R.C. Sproul wrote an article that I think every Christian should read before voting for any political candidate. I’ve quoted for you below the portions that I find most compelling.
Government today perpetuates a myth which is totally ungrounded in American history. This myth is articulated every day under the rubric of the â€œseparation of church and stateâ€. But I defy anybody in this room or in this nation to find such a concept anywhere in the Constitution of the United States of America or in the Declaration of Independence. The phrase originated in some private correspondence from the pen of Thomas Jefferson where he spoke of erecting a wall of separation but it never become part of the fabric of the law of this land historically. And I say today in our age that the concept of the separation of state and church that even Jefferson had in view in the 18th century has also been changed dramatically in its public understanding. What was meant in the 18th century even in the informal way in which Jefferson spoke of it was the division of labor between the church and the state. In other words, it is not the stateâ€™s responsibility to do the ministry of the church and it is not the stateâ€™s responsibility to preach the gospel or to administer the sacrament. Those duties have been given to the church that God ordained and to the Christian ministers whom God has called and appointed. But on the other side of the coin God also instituted government for the safety and well being of the people who live in its midst. And the government has been assigned by God the responsibility of preserving, protecting and maintaining the sanctity of human life. The government has been ordained by God to protect those areas of life in the realm of common graceâ€”blessings that God gives to all peopleâ€”not just Jews or Christians or any other group. Iâ€™m referring to blessings such as the sanctity of marriage. Thatâ€™s why the church recognizes marriages that take place in the secular world. But it is God who ordains the state and before whom the state is ultimately responsible and to Whom it will be held accountable at the end of the age for how it exercised its responsibility.
A few years ago I was invited to give the address at the inaugural breakfast of the newly elected governor of the state of Florida. And on that occasion I said to the governor elect, â€œGood sir, today is your ordination day. You have received your mandate to govern not from the will of the people, but from almighty God, who Himself establishes government and calls you His minister, not the minister of the church, but His minister as a guardian of the affairs of the state. And I remind you that you will be judged by Him in how you carry out your duties.â€ But in our time the separation of church and state has come to mean the separation of the state from God. It is one thing to say the state is not accountable to the church, itâ€™s another thing to say the state is not accountable to God. And when the state assumes its autonomy and declares its independence from Almighty God it is not just the right but the duty of the church to call the state to task: Not to ask the state to be the church, but to tell the state to be the state under God.
And that has been the task of the church throughout the ages, throughout the pages of the Old Testament and into the New. I know there are people in Christendom who believe that the church should never say anything about the public square or what happens in the political realm. But given our biblical history I wonder how anybody can come to that conclusion. You read the pages of the Old Testament and you read the history of the prophets. You see a king like Ahab using the power of his secular authority to confiscate the personal private property of neighbors. And nobody says a word until Elijah risks his life to declare it unjust and call him to task. Isaiah was raised and anointed to go into the palace and speak to king after king after king, bringing Godâ€™s criticism to the nation. Amos was the one who cried in the marketplace â€œlet justice roll down like an ever-flowing stream.â€ And for calling the culture of their day to righteousness every one of those prophets faced hostility, bodily harm, and death. Why was John the Baptist beheaded? Because he called attention to the immorality of the king, and the unjustness and illicit basis of his marriage. Jesus criticized Herod as well, calling him a fox. And when He called the nation of Israel to righteousness, corrected the Sanhedrin, and criticized the leading authorities and their corrupt practices, He was arrested and executed. He was not executed because he said, â€œConsider the lilies, how they spin.â€ He was executed because He said, â€œConsider the thieves, how they steal.â€
Jesus took His message to the public square. But Uncle Sam has cut a deal with us, and hereâ€™s the deal: Theyâ€™ll give you and I a tax exemption whereby we can deduct from our income taxes our tithes and offerings that we give to the church. But on one condition: that we not speak out on the political issues in our day. Ladies and Gentlemen thatâ€™s a compromise that the church can never afford to make. Iâ€™m not allowed by law at this point to tell you who to vote for, to recommend or endorse a particular candidate, and Iâ€™m going to obey that law because Iâ€™m called to obey the civil magistrates even when I disagree with those civil magistrates. But at the same time Iâ€™m going to protest against that condition and say to the church if it means that we have to give up our tax deductions so be it. Because we shouldnâ€™t be giving our donations and charitable gifts to the church just so we can get a tax write-off. Our responsibility to tithe to the Kingdom of God is there whether we receive any benefit from the secular government or not. Surely we must all understand that. And Iâ€™m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you some things you should be concerned about when you go to the voting booth.
But here is what Iâ€™m going to tell you to do when you vote. As a Christian you have obligations opposed upon your conscience that in some sense other people donâ€™t have, although they should have. And the first thing is this: You have to understand what a vote is. The word vote comes from the Latin votum, which means â€˜willâ€™ or choice. And when you go to the ballot box and you vote, you are not there to vote for whatâ€™s going to benefit you necessarily. Your vote is not a license to impose your selfish desires upon the rest of the country. You only have the right to vote for what is right. And not only do you have the right to vote for what is right, but when you vote you have the duty to vote for what is right.
