MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Pastor Wayne Miller with Grace Lutheran Church in Mobile joins us. Here’s a look at our conversation:
Anchor: With the 4th of July just passing us by, we wanted to talk about separation of church and state. As a pastor, how do you interpret what that means?
Guest: One of the greatest freedoms we as Americans were founded on was the free establishment and exercise of religion. It’s a blessing to be able to live in a place where my government doesn’t tell me what or who to worship, what to believe, what not to believe. It’s important today to still appreciate the two realms that we live in. One realm is the state and the other is the church. As a pastor, I live in both realms. I’m a Christian first and then I’m a voting citizen of the United States.
Anchor: The First Amendment kicks off forbidding Congress from establishing a religion, why is that significant?
Guest: Yes, the subject of the first amendment isn’t prohibiting the church from doing something, rather the government is prohibited. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of”. The First Amendment actually imposes more of a one-way restriction to prevent the state from interfering with the church, not so much to prevent the church from impacting the state. When we better appreciate how the church can support the state, the separation of church and state might be better referred to not as a “wall” but as a “short fence” or a “line in the sand”. The two can intersect with one another, and we see that in our court cases, in our conversations with others, it’s not so intended to keep them completely separate, but definitely emphasizes keeping the state out of the church.
Anchor: Where does the concept of “separation of church and state come from”?
Guest: The term “separation of church and state” is actually not found in the Declaration of Independence or the constitution. The term was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists, a minority religion at the time, who felt threatened of their own existence. They liked what Jefferson wrote them when he became president: He promises a “wall of separation” in reference to keeping the government out of the church. But the concept goes back further:
We can all be indebted to Martin Luther’s “Two Kingdoms Theology.” According to this teaching, God is active in both the realm of the state and the realm of the church. God has established both. Through the state, He brings law and order to society, through His church He brings forgiveness and faith through Jesus Christ His Son.
Anchor: What do you see as the defined roles of the state and the church?
Guest: We as God’s creatures are created with the need for physical care, mental care, emotional care, and spiritual care. We are not only physical beings but emotional beings, mental beings, and spiritual beings. I believe if you take out one of those entities of a person, their entire “being” begins to collapse. The state is certainly empowered to care for the physical order and needs of its people: the defense and welfare of its people. The church is established by God to care for the spiritual needs of the people. Our American homes and our communities are dependent on both realms.
Anchor: What are arguably healthy examples of a faith influencing a state?
Guest: I’ll give you a two-folded answer. Number one, the church has always been involved in charity and the physical care of the people too to help lift some burden off of the state; food pantries, hospitals, orphanages, etc. Christians should always be caring for life from the unborn to the very elderly. All of us exists to care for life. Not to create life. Not to kill life but to always care for life. There are many issues that fall into the life spectrum. But also, one of the most important roles for religion is to serve as the conscience of our country. When a country might be going too far off the path of God’s Word, we have conversations, we pray for the nation, for our leaders, for our culture, for the people who make up this blessed nation.