusional girls, publicly confessed her guilt and sought repentance and restoration, as did Samuel Sewall.  Sewall—as a magistrate—judged the witch trials and was very much broken by a confrontation he had with Matthew 12:7.  He confessed his guilt publicly, repented, and sought forgiveness and reconciliation with the people of Salem.  He would later become the chief justice of Massachusetts.  So, Christians—because they believe very much in a higher order of law than either themselves or the state—recognize that each man individually and all societies corporately have another authority—a higher justice—to which they are bound.  The reality of higher justice serves to offer correction for errors along the way.  Salem corrected herself. 

 

Second, arguments which appeal to the Salem affair must acknowledge that it was not a major event on the scale of even the smaller wars and conflicts we have faced as a nation.  I do not mean here to diminish the value of the two dozen lives lost—not at all—for that would itself be a non-Christian thing to do, since each human life is created in the image of God and, thus, has great value.  What I am saying, however, is that Christians will make mistakes just like non-Christians.  Though Christians have access to the revealed truth from God, they don’t always act rightly upon such revelation.  This is a fair and honest assessment.  The mistake of wrongful execution is serious, but this particular case of it pales in comparison to the wrongful executions committed by non-Christians.  And, this kind of argument is a two-edged sword which would, if followed faithfully, rule science out of political discourse along with religion. 

 

Scientists, like Christians, make mistakes, too.  I don’t mean simply that scientists make mistakes such as the mathematical one which recently shut down the 2 billion dollar CERN collider project.  I mean tragic human mistakes such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, which left 400 patients untreated for scientific purposes.  Approximately 140 of these patients died as a direct result of not being treated.  In addition, forty of their wives and 19 of their children were infected, all of which could have been avoided with simple penicillin (which had become available, but the victims were neither told about it nor offered it… for scientific reasons).  Whatever weight one gives to Salem for keeping God out of public policy debate, he has 5 times the weight of evidence to keep science out.  As Christians, however, we do not wish to keep either out, for both are indications not of inherent problems with science or with Christianity, rather, inherent problems with humanity.  We are born under sin, and we will sin.  Thus, we need correctives.  We need higher order authority.  This is true whether we are Christian ministers or lab technicians.  This is why we have checks and balances in our government.

 

Third, as has been hinted at with the above reference to Samuel Sewall, the trials were carried out by civil authorities, not the church.  Obviously, church and state were too intertwined to speak of much of a difference between them, and, being a Baptist, I would agree that such an intertwined affinity is unhelpful both for the church and the state.  However, this conviction does not at all lead to the conclusion that earnest Christians should be barred from public policy.  If the hard line is maintained between the Christian church and the state, then how might a Christian serve at all in public office?  The anti-Christian zealot may quickly reply, “He shouldn’t. If he can’t keep his religious beliefs to himself, then he ought not be allowed to serve in office.” 

 

My reply is simply to ask what kind of a public servant is able to serve while keeping his beliefs to himself.  If one is able to accomplish such a thing, he is a hypocrite.  Would we say that only hypocrites can run for office?  Maybe only hypocrites do run for office.  Sometimes it seems that way, but we know it isn’t true.  And—more importantly—we do not desire for it to be true.  We elect people who we believe will keep their word and deliver on their promises.  The Christian ought not be hypocritical about his Christianity, and he ought to be welcomed in the public policy debate.  If he is not, then the political climate has become the opposite of what Mr. Meacham has argued for—free.  It is not free if a significant proportion of the population is ruled out of bounds simply because they believe just about the same thing most of the history of our nation believes.

God or Government


We typically ask about the relationship between God and government. It may be that the issue is God or government. 

As it turns out, the more dependent people become on the government, the more ungodly they become.  To put the matter another way, faith in government diminishes faith in God.  A recent article spells out the implications of Obama’s attempt to hook more and more people on federal funds.  Dependency on government money, healthcare, education, and employment leads to a lack of faith in God.

 

This article makes and defends these assertions.  If one were to question the consequences of government action seriously, he would need to look no further than the problem of absent fathers among African-American families.  Look at the state of the black family in the 1960’s and compare it with more recent figures.  The war on poverty was a war on families because it taught so many to depend on the government.  Even with the best of intentions, liberal welfare policies undermine faith and family.