Iâ€™m reminded of the work of William Wilberforce in England. You may recall that in debate after debate after debate, and in election after election after election, Wilberforce was soundly and roundly defeated when he sought the abolition of slavery in the British Commonwealth. But if ever there was an exercise in perseverance, it was by Wilberforce. Wilberforce refused to give up. He simply would not walk away from being the conscience of the English nation. And he publicly testified that slavery was wrong and he promised to oppose it as long as he had breath in his body. And finally in the providence of God, Parliament woke up and abolished this unethical practice that was a plague on the English speaking world.
Weâ€™ve gone through the same plague in the history of America, and thanks be to God slavery has finally been abolished in America. But I believe that slavery is the second most serious ethical issue that our country has ever faced. From my perspective the number one ethical issue that this nation has ever faced is the issue of abortion. Abortion is not a matter of private choiceâ€”not for the Christian who understands anything about the sanctity of life. The first century church made it very clear in their day, explicitly stating that abortion is murder.
Iâ€™ve written over 70 books. The book that had the shortest shelf life of all of my books was my book on the case against abortion. I talked to pastor after pastor and sought to understand why they werenâ€™t using this material (for which we also made a video series). They told me, â€œWell, we agree with it but we canâ€™t do it in our church.â€ And I said, â€œWhy?â€ They responded: â€œIt will split the congregation.â€ And I said, â€œSo be it!â€ A million and a half unborn babies are slaughtered wantonly in the United States of America every year in the name of womenâ€™s rights. If I know anything about the character of God after forty years of study, I know that God hates abortion. And I could never vote for a candidate who supported abortionâ€”even if I agreed with that candidate on every other policy position. If he supported abortion I would not vote for him and I urge you to do the same.
I know that abortion is not the number one issue in this campaign because it has become acceptable. Just like slavery became acceptable. But it cannot be acceptable to ethical people. The people of God have to rise up and say â€˜NOâ€™! We are not asking the state to be the church but we must say to the state, â€œPlease be the state. God ordained you to protect, maintain, and preserve the sanctity of life, and you are not doing it.â€ So that has to be on your mind when you walk into that voting booth.
And a second ethical issue that you need to keep in mind before you vote is this: Donâ€™t be a lobby group of one. I read in the Sentinel that they did a poll of athletes, asking them for whom they were going to vote. And one said it straight out. He said â€œIâ€™m going to vote for the one whoâ€™s going to give the most money away.â€ How many times have you heard the phrase â€˜Iâ€™m going to vote my pocketbookâ€™? Iâ€™m going to go to the trough of the public and drink as deeply as I can. Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came and examined the great American experiment of democracy, said two things can destroy this experiment: One is when people learn that their vote is worth money, that you can bribe people to get their vote or that you can use the vote to somehow shelter yourself from financial or other obligations imposed upon others. Have we taken the blindfold away from lady justice? Are we not all equal under the law?
On the contrary, we have an income tax structure today that is inherently unjust. We almost never hear anybody discuss this injustice. But when God set up a system of taxation, He did things differently. God said Iâ€™m going to impose a tax on my people and itâ€™s going to be ten percent from everybody: The rich man and the poor man are not going to pay the same amount. The rich manâ€™s going to pay much more than the poor man, but theyâ€™re both going to pay the same percentage. Theyâ€™re both going to have the same responsibility. That way the rich man canâ€™t use his power to exploit the poor man, saying, â€œIâ€™m going to pay five percent, but youâ€™re going to pay fifty percent.â€ The rich werenâ€™t allowed to do that. Nor were the poor allowed to say, â€œWeâ€™re going to pay five percent and the rich are going to pay fifty percent because they can afford it.â€ What that is ladies and gentlemen is the politics of envy that legalizes theft. Anytime you vote a tax on somebody else that is not a tax on yourself, youâ€™re stealing from your brother. And though the whole world does it and though itâ€™s common practice in the United States of America, a Christian shouldnâ€™t be caught dead voting to fill his own pocketbook at the expense of someone else. Isnâ€™t that plain? Isnâ€™t that clear? And until we get some kind of flat tax, weâ€™re going to have a politicized economy, weâ€™re going to have class warfare, and weâ€™re going to have the whole nationâ€™s rule being determined by the rush for economic advantage at the polls. Donâ€™t do it. Even if that means sacrificing some benefit you might receive from the federal government. Donâ€™t ask other people at the point of a gun to give you from their pockets what you donâ€™t have. Thatâ€™s sin.
It is, of course, the American way. But we Christians should not be involved in that sort of thing. Rather we should be voting for what is right, what is ethical. And our consciences on that score need to be informed by the Word of God, not by our wallets. And so I plead with you: When you enter the voting booth, donâ€™t leave your Christianity in the parking lot. And be bold to speak on these issues, even if it means somebody picks up a rock and throws it in your head. Because it is through tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of God. I pray for you, beloved, and for our nation in these days to come.
Doug Indeap says
Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.
That the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and, upon learning they were mistaken, reckon theyâ€™ve discovered a smoking gun solving a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.
To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to â€œ[s]trongly guard . . . the separation between Religion and Government.â€ Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., â€œthe appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congressâ€ and â€œfor the army and navyâ€ and â€œ[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fastsâ€), he considered the question whether these actions were â€œconsistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedomâ€ and responded: â€œIn strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.â€
It is important to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.
Nor does the constitutional separation of church and state prevent citizens from making decisions or voting based on principles derived from their religions. Sproul is right about that much. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The principle, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect.
The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.
Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and stateâ€“as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx