The issue of the separation of church and state has prompted much debate. In spite of the rhetoric common to revisionist historians, America’s Founding Fathers did not seek to eradicate religion. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of those who signed the Declaration of Independence counted themselves as religious men. It may come as a surprise to learn that nowhere in the Constitution do the words separation of church and state appear. The idea of church/state separation came from a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. Again, contrary to the propaganda from the revisionists, Jefferson’s cause was to protect religious liberties from an intrusive government! In no way did Jefferson or any of the other framers of the U.S. Constitution seek to restrict Americans’ religious activities.
Americans live in a constitutional republic rather than a theocracy—and for good reason. State-sanctioned churches have historically become puppets of the government. In countries with state churches, the edicts of fallible man take precedence over the inspired teachings of Scripture. When the state is the head of the church, the integrity of the gospel is all too easily compromised.
Christians are glad for the separation of church and state, as the separation is designed to protect religious liberty. The first of the Bill of Rights says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That wording is the result of lessons learned from the dictatorial Holy Roman Empire and King Henry VIII’s power grab in the 1534 Act of Supremacy. The point of the First Amendment was not to rid the country of religion but to ensure that the federal government did not select a religion and give it exclusive support. Americans are free to worship as they please.
Another popular misconception is that men and women of faith have no business being involved in politics. But it is hardly a secret that George Washington was an active member of Truro Parish, his local Episcopal Church. In the early days of the republic, a church met within the Capitol Building —a church attended, of all people, by Thomas Jefferson. “Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. . . . Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers” (“Religion and the Founding of the American Republic: Religion and the Federal Government, Part 2,” www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06-2.html, accessed 4/13/20).
A Christian should view the separation of church and state as a good thing. Those who wish to combine church and state usually do so thinking that Christianity can help stamp out evil, if the church is in charge. But history shows that the melding of church and state gives rise to corruption, totalitarianism, and oppression. Christians can and should be involved in the political process, just as anyone else. But Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and Christians understand that enforcing Christianity through a national church is not the answer to the world’s problems. The limits imposed on the government in the U.S. Constitution are wise and designed to preserve the religious freedom of individuals.