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Mohler: church must be supreme concern in church-state debate

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Baptists must relate to church-state issues by understanding the supremacy of the church over all other concerns, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a symposium on the subject at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mohler, president of the seminary, detailed 10 principles — which he called “radically Baptist” — that should govern arguments over church-state relations.

The principles that Christians in general and Baptists in particular must use when wrangling with the interaction of church and state include:

— The concept of citizenship. Believers are citizens of both this world and the world to come, Mohler pointed out, but a Christian’s heavenly citizenship must take first place. “… [At] the same time, we are to render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s,” Mohler said. “But Christians must be ever mindful that … we are aliens wherever we may find ourselves and there are thus limitations on Christian allegiance to any political structure, political ideology or even nation or king.”

— The autonomy of the church. The church is a spiritual entity and derives its power from God and not any government or human authority, Mohler said. The charter for the church is not the U.S. Constitution or any other human document, but the inspired Word of God, he said.

— The gift of freedom. God has endowed humans with certain freedoms such as liberty of conscience, speech, worship and assembly. However, the word “liberty” must not be loosely defined, but must be understood as a “positive good that is given [by God] as our birthright,” he said, noting that God-given freedom means freedom of religion. “We believe that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be legislated,” he said. “It cannot be coerced [or] mandated. It is a matter of the individual soul claimed by the sovereignty of God. The question is obedience or disobedience … regeneration or the absence of regeneration, and the state cannot be that agent.”

— A free church in a free state. The church can only be free when the state is free, Mohler said. For the church to be free, the state must allow it the liberty to assemble and worship according to the mandate of the Gospel, he said.

— The recovery of constitutional sanity. Mohler argued that the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution has begun to eclipse the free exercise clause. Free exercise of religion as established in the First Amendment has been undermined by the current Supreme Court’s commitment to a radical understanding of the separation of church and state, he said. The court sees most any governmental acknowledgement of religion as a violation of the First Amendment contrary to the founding fathers’ intent, he said.

— The First Amendment must be rescued from Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of “a wall” separating church and state. Most Americans think of Jefferson’s famous words — which he penned in an 1802 letter — rather than the actual words and meaning of the First Amendment, Mohler pointed out. The meaning of Jefferson’s metaphor is uncertain because Christian services continued to be held in government buildings after Jefferson’s metaphor became public. Even Jefferson’s own practices did not adhere to the radical separation advocated by the modern courts, Mohler said.

— A secular state is profoundly dangerous. This is true because there is no such thing as religious neutrality, Mohler said, noting that a secular worldview is opposed to Christianity. Every worldview is religious or irreligious, he said. “There is either allegiance to or hostility to the truth claims of various spiritual, religious, theological arguments being made at any time,” he said. “We need to be rid of the notion of a neutral state. No state has ever achieved neutrality. Those who have most vociferously claimed neutrality have often demonstrated the greatest tyranny over the human soul.”

— The church must be protected from the state. The church must refuse to take government money or support even when it is constitutionally legal, Mohler said. The church must maintain its autonomy by giving its allegiance to Jesus Christ alone, he said. “Where Caesar’s money goes, so do his accountants, so do his lawyers and his rules,” Mohler said. “We must not take Caesar’s coin.”

— Chartered liberty, governmental respect and negotiated pluralism provide the answer to the church-state dilemma. Mohler argued that the Constitution should define liberty as its framers intended. This would best protect the liberty of all Americans and would promote a governmental respect for religion that has been a reality throughout American history, he said. Every president in U.S. history has given some statement of respect for religion and the modern-day judiciary should do the same, he said. American citizens should then be able to negotiate and define pluralism — within constitutional boundaries — through the legislative process, he said.

— Christianity must be recognized as a public Christianity. Christians must be ready to clearly and cogently argue their worldview in the public square, Mohler said. They should use their worldview as a foundation for arguments focused on changing public policy, he said. “The law is not a neutral thing,” he noted. “Abortion will either be legal or illegal. Homosexual marriage will either be recognized or not recognized, and there are serious theological arguments on both sides of that issue. Both need to be articulated, both need to be acknowledged and we need to be vociferous, faithful, aggressive, respectful agents of the Christian Gospel to make this case in the public square.”

The symposium Sept. 18 was cosponsored by the seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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