Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Religion should be welcome in the public square.

Secularism seeks to marginalize religion and faith in our public life.  However, that's neither good nor possible.  Here's an insight interview with historian and legal scholar John Witte from Emory University.  He points out the myths and confusion rampant on the separation of church and state issue.

He notes that Christianity is of the backbones of our legal, political and social institutions.
Certainly in the Western legal tradition, Christianity was one of the backbones of many legal, political and social institutions that we take for granted today. At least from the 5th to the 18th century, Christianity provided many of the ideas and institutions of marriage and family, human rights and constitutionalism and more on which the Enlightenment and modern liberalism continued to build.

Our starting assumption is the opposite: that religion is often a permanent part of the infrastructure of modern law, politics and society.
The contemporary separation of church and state notion is a myth.
...the 1970s understanding of separation of church and state that said, “Religion is private; religion is dying; religion has nothing useful to say and is an illegitimate conversation partner in modern law, politics and society.”

That’s not what the Constitution demands, it’s not what the culture needs, and it’s ultimately not where religion should settle.

We need both public and private expressions of religion in all peaceable forms. Religious views should be welcomed into public life, because they provide leaven for the polity to improve, and valuable examples and practices of how to organize our lives and laws in a better way. Religions should be part of deep political conversation, and they should be taken into account as we craft our state laws and policies.
He believes the church has an important role to play in society.  A moral, ethical role.  And interestingly, the changes coming to our welfare state's approach to social concerns are inevitable - our current welfare system isn't sustainable.  The church will have to step up to the plate.
First, the church has always had the power of prophecy. The church and its clerical leadership are responsible for speaking truth to power -- enduring truths as communicated in Scripture and tradition. That prophetic role is particularly necessary during crisis moments.

Second, the church has a pedagogical role in teaching society by example, and sometimes by instruction, how to live the moral life and how to live fully in conformity with the wisdom of Scripture and the tradition.

And at least on issues of marriage and family and sexuality, on issues of charity, on education, religious freedom and human rights, the church’s record is checkered. It’s important that the church provide an alternative example of what the prophets and what Christ himself offered us and instructed us to do.

Third, the church and its leadership have a unique opportunity to play a critical role to fill in the gaps that are increasingly beginning to show in the social welfare net.

We have to recognize that in the 21st century, and into the 22nd, the social welfare state as we know it today will be no more. The capacity of the West -- even the affluent West -- to maintain the system of support that we have given to “the least of these” is going to diminish severely, if not evaporate.
The church is going to have to be one of many voluntary associations that step into the traditional role it has always played in serving, protecting, nurturing and providing for the least in society, and not relying upon the state to do that work.
Fourth, the church has in the Scriptures, and in the life of Christ, a perfect example of how to live by the letter and the spirit of the law.
One thing that the church can do is to teach society what it means to live fully and honorably by the first and the greatest commandment, which is to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself, and exemplify what that means in concrete legal, political and social terms.

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