Faith plays an integral role in American politics. We can’t ignore that | Opinion

March 7, 2022 5:40 am

seperation of church and state

A cursory review of American history shows the central role God and religion played and continue to play in our politics.

From the Revolutionary War to the formation and drafting of our most sacred national documents, God and religious principles are boldly infused throughout.

The phrase “separation of church and state” is not found in the Constitution.  Instead, it prohibits federal and state governments from nationalizing any religion, creating a national church or favoring one religion over the other.

The misuse and hypocrisy come into play with the sporadic denials or discriminate efforts to separate or invoke the use of God and religion to support or defeat one policy position or another.

Tensions between separation of church and state and the roles God and religion play in shaping public policy are seen in the ongoing debate around issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.

But perhaps the most notable example of church and state working hand-in-hand is the role religious leaders and churches play in our elections.

There is a reason why candidates tailor their messages to appeal to certain religious doctrines and beliefs to gain support and to solidify a voting bloc.

There is a reason why candidates go to Black churches to make their case. The support of Black congregants can determine the outcome of an election.

There are blurred lines and porous borders between church and state, which are often crossed in our politics and daily lives in both obvious and subtle ways to gain an advantage when promoting an agenda.

So why the pretense that never the twain shall meet, let alone mix — when they meet and mix all the time? Are we being hypocrites when we yell foul in one instance and turn a blind eye in another?

Perhaps the confusion is between separation of church and state and the role God and religion play in our institutions, traditions, and our daily lives.

The Founders were very clear and deliberate about the centrality of God and religion in the vision, mission and purpose in forming America.

Some of our most endearing patriotic songs invoke the presence and blessings of God, from “America the Beautiful” to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “My Country, Tis of Thee.”

Songs, and music, have a way of reaching our better selves. In these divisive times, revisiting them, humming and singing along could go a long way in reviving a positive and healthy patriotic spirit.

But the integral relationship between God, church and state doesn’t stop there.

Even our currency proudly displays and proclaims, “In God We Trust.”

The role religion has played in the developmental history of this country is everywhere.

As we witness how low our public dialogue has sunk, the increasing inhumane conduct toward each other and the contrived displays of righteous indication by those same perpetrators, one could conclude that they are signs that America is losing, or indeed has lost, its moral compass.

Just as a person’s faith is linked when it comes to advocating for candidates, legislation and laws, they could be even more valuable in reclaiming what is honorable and good for American society overall.

A few examples come to mind.

Maybe following the Biblical teaching, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”— or as the non-religious would say “treat each other as we would want to be treated”— would bring civility and respect back in our public discourse.

Maybe we will ensure that everyone, regardless of race or gender, are treated with the same dignity, respect and believe implicitly that they are entitled to all inalienable rights.

Maybe fighting for the care of the poor and orphaned children among us would have as much priority as protecting the unborn.

Just maybe.

The foundation is there. God and Biblical principles have been embraced and adopted in our most sacred documents, our patriotic songs, our public ceremonies and traditions honoring our flag and country.

Religious leaders and their congregations all across America have been and continue to be actively engaged in the political process.

There is more to be gained by fully embracing the connection between church and state, when it comes to defining us as Americans, than continuing the practice of selective separation when it is convenient.

The church-state connection, in many ways, is what has determined America’s character and set her apart from the very beginning.

We need not be hypocritical about how that connection could be applied to improve our relationship with our fellow citizen and country.

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism™ Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts, and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, all from the University of Wisconsin.