separation of church and state

Living as a Democrat in rural, Republican Florida challenges one’s sense of inclusiveness and social propriety.  A recent controversy in local politics regarding funding our library’s request to make the New York Times available online to library cardholders is a case in point. My friend at BY HOOK OR BY BOOK has shared a great post regarding this issue.  It is indicative of a population which refuses to leave the 1950s.

On Florida’s horizon is a bill filed by a State Senator which would require courses be made available in our public schools at taxpayers’ expense providing studies of the Bible.  The following is the letter which I have submitted to our local newspaper.

State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing the Ocala region, has filed SB 746 to be considered during the 2020 legislative session. The bill would require courses providing studies of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in public schools. According to the sponsors of the bill, “all state and federal laws and guidelines maintaining religious neutrality” would be maintained.

One can easily favor this endeavor to educate students regarding religious doctrine because the writers of SB 746 guarantee that such studies would not “endorse, favor, or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward a particular religion, religious perspective, or nonreligious faith.”

Certainly it would be educational and advantageous for students to learn about man’s trek across the numerous religious philosophies created throughout history by holy men, theologians and scholars to instruct, comfort and control the masses. However, knowing the history of our state’s policy-makers, can we be assured that their explicit guarantee of neutrality will be followed? It sounds reassuring today, but, what will our teachers, students, and public schools face 5 or 10 years from now? Would it not be wiser to focus this Christian educational effort in the hands of the experts in religious education – our county’s esteemed parochial schools where children are educated in an atmosphere conducive to their family’s beliefs?

Of course, should these religious studies include all the major faiths of our world including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam among others worthy of study, then, perhaps this bill could provide a well-rounded education to young people regarding various man-created philosophies of religious belief.

The key word in SB 746 is public – public education system. It is our duty to oversee and maintain this public system serving the diversity of religions, races, creeds, and lifestyles which make us a strong melting-pot nation. E Pluribus Unum, on the Great Seal of the United States, was a motto included on the seal in 1782. It means “out of many, one.” That is who we are. We are one people, one nation worshipping or not worshipping as conscience dictates. We are church people and synagogue people and mosque people and temple people. I applaud our legislators’ work to introduce religious studies into our public schools, but let’s include all faiths as worthy of study, not just Christianity and Judaism. I would enjoy a course in Buddhism, my neighbor favors Islam. Red-blooded American citizens, we are E PLURIBUS UNUM.

paying for forgiveness

money changers

Some pictures from Bible stories have more staying power than others.  As a young boy, I remember thinking, “OK, what’s all the fuss about?”

The cleansing of the temple of the merchants and moneychangers is recorded in all four of the canonical Gospels: Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48) and near the start in the Gospel of John (at John 2:13–16).

Historically, this was the way things were done 2000 years ago.  Supply and demand was a principle of economics back then in Jewish culture just as it is now.  The religious hierarchy established sacrifice as the only way to come before God and the temple merchants capitalized on the edict.  Name your price was the rule of the day.  The wealthy would buy an ox to sacrifice, the upper-middle class a lamb, the less prosperous a dove, and the destitute a sparrow.  Widows and orphans sacrificed enormously of their personal holdings to buy a pair of sparrows for their sacrifice at the altar of God.

The Roman Catholic Church picked up on this practice using cash rather than animals as the price for penance and forgiveness.  When Martin Luther came onto the scene the custom was challenged.  Thank you Martin.  Today, we accept forgiveness and grace as a free gift from an Almighty God who demands nothing in return other than our transformed lives.

But, how does this Bible story fit into our lives today as Christians, as followers of the man who overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple?  Jesus upset the tables of commercialization in the temple, of the cozy relationship between religion and money.  How does it apply today?

“What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire.”  cac.org

I think we can truthfully make the transition naming the unholy interaction of religion and government as today’s temple moneychangers.  Separation of church and state is not just about a feared, theoretical bogeyman awaiting in our temples of worship to create a theocracy such as Israel experienced during the times of Jesus.  The threat to America’s separation of church and state is real and it is entirely possible considering today’s national politics.  We are hanging on to a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution which must be vigilantly protected collectively by those of us who are believers and those of us who are not.  Our government bedded down with our prostituted churches are not empowered by anyone’s God to impose a nationally sanctioned theology.

Father Richard Rohr goes on to say about Jesus today:

“I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God. Richard Rohr @ cac.org 

Jesus deeply understood justice because the society in which he lived was harshly unjust.  The Judaism of his day snuggled cozily in the Roman bed of nationalism to create a society which severely oppressed the common man.  Jesus, the human, was a revolutionary and a zealot in his short lifetime and paid the ultimate price on the cross.  He, along with thousands like him, suffered the horrors of crucifixion because he stood up for justice for all mankind, all of God’s creation.

Am I also willing to suffer for what I believe to be right?  Would I carry my cross to my personal Calvary?  How about you?  Scoffers beware.  We are quickly entering the national scenario where a segment of Christians historically claiming to be the persecuted are becoming the persecutors.

rainbow-solidarity