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The separation between church and state has been a foundation of our nation’s principles for centuries, even though it is not found in the Constitution verbatim.  Thomas Jefferson and others agreed that it is a proper application of the establishment clause, the free exercise clause, and the first amendment.

It has been used by the Supreme Court of the United States to explain different rulings over time.  It has been the deciding factor in many layman arguments about politics.

Usually depending on the person, they will come to one of two possible emphases of the separation between church and state:

  1. The church needs to keep its grubby hands out of politics or else it will use its wide influence and resource to manipulate policy at the expense of people who disagree.
  2. The government needs to keep its grubby hands out of the church or else it will manipulate the church to keep practices which are inconsistent with its beliefs.

Where ever a person falls, the idea is still important to us as a people.

And, obviously, it is controversial.

A church in Huntsville, Alabama is trying something concerning this separation that is stirring up many people around the state.

The Experiment

Visit this article on the state of Alabama website.  It is titled, “Religion & politics: Alabama church, state officials to discuss common ground.”

The pastor, Mac Buttram, of Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, AL, is also a former state representative.  Over the next 4 weeks, he and another member of the church, Mary Scott Hunter, a state school board member, are organizing a class for the community.

This class will be called, “Religion and Politics:  How to Mix Oil and Water.”  It is an attempt to bring the community into a discussion that centers on the proper ways for the church and the government to work together.  The article on the Alabama website said, “The organizers said that the class is not about pushing a particular political ideology but instead it’s a discussion about how religion and politics often intersect.”

Over the next four Wednesdays (Oct. 21, 2015 to Nov. 11, 2015), they will bring in speakers such as state representatives, local radio talk show hosts, and political commentators to give their viewpoints.

Buttram reported, “We’re just going to talk about the early church and the politics of the early church and how it’s not all that dissimilar from the politics of today – the same human condition, same concerns people have, it’s a lot of the same stuff comes up again and again”

The Reaction

I took a cursory glance at the comment section for the article.

Wow.  Just wow.

I looked at probably 100 comments and didn’t see a single comment whose intent was not to rip apart the idea.  Most said it was an infringement on the separation of church and state.  Some use the opportunity to express their disgust at the tax exemptions enjoyed by churches.  Some just devolve into religion bashing.

Take a look at a few examples:

Photo credit: Beesnest McClain / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Beesnest McClain / Foter / CC BY

Fight Oppression
Let’s bring back theocracy in Alabama.

Oh, wait…it never left.

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Frappaccino
They have always looked the same to me; the church people have political meetings in their churches anyway. Really, what are they talking about saying they are like oil and water, they are more like two arms on a pair of scissors…

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Urfyred
It’s funny…so many of the people who want to use the government to proselytize for their religion are Baptists.  The Baptists were, for a long time, staunch advocates for the separation of church and state.  Of course, they were the “persecuted minority” at that time.  Now, as they have gained the advantage in many states, they are ALL FOR mixing church and state.

A bit hypocritical, don’t ya think?

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BluePixie
If churches want to talk politics maybe they could start by paying taxes.

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Blastedsailor
All of these superstitions should be paying taxes on the fraud they perpetrate.

HEY EVERYONE.  IF YOU PRAY TO THIS OLD JUG OF MILK IN THE BACK OF MY REFRIGERATOR.  AFTER YOU DIE YOU GO TO ICE CREAM HEAVEN.

These harsh commentators could just be the people vocal enough to troll on an online forum, but I wonder just how representative they are of the people in the area.

#Politics is a part of our daily lives. Click To Tweet

The idea to have a meeting to discuss how the church and government can work together is apparently not gaining much steam in Alabama.

What’s the Point?

big cityButtram and Hunter are both republicans, and there is major concern that this class will be about pushing a partisan agenda.  But Buttram responded by saying he has no purpose to endorse a single side.

Because of this, I personally can see great value in a community class like this.

The point is that politics is a part of our daily lives.  As Christians and as the church, if we want to relate to the culture, we have to be able to understand the issues.  And we have to be able to deal with those issues as we work with our communities.

It could be that this class will bring about more mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds.  It could be that it will cause people to participate more in taking care of their communities.  It could be that Jesus will work in powerful ways through these meetings.

I truly hope so.

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