Tag Archives: conservative

Separation of Powers and Religious Liberty

I have been interested in religion/faith and politics from as far back as I can remember. Mostly from my early 20’s. These are the kinds of questions I lose sleep over. Not in an anxious sort of way, just in an OCD sort of way. 🙂 One question that seems to come up time and time again has to do with equal treatment between religion and non-religion in the public square.

A number of years ago, I came across the Kuyperian view of things that gave explanatory power to these questions, however, (at least the materials I have read) they didn’t seem to respond to this question in substantial ways.

Kuyper, if you may recall, talked about the different spheres of society, each having distributive authority from God. For an example, the police have their own authority and a union has it’s own authority. Neither authority should be “omni-competent” taking over the other sphere’s authority. The police can’t take over the union and carry out their responsibility nor should the union do the job of the police. This is essentially what Kuyperians say is an injustice. I personally can bear this out with my job and that of Canadian Customs whom, in the past have expected me to do their job for them at times (I crossed the border fourteen times a night on a round trip. I have never had a problem with American Customs in this regard).

What you see here is what conservatives have always talked about and of which you can read in many of the writings of conservative websites and think tanks from some of their brightest thinkers—a separation of powers— plain and simple. I’m all for this because of my view of human nature. I believe that power can corrupt (not that it does so necessarily) and thus too much power in the hands of a particular sphere or authority is detrimental to the common good.

As an aside, Kuyperian political philosophy is actually conservative in this manner and I came to see this the more I delved into sphere sovereignty. Interestingly, I have a friend of mine who comes to LIBERTARIANISM from a Kuyperian position. Yet, Kuyperians will tell you that sphere sovereignty is different from conservatism and surely different from libertarianism. However, the reason I think Kuyper and conservatism are closer is not because of something I’ve discovered on my own but because it has actually been written about in books like Mark Larson’s book: “Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State’’ where he lays this out very succinctly.

It seems to me that where Kuyperians, conservatives and libertarians all lay their heads down is in this area of separation of powers. They may do so for various reasons but one of the underpinning reasons has to do with justice over-all.

Having said that, I think this touches on the first paragraph of the equal treatment of religion and non-religion in the public square stated above. It’s not so much a question of fairness (for life is hardly ever fair) but one of justice. How do we, as a society, do justice to religious belief and non-religious belief in the public square without establishing one or the other? Again, it comes up time and time again in battles that take place in the courts. For an example, the statue of Satan being placed next to the Ten Commandments in a public square-how does a society do justice to both?

An aside: Satanism is most assuredly a belief system and so I would not say it is UNBELIEF, thus I think it would differ from atheism which seeks to be free OF religious experience. Concerning belief and non-belief though, how does a government seek to do justice to both of those?

At the moment, I’m reading, “Secular Government/Religious People” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle

I can’t say much about the book because I’ve just gotten into it other than this:

In there, they argue that a “secular government” is not necessarily hostile to religion and establishes an official religion of secularism. Kuyperianism will tell you that in many respects the role of government is to act in a judicial manner between the differing spheres (something the authors recognize). A further implication of this separation of authorities (authorities here can mean the different religious authorities as well) is that government:

“…does not promote religious worship, oversee religious indoctrination, or exercise religious authority. Instead, that responsibility belongs solely to the people and their voluntary religious communities.”

That being the case then, my question is, can the public “space” be filled with religion or no religion? So coming back to our example of belief and non-belief in the public square, would it be the case of government, not endorsing any particular religion per-se, but by allowing religious belief in the public, is that not essentially a violation of government backed religion? Would it violate the rights of those with “no religion?”

The authors as far as I can tell may get into this question but for now they say that each side:

“…ignores half of the “Constitution’s distinctive way of connecting secular government and religious people.”

That is,

“One group exalts the secularity of the state but dismisses the religious character of the people, and the government’s legitimate responsiveness to that character. The other group denies the distinction between the government and the people, and expects the government to mirror and celebrate the community’s (usually the majority’s) religious identity.”

For me, at this point, “no-religion” IS religion. It IS religious. That to me seems to be an important question I hope the authors address. For there really is no violation of establishment of religion when all is religious. If the character of the people is religious, as the authors say, then atheist or theist, a government is ultimately going to violate, at a fundamental level, one party’s religion.

Divisions, Divisions, Divisions!!!

Some years ago I picked up a couple of books, one put out by Randall L. Frame and Alan Tharpe entitled, “How Right is the Right?” and one by Ronald Nash, entitled, “Why the Left is Not Right”

Even in today’s political climate these books are still a relevant read as they both critically expound on the positions of their opponents views (as well as their own) which have not changed since the time they were written (though some political situations have changed). One may try to package things differently and or say it slightly afresh today (we see this with regard to Marxist class theory from the working class to “identity politics” ie., the working class based butt hurt has shifted towards the sexual arena or racism) and yes, in some cases, the intent to do this is to deceive those who are not aware that these ideas have been around for quite some time now (the younger folk). Why they would do so has to do with political power. That is, they would like to get their way enshrined not only in law but the minds of the aforementioned un-informed or the gullible (which can impact law).

For me, one of the most important ideas that I understood, prior to ever reading it in Nash’s book, was that it is not that both Left and Right wing Christians don’t love their neighbour but that they both have different solutions or answers to social and political problems that exist in society. It really is a sad state of affairs that uncivilized national discourse has crept into the Christian community as a whole where one or both sides is either claiming who is loving as Jesus did or claims God’s answer to a particular social ill is “the Christian response.” One use to see this from the right back in the day but now one sees it from the left. This is not to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of left/right policy positions but rather to mention the bad faith between Christian brothers and sisters.

So politics divides Christians.

(As an aside, I’m OK with that, for I’ve usually been comfortable with tribalism. Tribalism in the Church, in politics and in society. I’m not completely against openness to other people, groups, nations, churches, etc, as long as others are open to each other “naturally,” (James Kalb) where the feeling is mutual and it is not forced whether by government or one another and where the goal is not to change the other. End of aside)

But to the point above, let me be a little more precise about the civil discourse (not so much the uncivilized aspect as much as the argument itself).

Basically it goes something like this:

Progressive Christian: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Me: This is a broad neutral statement. For me the important question is, “What does this look like in the concrete reality of life?” If, say, we wanted to improve the economic standing of the poor (which is a loving thing to do), how would we do that? Would we do that via a socialist scheme or a free market capitalist one? The answer doesn’t reside in the raw theology of the Bible for the Bible is not a comprehensive economic guide. Like science. It doesn’t tell us which way to go on these things. It only gives us the raw data, broad neutral statement of “loving our neighbour.” We need to go “beyond the Bible” if you will to economic theory.

(As an aside, what I mean when I say the above concerns “full fledge” free-market capitalism as opposed to a simple base line one. That is, I believe the Bible does provide the “seeds” of a capitalist economic system, ie., ownership of property, free buying and selling of goods, etc, and not the seeds of a socialist one. For me, socialist interpretations of scripture are rather strained. End of aside)

That alone should be enough for us to bring up our level of discourse. The problem is not in theology. The problem is in reality. The “facts” if you will. What we have is basically two parties wedding economic theory to the Bible. Even if you wanted to say that the Bible supported a democratic socialism or socialism or communism (as we understand them today) one would still have to contend with the individual economic theories. Here is a quote by Ronald Nash on all of this:

Is There a Religious Left?

