Word from the Center: Friday, August 31, 2018

Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s topic/issue…

Separation or Intersection of Church and State?

This fall, our nation is debating the aptitude and viability of a candidate for a life-long appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. The process has become vitriolic over the years as political partisanship has infected the examination process to the point where people want to know “how you would vote” on this issue or that, rather than determining whether or not you are qualified for this position. Recently, even a person’s religious convictions have been on trial, as political appointees have been asked “religious litmus test” questions to determine their fitness for public service. One Senator even insinuated that believing in the uniqueness of Jesus as the world’s Savior is discriminatory, making one unfit for public service in America. Wow! Does it really? Actually, not at all. That’s one reason why the founders had no “religious test” for public service. So, where do we go from here?

First, one should be able to speak about the relationship of the Christian tradition to the constitutional liberties that we hold so dear. The very foundations of individual rights and responsibilities, the right to public property, the right to redress the government, the protection of the rule of law for all… these fundamental principles are rooted in a biblical worldview ofculture. So much so that those who are alarmed by the idea of committed Christians being in influential, public positions miss the point. The Judeo-Christian tradition, with its emphasis on the rule of law and the dignity of the individual before the law, forms the foundation of the very liberties that our branches of government are sworn to protect. (See Adam MacLeod’s article, “Why Judge Kavanaugh’s Religion Should Be an Issue,” for a more detailed discussion of the biblical and cultural roots of the rule of law tradition.)

Why does all this matter? Well, in our culture, judges are supposed to be able to understand the law, respect the law, and, most importantly, not create the law. The separation of the branches of government, which often frustrates the intentions of politicians, be they part of the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, or the Judiciary, was philosophically by design. The branches were meant to be limited in their sphere, even in competition with each other at times, so that the political, coercive power of the government would not coalesce in one place alone to the determent of the citizen’s individual freedom. The limiting of their sphere of influence and the clear differentiation of their work from one another are the safeguards of liberty for us all.

Ironically, the Christian tradition, with Christ’s injunction to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” undergirds this type of differentiation and limitation even further. Christians, especially devoted Christians, understand that their calling in the world is to be faithful within the vocations to which they are called. With the Christian tradition being the intellectual seedbed for many of the constitutional ideals that we enjoy and the judicial “rule of law” perspective that guards such freedoms, maybe it’s time to really understand why Judge Kavanaugh’s religion should be an issue. Or maybe it’s better to stay with the perspective of the Founders who would emphasize that a Supreme Court justice needs to understand and respect the law, but not create the law, and leave it at that.

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