I’ve been teaching through portions of Wayne Grudem’sÂ Politics According to the BibleÂ with the 9th-12th grade students atÂ Sylvania Church. While I’ve found the book to be fantastic, one section in particular has been particularly striking to me, and I want to share it with you:
From the perspective of American history, [a] reason that “exclude religion” [from government altogether] is a wrong viewpoint is that it twists the positive ideal of “freedomÂ ofÂ religion” to mean “freedom from all religious influence”â€”which is something entirely different and something that the signers of theÂ Declaration of IndependenceÂ and the framers of theÂ US ConstitutionÂ never intended.
In fact, the “exclude religion from politics” view would invalidate the very reasoning of the Declaration of Independence, on which the United States of America was founded. The first two sentences mention God twice in order to say that God’s laws authorize this independence from Great Britain in 1776 and that God is the one who gives human beings the rights that governments seek to protect:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of NatureÂ and of Nature’s GodÂ entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they areÂ endowed by their CreatorÂ with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men…
In other words, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that both the laws of natureÂ and God himselfÂ gave our country the right to become an independent nation. They claimingÂ divine authorizationÂ for the very existence of the United States of America!
Then the signers say that the entire purpose of government is to protect the rights that are given to people by God. The second sentence states “that all Men are created equal” and “areÂ endowed by their CreatorÂ with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Then the signers add that “Governments are instituted among Me” in order to protect or “secure” these rights. In other words, these most basic of human rights are givenÂ by GodÂ (“endowed by their Creator), and the purpose of government is to protect those God-given rights, according to the Declaration of Independence upon which the country was founded. The “exclude religion from government” view is wrong when it implies the illegitimacy of statements like these found in the very basis of our existence as a nation. Using religiousÂ reasonsÂ to support a secular law is notÂ establishing a religion.
The First Amendment to the Constitution then declared: “Congress shall make no lawÂ respecting an establishment of religion,Â orÂ prohibiting the free exercise thereof;Â or abridging freedom of speech.” What they meant by “an establishment of religion” was an established state church, a government-sponsored or government-endorsed denomination or specific religion. The First Amendment therefore prohibited the United States from having a state of church such as the Church of England, from which many of the original colonists had fled in order to gain religious freedom.
In fact,Â the now-famous “separation of church and state” letter that Thomas Jefferson wroteÂ back in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut dealt with this issue. The Danbury Baptists had written to the new President expressing their concern over their home state of Connecticut designating the Congregational Church as the official state church. In his response, Jefferson pointed out that the meaning of the First Amendment was to keep government out of the affairs of the church, not to keep the church out of the affairs of the government. Jefferson argued that when government left the church alone and did not compel its citizens to be members of an official state church, religious freedom could flourish.
The First Amendment was never intended to guarantee that government should be free from religion or religious influence. The only “freedom of religion” that was intended was freedom from government sponsorship of one particular religion or denomination.
So, does this mean that Christians should seek to have all of God’s laws adopted as civil laws by the government? Not at all. In fact, there are many of God’s laws that should not be civil laws in the United States (if you’re interested, John Piper has writtenÂ a fantastic articleÂ on this). This does, however, mean that although there is still much thinking to be done regarding which laws Christians should and should not want passed, Christians are free to support civil laws for distinctly religions reasons. After all, not only do the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and even Thomas Jefferson’s work on the separation of church and state not forbid religious influence in the government, they actually allow for it.