Why Should We Care

Years ago, I supposed conservative Christians would have been surprised—even shocked—that self-professed evangelicals were supporting and even actively promoting liberal causes But those were the days when evangelicals—better known as fundamentalists—separated themselves from societal affairs at large. On still encounters people like this. But most evangelicals themselves care deeply about what is happening in America’s schools, government, and abortion clinics. They also care about racial justice, the environment, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. As indicated by the charities they support, they also care about poor, sick, and starving people in other nations. For most of my lifetime, liberals have been telling this nation that caring in these ways **must translate**into voting for liberal politicians and supporting liberal social policies. The evangelical liberals have been part of this liberal establishment. But I contend that liberalism is an exercise in fraud and deceit. The more than five trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money the federal government spent in the vain hope that it would put an end to poverty in America did not simply fall short of the goal. It actually made the situation worse. We now have more poor people in the United States than there were before the start of the War on Poverty pr-grams in the mid-sixties—and they are also worse off today. Some in the evangelical Left now tell us they no longer support the liberal welfare state. They admit that it has failed, and they propose to provide new leadership and direction in the next decade. The past record of these people needs to be known so we can better judge their claims about the present and their promises for the future. Why do they attack evangelical conservatives? What do they believe? Are they really centrists, and if not, why do they claim they are.


The secular and religious Left find it convenient to demonize politically conservative Christians. It is true that many evangelicals were unconscionably inattentive thirty or forty years ago; of course, the world was a different place back then.

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., observes:

It is strange that twentieth-century evangelical Christian, would have ever needed to be convinced that they should be concerned about social problems. Many of their spiritual forebears always were. Their compassion and fervor animated the campaigns against the slave trade and child labor in England and, one could argue, was the basis of most reform initiatives of the early nineteenth century. The claims that the faith of American Christians should always be an intensely private affair between the individual and Cod would have been news to such diverse persons as the Pilgrims, from John Winthrop to Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of slavery.

Whatever their shortcomings may have been back then, Michael Cromartie observes, “Evangelicals of every perspective no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It is a settled issue that `the least of these’ among us should be treated with both charity and justice. The debates now revolve around prudential questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normative standards of justice.” The members of the evangelical Left are wrong to claim that they hold the monopoly on concern for peace and justice. The more central issue for evangelicals today is what those terms mean. The evangelical Left has appeared to some to have simply assumed the standard liberal understanding of the words and then discredited anyone (including their politically conservative brethren) who understood the terms differently and who pursued the objectives of peace and justice in a different way. There is no evidence to support liberal insinuations that being a conservative entails opposition to racial and social justice means being unconcerned about unjust social structures. What the Left does is simply assume, for example, that concern for poverty **must manifest itself in unqualified support for misguided liberal social programs.** They simply take it for granted that concern for racial justice **must translate into support for so-called Affirmative Action programs** that turn out to be exercises in reverse discrimination. It is time to strip away the false front that the evangelical Left has hidden behind and see what they really stand for.”

This is a most important point that colours everything you read in these volumes and for me personally, it colours my view of politics as a whole. Even if one were to disagree, why the name calling or ad hominem, especially from Christians is beyond me. For all they are really doing, it seems to me, is arguing over political philosophy not theology. And it is the theology that holds them together as brothers and sisters.

Becoming Like Children: In the Context of the Same-Sex Debate

It’s almost that time of the year for me to start blogging again.  The summer hours at work had me going in earlier and staying longer, (I get an hour and ten minutes for a lunch break!). I apologize for not keeping you informed concerning the circumstances.

I do want to return to Greg Boyd’s stuff on politics eventually.  The nature of those will probably be in which they are done sporadically.  Because they’ll be sporadic, I’ll keep them categorized for ease of reference.  The reason I’m wanting to do things like this is because there are many other issues to talk about and I don’t want to concentrate on one and only one topic for long periods of time.

As for right now, I want to talk about something I’ve noticed in the evangelical Christian community (as this is the primary group I’m attempting to address).  I grew up in a rather conservative setting in terms of church.  Of course, you get accustomed to some ways of doing things as far as theology and ethics is concerned and over time you think this is what God and faith is all about–that this is what Christianity is all about. In other words, your church teaches something about God, say, God’s immutability and God becomes over time, stoic and it seems as if this picture we have of God who becomes a God who is emotionless (though I do think that God is as aesthetically satisfied within God’s self, thus there is nothing within creation that can cause God to “lose it” like we humans can) is taken for granted as if this is what God is really like.  Or, ethically speaking, certain practices that are suppose to flow out of our love relationship, become so routine, that we think that this is “the way it is” and/or we think this or that practice is next to the Gospel itself.  That is, we put those practices on par with the Gospel such that they take on a life of their own and we mistake them for the importance we think they are.

