Monday, July 9, 2007

Proclaim to all

Reading further about Harold O.J. Brown [who died on Sunday, see the post immediately below], I came across several articles and reviews he wrote for Christianity Today over the years. One of them, from 1976, spoke to the question of the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment, and the issue of a "wall of separation":
No American historian would seriously contend that the phrase "regarding an establishment of religion" in the First Amendment means anything other than what it says: it forbids the establishment of a national religion or church. It did not in fact forbid the establishment of state churches, as both Massachusetts and Connecticut had them at the time of the amendment's adoption and retained them for many years to come. The limitations of federal power contained in the Bill of Rights have subsequently been extended to apply to the individual states as well. Yet even when applied to the states, the First Amendment means only that no state may establish a state church, just as the federal government may not establish a national church. It certainly did not mean, in its conception, that nothing in public law or policy may reflect the convictions or insights of any church or of the Christian religion.

It is absurd to suppose, as the Supreme Court did in a 1961 decision on prayer in public schools, Engel v Vitale, that the recitation of a prayer in public school constitutes an "establishment of religion" in the sense of the First Amendment. In fact, the Court's reasoning in that case was based more on the contention that the state authorities of New York, in formulating or designating a prayer, were becoming "entangled" in a religious issue rather than on the obviously absurd contention that they were thereby establishing a religion.

The transition from the precise and limited prohibition of establishment to a general and all-embracing prohibition of "entanglement" is another way in which the influence, convictions, and counsel of Christians are rendered ineffective. The doctrine of entanglement is derived from a concept that is not constitutional in origin (although it goes back to one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson), namely, the "wall of separation" between church and state. Even though Jefferson himself was opposed to revealed religion and wished to reduce the influence of the Christian churches in American society, his concept of the wall of separation was far less noxious in the early nineteenth century than it has become in our day. In Jefferson's day, government at all levels was extremely limited; there was no compulsory education, for example. Hence to insist on a rigid separation, an exclusion of the church and religion from all areas of state activity, represented far less of a repression of religion and its relegation to the fringe of social life than a similar insistence does today. ....

The doctrine of the separation of church and state, if it refers to institutions and organizations, is salutary and acceptable. If it is interpreted to mean the systematic exclusion of all religious attitudes, insights, and values from every aspect of life and every square foot of space where the state exercises a measure of involvement or regulation, then it is illegitimate and represents nothing less than a long-range program for the suppression of religion, and specifically, of the most widely represented and active religion in America, Christianity. ....

...Christians must acknowledge that if God has placed them in a largely non-Christian society (at least in the sense of genuine commitment, as opposed to merely nominal Christianity), it is not in order that they be transformed by it, but for its healing and transformation by them. Can God expect less of Christians than that they at least have the courage to attempt to persuade non-Christians that the organization of society according to Christian, biblical principles to the advantage of all?

Conversely, if Christians, who through our historical development have been the trustees of most of the ethical and moral wisdom of our civilization—for it has come to us through Christian sources—refuse or are too timid to share it with others, they are depriving the whole nation and all its people of a good of which they are supposed to be stewards and disseminators, not mere warehousemen. What this simply means is that it is a Christian duty to proclaim to all society, not just to the like-minded, the social value of the laws, principles, and insights that we derive from our biblical heritage, but that correspond in their ultimate validity to the nature of man as a creature made in the image of God.
The Passivity Of American Christians | Christianity Today

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