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.