Monday, April 11, 2011

Separation

A day or two ago (no, we’re not doing selected verses of Jingle Bells) I posted the notation on Facebook that in reality neither the popular vote nor the Electoral College elect the President of the United States.  “He serves by the good grace and divine appointment of God”, said I, citing the Prophet Daniel as my inspiration: “And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.” Daniel 2:21, NKJV.

The Old Testament Hebrew rendered from the Chaldean of Babylon, and translated ‘times and seasons’ has with it the idea of history, and the word translated ‘kings’ is more accurately rendered leaders of nations.  A fair paraphrase of this thought might be “God is the author of history, and worldly leaders come and go according to His Divine appointment.”
This thought was sternly rebuked by the single line “Thank God for separation of church and state!”
I’m going to go out on as limb here and suggest that the individual refuting not me, but Almighty God and Daniel, His prophet (one of many) fairly well does NOT understand the First amendment.  As good students of Scripture will tell you, you must interpret Scripture with Scripture, and understand it in the context of history and culture, so too must history be understood within its context.
The text reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.  There is more to it than this small segment, of course, but this is the part over which there is so much confusion, especially when you try to understand it absent the times and culture of those who penned the words.
Consider this.  Henry VIII of the British House of Tudor wished to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and thus petitioned the Pope for his sanction.  He (the Pope) steadfastly refused to grant the King’s petition, threatening excommunication if Henry went through with it.  Henry, in turn, dissolved the connection of the Royal House of Tudor and created the Church of England, over which the Monarch (Henry and his descendants) would be both monarchical head and religious head, thus eliminating that pesky church middleman in Rome and granting his own annulment.  As both political head of state and religious head of the newly formed religion, Henry in fact mandated the rule of faith for all of the Britons to be the Church of England.  To be openly protestant or papist in Henry’s England was a death sentence.
It was in this context that the colonial insurrectionists at the stern insistence of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, penned the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.  The intent of the founding fathers when viewed in the light of the historical, political, and religious context of its writing is patently clear.  The congress of these United States of America will not create any law which constitutionally mandates a state religion!  Furthermore, this Congress shall in no way make any law which prohibits the open, free exercise of personal faith in any setting public or private.
That is the context in which the first amendment originated and from which it must be interpreted, if it is to be rightly interpreted.  Freedom of religion, in other words, is freedom FOR religion, and not freedom FROM religion other than by individual personal preferential choice.  In the same sense in which Congress cannot mandate the religion practiced by the citizens of the Republic, neither can it create any law which prohibits the free and open exercise thereunto.  The current practice of religious prohibition is in fact, unconstitutional.  The words Separation of Church and State are found nowhere in the Constitution, and the closest inference to this is the clear understanding that the State will not dictate matters of personal faith to the people.
When viewed accurately in the context of history and culture, I, too  thank God that the State does not have the authority to mandate religion.
But isn’t that kind of what Daniel said some four thousand years ago?
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