About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Canadians And Church And State

Due to the recent debate over social and moral changes in Canada, I have heard the term "separation of church and state" used often. What is meant by these words?

Hopefully we as Canadians realize that the term "separation of church and state" originated in the United State of America. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association wherein he used the phrase, "building a wall of separation between the church and state". Though he was likely the first to use this phrase in print, he was not the first to comment on the subject. This topic was well debated during the framing of the U.S. Constitution.

Many understand "separating church and state" to mean that government should be protected from church influence, as if government needs such protection. They feel that the church should stay clear of government and public policy.

Was such thinking the intent of men like Thomas Jefferson? We know their intent from history. One reason why men and women fled Europe in the 17th and 18th century and settled on Americaís eastern shore was to escape the tyranny of their governments in matters of religion. These people yearned for free expression of their beliefs. Simply put, they wanted government out of religion. From the early days of American life until the present, the doctrine of separating church and state has gradually been reversed. What once meant keeping government out of church, now means keeping church out of government.

I think this historical background is important to understand in the present debate over social change. We should all realize that separating church and state was never meant to keep church out of state, no matter how strange that may sound today.

The nature of most religions, and especially of Christianity, is the evangelization of people and society. If Christians desire to be true to their belief, they will want to bring change to individuals, thus nudging society closer to the values they stand for. To limit such expression of faith is to interfere with the very core of the Christian existence.

To me, democracy is a market-place of ideas and values, where all viewpoints can be equally expounded upon. Too often Christians have forfeited their responsibility in public life. Now that some Christians are entering the public arena, the call goes out to separate the church from the state on the basis of civil liberties. Yet to limit the free expression of Christian faith in public affairs is to limit Christian civil rights. Letís not try to limit this free expression of faith. Let the market-place of values determine our future and we as Christians will deal with the consequences.

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