Friday, August 31, 2012

Speaking of Freedom: How About a Strong Separation of Church and State?

Dr. Dennis Herman

Until recently, most Baptists have adhered to a belief in a distinct and strong separation between Church and State. We Baptists believe that the State has no right to dictate how we worship in our homes and church buildings. Likewise, we Baptists have long insisted that the State functions remain functions of a government that represents all of its people, its religions, or even those of no religion. We have insisted, and rightly so, that the State not meddle in the affairs of Church. Some Baptists, however, are arguing that a strong separation of Church and State is no longer important. Some pulpits have become election campaign platforms; and some church people, including pastors, have taken to endorsing candidates who would accommodate their own Church’s position on social issues.

Such a change is a danger to both Church and State. Before we jump on the bandwagon of popular religious slogans like “bring back prayer to school,” we would do well to ask in this pluralistic society, “whose prayers are we bringing back?” Are we to be led in public forums, schools, and government meetings by Muslim prayers? How about Buddhist chants? How about prayers in the name of St. Francis or the Blessed Virgin? How about Wiccan prayers? And if we live in certain parts of the country, we would perhaps be led in prayer by a Mormon, or Unitarian Universalist, or a Campbelite minister.

I don’t like being told how to pray, or to whom, or even being led in a prayer whose theology voices a different understanding of God’s love than mine. So I’ll just continue to pray like I’ve always been taught to pray in my heart. No one can tell me not to pray. Others might not hear me, but God will. In fact, I wonder if God might hear the silent and heart-felt prayers we sincerely offer, rather than prayers in the public forum which tend to persuade or impress. Just wondering…

Dennis Herman is the interim pastor at Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Forecaster.

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