At the core of any society or culture is a set of shared beliefs about values, ethics and morality. This is why, in spite of efforts to erect a wall between matters of church and state, there will always be an overlap. Every religion in history has addressed issues of right and wrong. In the same way, civil governments establish laws that reflect some set of values. It may be the values of a monarch or of a majority. But virtually every law in every culture has some kind of ethical component. Every law declares what someone or some group of people have decided is good or right or true.
So there will always be an overlap between church and state, because both entities seek to advance what each believes is true and beautiful and good.
In our country, we have given religious groups great freedom and latitude to operate and to express their views. We affirm the right of all people to seek to proselytize and persuade. The presupposition in our country has for centuries been that religious people are better citizens.
In my lifetime, I have seen an erosion of this presupposition. Today, many believe exactly the opposite. Many see religious people as a threat to our culture. If you watched the presidential debates this week, you may have seen this TV ad expressing concern about “the intrusion of religion into our secular government.”
I’m sure no one will be surprised to know that I hold a different view. I believe that our country prospers in every way when people come to know and understand and believe the Bible and seek to live their lives in obedience to God and His ways.
This past week, the US Attorney General made a similar argument in remarks to Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. His speech was not widely covered in a week when the news has been filled with pressing concerns in Syria and Turkey along with ignored subpoenas and NBA games in China. But William Barr’s thoughts about the important role religion plays in a civil society are worth reading and considering. The text of his speech is available here. You really should read the whole thing.
But I’ll offer here three excerpts from his address:
“Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.
No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.
But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.
On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles...”
“In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.
As John Adams put it, ‘We have no government armed with the power which is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other…’”
“In the past, when societies are threatened by moral chaos, the overall social costs of licentiousness and irresponsible personal conduct becomes so high that society ultimately recoils and reevaluates the path that it is on.
But today – in the face of all the increasing pathologies – instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have the State in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.
So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion.
The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites.
The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children.
The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage. While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.
We start with an untrammeled freedom and we end up as dependents of a coercive state on which we depend.”
Those in the media who have commented on Mr. Barr’s speech at Notre Dame have compared it to Nazi propaganda and labeled it as religious bigotry. Some see the connection he draws between Judeo-Christian morality and civil society as something straight out of The Handmaiden’s Tale.
Those who see a brighter day ahead once people and laws are liberated from any religious entanglements don’t have a secular utopia to point to as their model of glory. And that’s because the universal human condition is sin. The American experiment of self-governance has been less than perfect. As Winston Churchill wryly observed “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
Because of the reality of indwelling sin, we will never have in this life the kind of society for which we long. As we see injustice and corruption and moral decline in our world, we join with all creation in groaning, longing for our liberation and for the new heavens and the new earth. We pray “Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
In the meantime, we heed the instruction of scripture for us in 1 Peter 2:11–12: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We have a lot happening the next two weekends at Redeemer. First, pray for the women who will be getting away this weekend for our ladies retreat. And then, be thinking about what you want to bring to our end of daylight savings time fall picnic:
One area where we want to do a better job of communicating with you going forward is in the area of our finances. Going forward, we’ll provide you regular updates on how we’re doing financially as a church.
Here’s the first report. Thanks to your generosity, we are slightly ahead of our budget forecast for the year through the month of September:
Budget expenses through September: $207,000
General giving through September: $229,103
Regarding the building, as we’ve shared with you, we’ve moved forward on some items that were not in our original building plans. If you were in church last Sunday, you saw our new chairs. We have furniture on order for our Family Room. We have just ordered some new chairs for the children’s classrooms. And we’re working on getting some acoustical treatment installed in a few of our classrooms that need it.
Additionally, there were some areas where we experienced unexpected cost overruns in the project.
The good news is that so far this year, we’ve received $104,078 in contributions intended to help offset some of these expenses. And as additional fund come in over and above our operating expenses as a church, we can continue to address other building related priorities.
If you have any questions about the budget or about our expenses, contact Tim Friesen. firstname.lastname@example.org.
What made Jesus so angry that He made a whip and drove merchants and moneychangers from the Temple?
We’ll find out as we continue our study of John 2 this Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!