topical: the Wall of Separation
State is a nation of law; Church a kingdom of love.
About a month ago, on Memorial Day weekend, I preached the first of what I imagined would be three sermons on the relationship – or rather, lack-of-relationship – between church and state, here in the U.S. I have to admit I wasn’t sure if I should go there. But I preached it, anyway. And I’m glad I did. So, I figured I’d go on to a second! You see, the assumption I’ve been going on is that a lot of the conflict we’re experiencing in this country, nowadays, is the result of the cracks that have begun to appear in that so-called wall of separation between politics and religion. We aren’t acting so much like tribes, as we are denominations! As any church-goer understands. And the past couple generations seems to justify the Founders’ concern of mixing the two.
Anyway, today is the two hundred forty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. And it’s important to note that the word ‘god’ appears only once in the entire document. In reference to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We adopted a Declaration. We fought the revolution. (That’s we-as-Americans, not as Christians) We floundered under the Articles of Confederation. Then, finally, we debated and ratified a real constitution. And the word ‘god’ is never used! Not once! Not at all! Not by accident, but by design!
But we’re not here, this morning, for history lesson. And truth is, we’re not, really, here as Americans, either. We’re here as church. Here as a people of god. And what we need to understand is that in America, the church and state isn’t hyphenated! We are not Christian-hyphen-Americans! We are not Lutheran-hyphen-Americans. We are, simply and purely, Christians. We are, simply and purely, Lutherans. And we are just as simply and just as purely Americans. That’s another part of the separation!
Basically, the U.S. and the church … the U.S. and any religion, for that matter … are two separate, two distinct entities! Two separate, two distinct nations! Two separate, two distinct kingdoms, if you will! It isn’t a church-state! It isn’t a state-church! As far as the two go, America isn’t a melting pot. It’s not a stew. There’s no compromise, no middle ground. There’s a separation, a partitioning, a division of the two.
You see, church and state have two different reasons-for-being. Mutually exclusive, incompatible, inconsistent. The state is a nation of laws; the church a kingdom of love. Let me repeat that. The state is a nation of laws; the church is kingdom of love. America isn’t here, foremost and first, to love anyone. That’s the reason the church exists. That’s the only reason the church exists. As Americans, we “ordain and establish” the constitution for six reasons … To form a more perfect union. To establish justice. To insure domestic tranquility. To provide for the common defense. To promote the general welfare. To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves, to our children, to their children after them. You’re heard it, before. But as church, we don’t do that! That’s not our mission! That’s not our ministry! Not as Christian, in general. Not as Lutherans, in particular. We do it as Americans! As do Americans from over three hundred different religions and denominations across this country. We are Americans! All of us! No matter what we believe! No matter whether we believe, at all! What’s it say in Amendment One … Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” State is state and church is church and never the two shall meet!
Let me explain it, this way … A month after that Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Dr. King spoke at U.C.L.A. “It may be true,” he said. “It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change [their] habits.” That’s the separation of church and state, the separation of state and church. One a nation of laws. One a kingdom of love. But if you mix the two together, if you merge them, if you melt them, love will always lose. Love will always lose.
The state’s here to regulate! The state’s here to restrain! Tt’s here to avert and avoid! The church is here to love! To love just like Jesus! That’s why most churches don’t have their own police forces, their own armies or navies. It’s not because the state does those things for them. We don’t have them because that’s not who we are! That’s not what we’re about! The state isn’t here to love me! That’s the job of the church! The state isn’t about turning the other or going the extra or doing unto. That’s the church’s reason-for-being! State isn’t here to save us. It’s here to make us safe.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …
That’s not church, that’s state!
In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, God forgives us! God forgives us all!
That’s not state, that’s church! Different! Separate! Distinct!
Two kingdoms. Two realms. Two realities. One anchored in law. The other rooted in love. Each with very different jobs to do. Yes, we are Christians. We are church that happens to be in America. But we are, also, Americans. Americans who just happen to be Christians. And we build a wall between the two. A wall of separation between church and state, between politics and religion. To maintain the identity, to preserve the integrity, of each. The state doesn’t proclaim our gospel for the church. And my friends, church doesn’t make laws for the state.