Now, though you will find this persistently in conservative circles, it seems that this can occur just about anywhere–in any church or church denomination or branch of Christianity ie., Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic and Liberal traditions.  For instance, in the last couple of years, I’ve come across more Christians who run along a more liberal vein of Christianity.  I’m not necessarily talking about those more traditional liberal types such as, say, Delwin Brown, rather, I’m speaking of those Christians whom fall somewhere between the traditional liberals and Jim Wallis, Brian McClaren types–these “post-modern” or “younger evangelical” types.  They hold, to traditional teachings and formulations of the Church on most things, though this isn’t entirely accurate, but contra to the “liberals” I’m referring to, they are much closer to orthodoxy.  Ethically speaking, they fall along liberal lines especially when it comes to abortion and homosexuality or gay marriage.  Regardless of where they fall on these issues, they seem to resist change when, for an example, a flaw in an argument(s) can be found on these questions.

Let me give an example.  It is a mantra of those on the left side of the political spectrum to say something along the lines that gay people are “born that way.”  However it comes across, one is left with the idea that one cannot change their orientation.  This is the way it is and that’s that.  But let’s think about this for a moment.  Let’s put that on the back burner for the time being.  It is my belief that there are a myriad of variables that influence who we are and what we will become.  For example, there are genetic influences.  There are social influences.  There are mental influences and there are spiritual influences.  And of course, there is free will (I give that credence though some theologians and philosophers don’t.  For them, the proof is in the pudding so to speak, a la, rarely does one “rise above” their circumstance and make the needed changes ie., Oprah).  Either way, most will agree that even if these don’t shape or exert themselves on homosexuals, they will say that that is the case with everything else about a person.  If this is the correct, then what that means, is that there may be any one or any number of influences upon a person shaping the way they will eventually become.  If THAT is the case, then it is very hard to say, where one influence begins and ends and where another one begins and ends.  If that is the case, then it is hard to say at which point someone chooses courses of action outside of their “center of morally responsible freedom and…influences outside of their control.”  (Boyd)  And if THAT is the case, then it is also the case that there is ONLY ONE who can know this and that is God.

Now, for me, this is a moderate position between both conservatives, who want to say that God can “repair” (yes, that is in quotes because for conservatives repairing is thought of in terms of a gay/straight paradigm.  God can make someone “straight”).  But it is also a moderate position for those liberals who say that people are “born that way.” Because there are the numerous influences, NO ONE can say what variable exerts itself more than others–where one starts and where one ends.  For both sides then, this will mean there is no, “gay or straight” in Christ.  You either look more like Christ or you don’t and that is you ultimately reflect God’s love back to God and to others or you don’t.  To the extent that you don’t, you look less like Christ.  And this can manifest itself in a number of ways that have everything to do with sexuality.  For an example, let’s say I hold a grudge against someone.  Now, it is through my sexuality that I am in relationship with that person.  I relate to them through feelings, thoughts emotions, and how I identify myself.  Even if I don’t have same sex attractions or feelings or thoughts or emotions or identify in this way, my sexuality is still “damaged” when I hold a grudge against them.  When someone holds ill feelings towards the opposite sex because they have been hurt by them, even though they are not gay, their sexuality is “damaged.”  They are not whole sexually.  Someone has addictions towards the opposite sex.  They’re not sexually whole.  Why?  Because ultimately, they are trying to fill something that only God can fill.

At the end of the day, while I don’t want to say that my more moderate position is going to be “the right one,”  I do think we should be fluid enough (like children ie., Jamie Smith in “Whose Afraid of Postmodernism?”) such that whatever position we hold, we don’t hold it so tightly that we can’t change.