So I recently posted to FB this Stephen Colbert quote about being a Christian nation, and confronting ourselves about the way the state treats the poor; we either have to pretend that Jesus didn't actually provide a mandate to help the poor, or we have to admit that this mandate exists and we decide to ignore it.
The post got some pretty antagonistic comments, saying Jesus had no relationship to the State and that no one wants to consider their nation a Christian nation.
I thought that this antagonism, which was completely good natured and authentic, was actually an interesting thing. These ideas are used to silence a debate we need to have both in the United Kingdom and in America, an important emotional debate. According to the numbers and the best principles of democracy, both the United Kingdom and the United States are Christian nations. Yet somehow everyone does not want to talk about that, thinking that the separation of church and state demands among educated liberals some kind of eerie silence about what values they hold dear and what virtues they want the state to accomplish. We have little content for ideas such as justice when we rob ourselves of our scriptures. The desire people have to honor their God and their faith in their vote is pretty overwhelming, and that desire is being skewed in US politics into some pretty unhealthy and unhappy avenues.
Even if you never want to mention your faith what about your vote? What about your political participation? Jesus did not create the State, but we as taxpayers and citizens who say we follow Jesus do create the State. If Jesus shouldered that burden, what would he do? Can't that be a way of thinking about these issues?
I am not frightened of having this dialogue, because I think what would emerge quickly is that radical tolerance and respect for persons is in fact a key principle of Christianity, perhaps the very principle that informed and inhabited the Constitution. Let's see what Thomas Jefferson had to say.
(Preamble to the Virginia Disestablishment Bill of 1779)
Well aware . . . that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that it shall remain free by making it insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burdens, or by civil incapacitiations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness; and a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord of both body and mind, yet chose not to propogate it by coercion on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend in by its influence to reason along, that the impious presumptions of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through time . . . "
Disestablishment was the virtue that a true display of his religious faith mandated. But then, still, the State, what is it to do? Disestablishment must continue, but what is the truth? What should we be doing? What should we do to save our earth, and feed our hungry? Can a Christian have borders in her concerns for the world? Look, I quit that club (Ok, probably not really considering how much time I still spend on the whole matter) but you haven't! I know so many people who have a Christian faith. I would love to hear them addressing these questions.