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Christians’ role in government explored

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The biblical command to be salt and light removes any question about whether Christians should be involved in government, Richard Land said during a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary workshop on “Loving God, Loving America: Celebrating a Free Church in a Free State.”

Midwestern’s president, R. Philip Roberts, said the workshop underscored the Christian community’s belief in “the importance of exercising our rights as Christian citizens.”

“This workshop was held to encourage Christians to participate within legal guidelines as we celebrate a free church in a free state,” Roberts said.

Land, noting in his remarks that all of the First Amendment’s restrictions are on the government, outlined three approaches to church-state relations: avoidance, acknowledgement and accommodation.

In the avoidance approach, Land said, religion is marginalized within society; there’s an attempt “to make all public zones as religion-free as possible.”

Land noted: “This is not what our founding fathers understood.”

In the acknowledgement approach, Land said, the government expresses and supports the majority religion. Using Europe as an example, he cited the danger that when the government sponsors a religion, it also seeks to own the religion.

The founding fathers understood that the last thing true disciples of any religion want is government sponsorship of religion, Land said. “It’s like being hugged by a python,” he said. “It squeezes the life out of you.”

The approach established in the U.S. Constitution, Land said, is accommodation, in which government acknowledges the right of citizens to bring their faith convictions to bear on issues within in public arena.

Land also cited two foundational issues for Christians: the right to life and the protection of the family. The protection of the rights of the unborn is an area of “no compromise” in order to maintain a free society, Land said. In discussing the family, Land noted that the predominance of poverty in the United States is a direct function of illegitimacy and the breakdown of the family.

In addition to Land and Roberts, other featured speakers at the workshop were Jim Jenkins, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund; Matthew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal defense organization, and dean of the Liberty University’s law school; and Jerry Johnston, pastor of First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan. The workshop was held on Christian Citizenship Day, Feb. 22.

Roberts told the workshop that the Gospel underscores the value of the individual and the freedom to believe. Christian truth does not need the endorsement of a king to establish its vitality, Roberts said.

“If we don’t engage [the culture], it is as though there are no Christians,” Roberts also pointed out.

Jenkins said there was little discussion of the role of religion in American society for the first 150 years of the nation’s existence, reflecting a general consensus that freedom was assured. Today, however, courts have used criteria completely absent from the wording of the First Amendment to restrict various forms of religious expression, Jenkins said.

Secularists frequently appeal to one sentence in a letter by Thomas Jefferson to deconstruct the First Amendment to exclude religion from public life, Jenkins said. Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation” comment was made in a letter to a number of Baptist pastors who were hesitant to endorse ratification of the U.S. Constitution because they feared encroachment upon religious liberty by a strong central government.

“The courts have come 180 degrees in their restriction of these things,” Jenkins said. But, with the efforts of nonprofit legal groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, he noted that many recent victories have been won for fair treatment for religious organizations under the law.
Amelia Hendra is Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s communications director; Keith Gibson is a writer for the seminary.

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