Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Silencing of God?

A video series named The Silencing of God includes 5 one-hour segments that reportedly take up questions like, Did the Founding Fathers uphold the "separation of church and state"? Did they reject expressions of Christianity in government and public schools? Intend for federal institutions to be religiously neutral? Etc., etc. The series subtitle reads, "The Dismantling of America's Christian Heritage."

It's been decided that this series will be presented at my home congregation on the five Wednesday nights of July. Segment number one is tonight. I can already feel my blood pressure going up. Okay, I admit that I don't actually know what the series presents. I haven't seen it yet. But I do have my strong suspicions.

Regarding the separation of church and state, it will likely be said that this legal and political doctrine was never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Instead, it was later created by, I don't know, the ACLU or Communists or God-hating atheistic judges. Whoever you like least, they're probably responsible. In my case, that would be someone like the New York Yankees. But then, I actually happen to think that the separation of church and state was envisioned by people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and that, when rightly applied, it's a good thing.

We'll also hear, I suspect, that in the 1960s, the U. S. Supreme Court misinterpreted the Constitution in ways that led to the banning of Bibles and prayer in public schools. And, of course, these changes, real or merely-alleged, precipitated all kinds of bad things like the rise in divorce rates and the drop in SAT scores. If your dog has recently been sick, trust me, someone can trace it back to the 1960s Court.

There may be stories about the religious devotion of Colonial patriots and early-American leaders. We might be told, in the words of Pat Robertson, that the United States was "founded by Christians as a Christian Nation." And we might be challenged to reclaim the Christian political legacy that is ours here in the United States. If so, someone like Patrick Henry will replace the Apostle Paul, and voting will become more important than praying. Oh, that's provided you vote for the right (= Republican) candidate.

When it comes to disputing the historical and political myths associated with the so-called Christian Right, you can find yourself feeling like a mosquito at a nudist colony. You know what to do. You just don't know where to begin.

Here's the part that bothers me the most: to me, all of it appears to be accompanied by the assumption, even the demand, that American culture should be friendly toward, and weighted in favor of, Christianity. And why? Not because this is some sort of biblical mandate, but because some Christian people carry around in their imaginations that there was this time, a golden era, when the culture was clean and evangelism was easy because the government and the media were holding up their end of the bargain.

I've never found any of it convincing. Maybe I'll say more about this. I guess it depends on how it goes tonight. In the meantime, has anyone out there actually seen the series already? What did you think?


Adam Gonnerman said...

Pluralism will win the day. It is only a matter of time. That isn't to say that I don't believe that Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life. He is. Any other faith apart from Him is inadequate, though it may contain good aspects and redeeming qualities.

The society in which we live is not going to make a mass conversion to Christianity of any form, either by means of appealing to a mythic Christian past or via legislation. My main concern is just that we avoid the soul-sapping secularism of Europe. France in particular serves as a sad example for me.

The church I served in New Mexico did a video night once, running quotes and consulting "experts" about how the U.S. was founded as a "Christian" nation. At the time my American history was pretty sharp, and I recognized how out-of-context many of the quotes were, and how they were taken out of their historical context. Another problem is that some folks are quoted, understood in 21st Century evangelical terms and no attention is paid to the larger debate that was happening at the time the words were originally spoken or written.

Good luck with that.

Matthew said...

Very interesting.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Matthew, why?

Arlene Kasselman said...

Oh Frank, I am thinking that you may need to find yourself having Starbucks and spiritual conversation with some of your students on the next few Wednesday nights....:-)

My blood pressure was rising with yours.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, separation of church and state has always been part and parcel of our American heritage. It has been from the beginning. The problem is trying to understand how the original founders understood it and how it is carried out today. As an example, Congress nor the Supreme Court has any right to tell students at a public school whether or not they can read their Bibles, hold a Bible class, or pray. Yet they are forbidden from doing these activities. If our country wants to encourage other religions to practice their religions along side of Christianity, that's okay. But that is not what is happening today.

