Last weekend, a group of Christian leaders gathered to decide who they would support in the GOP primary. The idea was that while they wouldn’t make an “official” endorsement of any particular candidate, they could at least rally around one person who they could encourage their followers to support. And after a few hours of multiple-round ballots, they eventually settled on Rick Santorum.
Or did they?
You see, after the vote, Protestant, especially evangelical, leaders decided that since their candidate, Newt Gingrich, wasn’t chosen, that clearly that meant that the Catholics had somehow rigged the vote, perhaps through ballot stuffing, in favor of Mr. Santorum (paraphrase: “How could God allow Catholics to win a vote when He already said we would win?”). This is fairly common practice to question the efficacy of the particular election when they lose, and I don’t doubt that the next step will be to question the entire sorted affair. But what did we learn from this? Protestants and Catholics don’t agree and are ready to demonize and accuse one another when that disagreement means one side doesn’t get what they want.
Let’s look at another example.
A couple of weeks ago, while cleaning the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, two different sects of Christianity, Greek Orthodox and Armenian, got together for the annual cleaning of the church. They celebrate Christmas at different times and both use the site, so they split the work to keep it shiny, if not in great repair (neither side wants to pay upkeep costs).
The cleaning eventually broke into a brawl. Apparently this is so common, the police were already there waiting for it to happen.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, I present Your Men of God!!
What does this have to do with Jessica Ahlquist? So glad you asked!
The term “separation of church and state” comes from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Danbury Baptists in which he’s assuring them that the government won’t interfere with their religious practices. Because of presentism, it’s difficult to imagine why people would be concerned about this (how often do we see the government telling people how they can worship?), but it’s important to remember at the time we were just beginning a great experiment: a country without an officially sanctioned state religion. The government had become quite adept at meddling in the methods of worship of various people in most industrialized nations, and it was important to Jefferson to assure these Baptists that nobody was going to tell them what to believe.
So, for those who argue that this is a “Christian nation,” which Christianity are you talking about? Gingrich Protestants? Santorum Catholics?
Let’s make this simpler: in a Christian nation, should preachers be allowed to marry? The Catholic church says “no,” and they’re Christian, so clearly the answer is no. But Protestant denominations say “yes,” and even write books about sex and marriage, like overcompensating idiot Mark Driscoll. So which is it? What type of Christian nation are we?
In the Book of Mormon, there is a specific prohibition against praying without “real intent“. Who is to be the determining factor in that? Shouldn’t we pass a law that those who pray hollowly should be punished in some way? I mean, it specifically says that they should be “counted evil unto a man,” and shouldn’t we stand against evil?
Has anybody considered the religious freedom of Unitarian Universalists to perform as many same-sex marriages as they want? Of course, they have a bigger problem in that they don’t believe in the Trinity, so I suppose their religious freedom doesn’t count.
This is why separation of church and state is so vitally important, and why it should be vitally important to the most fervent believers. When the government starts promoting a religion, any religion, then it has to get into details. A prayer banner seems fairly harmless, but how can we draw the line between a “harmless” exercise of government promoting a religion and one that causes harm? This is, of course, not harmless to the marginalized non-believers, but I suspect that “marginalization” is something that will be dismissed as a liberal buzzword by the proponents of the illegal banner.
Jessica Ahlquist, in standing up for the Establishment Clause to be observed, was not only protecting atheists who don’t believe in a “Heavenly Father.” She was standing up for those who have different variations on a theme. If we allow the government to promote religion, we run into the thorny problem of “which religion do we promote?”. The government becomes not just complicit, it becomes enforcer in all of the particulars. There are over 33,000 different Protestant sects in this country, plus Catholics, plus a couple of Mormon sects, plus Orthodox of various sorts, and they all disagree with one another on various points of doctrine, so how are we expected to choose between them, decide what counts and doesn’t count, what’s harmless and not harmless?
The answer is, we don’t. The government simply doesn’t promote religion. It
doesn’t hang prayer banners, it doesn’t give out Bibles at public schools, it doesn’t hire Christian rappers to proselytize to students, and it doesn’t try to pass bills to allow school prayer. If the government doesn’t promote any religion, it can’t promote the wrong one.
That is what Jessica Ahlquist fought for and instead of harassing her, maybe the residents of Cranston, RI should considering sending her some flowers.