The Rev. Michael Macdonald
May 13, 2005
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Mike Macdonald*
idea of keeping church and state separate did not come from
politicians. It came from Anabaptists (ancestors of the Baptists,
Mennonites and Amish) who were being persecuted by the secular
authorities because they dissented from the official state religion.
Their idea was that all should be equal members of a civil state. There
should be freedom of conscience. The government should not favor some
believers by subsidizing their churches, nor should it imprison and
persecute other groups of believers.
lesson of history is that when political power and religious power are
intermingled, secular power prevails and true religion suffers. At the
extreme is modern Iran, where power-hungry fanatics use religion as a
means to rule.
West saw the same thing in medieval times. With the election of the new
pope, we have been treated to the history of the papacy. Stories abound
of ancient popes who were murderers or who led armies into battle, and
of the papacy being auctioned off like a repossessed car. This was
because the papacy had become a means to worldly powers and riches.
The separation of church and state does more to protect the church than the state.
is why I am disturbed by the statements and actions of Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Frist recently characterized the Democratic
effort to block a dozen or so of President Bush’s judicial nominees as
an attack “against people of faith.”
have no public position for or against the Democratic effort to
filibuster against the nominations, or the Republican effort to break
the logjam and install the judges. There are strong arguments to be made
for and against both viewpoints. Patriotic Americans with deep and
sincere convictions about the right course of action can be found on
both sides of the argument. People acting in good faith can disagree
about the right course of action.
is why it is wrong for Sen. Frist to characterize the Democrats’
actions as an attack on people of faith. The inescapable implication is
that anyone who agrees with the Democrats’ course of action not only
lacks faith but is anti-faith. In other words, all people of real faith
agree with the Republicans’ stand on this issue. At best, this is
narrow-minded; at worst, it is the cynical manipulation of faith for
is neither possible nor desirable for people to ignore their faith in
forming their political beliefs. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and
other civil rights leaders made no apologies for citing their religious
beliefs as justification for their political actions. People who are
opposed to abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds have as much
right to state their beliefs, and politick for them, as people who are
pro-choice and for gay marriage have the right to state their beliefs
and politick for them.
The line is crossed when politicians
imply or state that all people of genuine faith are on their side. I
have no problem when politicians say faith influences their position on
capital punishment, abortion or a state lottery. I do have a problem
when politicians try to use faith as a club to beat up their opponents.
an evangelical Christian, my concern is not the political ramifications
of this commingling of politics and religion. It is the negative effect
on evangelism that I worry about.
I am trying to persuade a person to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord
and Savior, one of the most useful verses is Romans 10:9: “If you
confess with your lips, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that
God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
reading of this statement means that in order to become a born-again
Christian, it is not necessary to become either a Republican or a
Democrat. I would hate to lose potential Christian converts because they
thought accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior also meant being a member of
a particular political party.
pentecostal Church is a church that overcomes differences of class,
language, race and even politics. Lord knows most of us are excessively
homogeneous. No one who intentionally makes it more difficult for
Republicans and Democrats to worship together is seeking first the
Kingdom of God.
*Macdonald is pastor of Broad Street United Methodist Church in Mooresville, N.C.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.