Faith and Public Policy 2017 WDCUncategorized

Pilgrim and Citizen: The Combination of Church and State

One of the main topics of conversation for this Faith and Public Policy Immersion has been the idea of separation of Church and State. The Johnson Amendment prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from officially endorsing or opposing political candidates. It is essentially a law that forces organizations such as charitable foundations, public universities, and churches to be non-partisan in order to receive tax breaks. What is interesting, however, is that the majority of faith-based groups properly observing this amendment are the mainline protestant and/or leftist churches. Most religious republicans have spoken out against the Johnson Amendment and sought to repeal it, claiming that it opposes religious freedom and free speech. It is no wonder, then, that the majority of Evangelicals or Christian Conservatives preached partisan politics in this past election cycle; almost all of them supporting 45th.
To be honest with you reader, part of me wants to advocate for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment so that progressive and social justice based organizations and churches could occupy the pulpit and preach endorsing or opposing sermons. If the majority of conservative Christians can do it without punishment (receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from their mega-church donations while also getting tax breaks from the IRS) then why should I listen to my Church’s teaching on the subject? Why should I get in trouble if my organization tells its congregation to vote for a person whose ideals and vision for america matches that of the Kingdom of God’s (universal healthcare=healing, free education=wisdom, sustainable/renewable resources=stewardship)? The Church would then be taking the high road that leads to equality and justice instead of simple passive religious morality. And yet, this immersion has not convinced me that this argument is sound. Rather, it has showed me the importance of the Johnson Amendment.
One of the issues with partisan religiosity is that the Church or churches would not be unified. Having St. So-n-so support a particular candidate and St. One-of-the-Disciples opposing the same candidate would cause another protestant reformation and further dismantle an already unstable foundation. The Church/churches cannot build its identity on a political authority or party because its identity has already been claimed–that is, we see ourselves in/as the personification of God through Jesus Christ. The best example so far, for me at least, was the National Service Commemorating Memorial Day at the Washington National Cathedral.
The Episcopal stone titan claims its position and authority among other marbled titanic buildings in the capitol. Its massive Notre-Dame like architecture is a statement of heavenly power and greatly contrasts with the white columns housing the power of worldly law and order. Large stained glass windows radiate iconic light, offsetting the electrical chandeliers hanging in the nave; and as one looks up he/she/they will see every state represented by its flag hanging overhead. The cathedral’s presence is clear, all are welcome regardless of your political affiliation because there is one King, Governor, and Ruler of all–and he is seated at the right hand of God almighty.
After finding our seats, my colleague Angel and I readied ourselves for the service. The organ blasted, the choir chanted, and the entrance hymn begun.
“O God of every nation,
of every, race and land,
redeem the whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are huled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world…

Keep bright in us the vision
of days when war shall cease,
when hatred and division
give way to love and peace,
till dawns the morning glorious
when truth and justice reign
and Christ shall rule victorious
O’er all the world’s domain.”
Following the entrance hymn and opening acclamation, a statement regarding today’s holiday by Harry S. Truman was read. It placed the focus of Memorial Day not on the commemoration of war and victory; but rather it emphasized that Memorial day is a day in which all people of the United States should come together to pray for peace. This statement was followed by the National Anthem, a song I admittedly have not sung since arriving at seminary three years ago. Singing it in a church, a cathedral nonetheless, to the heralding sounds of the church’s great organ made me proud to be an American–this coming from an staunch anti-nationalism advocate.
The Collect for Thanksgiving for Heroic Service petitioned to the “Judge of the nations” that “we may not rest until all the people of this land share in the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.” The Wisdom of Solomon (3.1-5, 9) was read afterwards; followed by the singing of Psalm 46:
“God is our refuge and strength…
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
Be still, then, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Gospel of John (15.9-13) was then read, another hymn (Precious Lord, take my hand) sung, and the Right Reverend Carl W. Wright (Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries) gave a wonderful homily. Prayers for the nation, for the Armed Forces, for the Remembrance of the Fallen (the playing of TAPS), for Memorial Day, for Peace (from the Native American, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions), and the closing prayer followed the sermon. We sang “My country, ‘tis of thee” as the concluding hymn.
I relay to you the order of service for two reasons: one is that the Episcopal tradition relies heavily on liturgy to proclaim its theology. Liturgical theology is not only a course for seminarians to check off their list of requirements but it is also the foundation on which their ministry is rooted. The theology of this particular Memorial Day liturgy segues me into my second reason–that it was a perfect example of how to do Faith and Public Policy.
Yes, we Christians in America are citizens of the United States. We follow laws on local, state, and federal levels. Because of our citizenship, we can even fight for or against those laws through our guaranteed right to freedom of expression, press, and religion. It is the latter, however, that gives us the moral and ethical lens through which we examine such laws. We are both pilgrims and citizens. As Christians, we represent both the Kingdom of Heaven and the Empire of Caesar; however, we mustn’t forget which one is our primary identity. First and foremost, we belong to God–a gracious ruler and just caregiver. Secondly, we belong to our nation state–a creation, representation, and enactment of human law. At times the two collide, and it is up to us to reconcile the differences. But when faith remains non-partisan, it has the ability to call out the injustices of worldly law by pointing to heavenly commandments rooted in Love. That is when public policy advocates can become prophets to Jerusalem. It is then that a man from Bethlehem has the ability and authority to call out the injustices of the empire and those temple elites/one-percenters! It is then that we are called to follow Jesus’ footsteps and become both pilgrims on our way to the Kingdom of God and citizens of the United States of America. We must be the change. Create the change. See the change.
Brook Conner