I'm not one who believes this was a Christian nation or who believes that we had some kind of utopia going for nearly 200 years until the ACLU showed up. But how can anyone deny that our country and government regularly encouraged Bible reading and prayer from the beginning? How do you explain that the Senate has its own chaplain still? It seems to me that separation of church and state was the explanation of our founders for keeping the state out of church affairs not the other way round.

I see a systematic process in our media and government today that is slowly becoming antagonistic to Christianity of any shape. Regardless of what you might believe about the accuracy "The Silencing of God" this hostility is not what our founders envisioned. However, this new state of affairs might be good for us. It will cut away the dead wood from our churches so that only those who are faithful will remain.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Bob, thanks for chiming in. I appreciate your questions and observations.

There can be no doubt that there's a big bunch of hostility directed towards Christianity in this country.

Nonetheless, the law of this land allows students in our public schools to pray, read the Bible, hand out religious literature, and discuss their beliefs with other willing students. Whenever these rights have been challenged, it's often been because of the religious boys who keep crying wolf.

There are any number of cases where school administrators have gone way overboard in trying curb religious (usually Christian) expression, mainly because they thought it was their duty. And where did they come up with such ideas? Probably at church, where the preachers should have been preaching the Gospel, instead of wringing their hands over what some unnamed activist judge might do next.

Carisse said...

It might be appropriate to mention Richard Hughes's book Myths America Lives By, which critiques American civil religion.

Frank Bellizzi said...


I've seen that title several times and have been wanting to read it. Ordered my copy this morning. Thanks for reminder.

Odgie said...

I remember right after starting a ministry job one of the elders invited me over to his house for dinner. After dinner we went into the living room and within 10 minutes he had busted out a series of videos detailing how liberals had stolen American from Christians, Bill Clinton was the anti-Christ, and God was a Republican.

I have never understood why so many believers think that American Christians are entitled to a friendly culture. Why do we believe that we can hold our society to a commitment that they have never made to begin with?

Royce Ogle said...

The larger question is not does the U.S. Constitution support the sepeation of church and state but rather why?

The founders obviously had no problem with public religeous expression. What they feared was another state mandated religion like the one they had fled. The seperation of church and state was only intended to keep government from controlling religeous speech and practice.

An easy way to stop most of the ruckus on this topic is to remove the tax exemption from ALL church/religeous groups. In my view they should have never had an exemption. Jesus' words "Render to Ceaser that which is Ceaser's.." seems to me to make that point.

Interesting stuff from you Frank as usual. Thanks.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

Adam Gonnerman said...

Actually, I don't believe it was until the 14th amendment that the first amendment was applied to the state level. In the federalist system the founders created, there were colonies with official, established churches. Massachusetts, for example, had the Congregational Church. The Constitution and first 10 amendments did nothing to change this system. The first amendment by itself only guaranteed that the federal government would not impost a particular church or creed on the states and people.

Ben Wiles said...

I find a lot of the uproar over "The Silencing of God" a bit confusing.

1. Why not separate the voice of God from that of a particular political regime? Peter is pretty adament about a citizenship that is elsewhere, no matter where on Earth "here" is. How is forcing American Christians to "choose this day whom you will serve" a bad thing?

2. The "separation of church and state" did not originate with Jefferson, but with Paul. Compare 1 Timothy 2:2 with 1 Timothy 2:11-12. The adjectives describing the role of women in church and the ideal role of Christians in government are identical.

3. The history of Christinaity is that it is not hindered by oppression and persecution, but by prosperity and power. Christianity flourished for three enturies when it was illegal. Only when Constantine made it the religion of the empire did many of the corruptions really take hold. If our agenda is spreading the gospel, we should be glad government endorrsement of Christianity is eroding. The ACLU is actually helping make America a more fertile mission field.

Somebody help me understand why everybody is so upset. Unless this is pure politics, in which case I guess I don't want to know.