Everett Sileven’s stand for church autonomy

On Friday, September 3, 1982, a sheriff in Louisville, Nebraska, entered the sanctuary of Faith Baptist Church to arrest its pastor, Everett Sileven, as he preached to gathered schoolchildren. Just over one month later, the sheriff returned to physically remove a praying congregation and put a padlock on the church door…the congregation…had been involved in a three-year legal battle that began when the state of Nebraska passed legislation requiring private religious schools to hire state-credentialed teachers.

The church argued that the separation of church and state prohibited the government from regulating ministries of a church, including its Christian day school. They also refused to comply on the grounds that the church was God’s property.

Fundamentalists and evangelicals across the country followed the case. Christianity Today carried images of the padlocked church and Christians being carried away by authorities as they prayed. Some three hundred people, many of them pastors, had come to support Faith Baptist. The pastors in the group vowed that, one by one, they would assume leadership of the church and school. As soon as one pastor was arrested, another would take his place. A year later Pastor Sileven published a letter to the Nebraska legislature in the form of a small book entitled Dear Legislator: A Plea for Liberty in Christian Education

The Sileven case was finally settled in 1984 when the legislature included an exemption for religious schools that provided “alternative evidence” that their schools were educating students properly…

Legal scholar Neal Devins argued that this case was a turning point because the ability of Christian school supporters to mobilize as they did was a serious deterrent to other states considering regulations. The church’s supporters forced the state of Nebraska into “a game of chicken,” in which the state went to the graphic extreme of arresting a pastor and padlocking a church. The fact that other states did not want to pay that price to regulate private Christian schools has allowed those schools (and homeschooling parents as well) to retain a significant degree of autonomy.

Quote source

Ingersoll, J.J. (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 91, 93

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No separation of God or Christianity from the state

Much of the misunderstanding in the area of “the separation of Church and State” hinges on the interpretation of the First Amendment. The religion clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Traditionally, it has always been understood that this meant that in America there would be no State Church, like the one they had in [18th century] England. Historically, it has been understood that there is a separation of the function of the Church from the function of the State.

But that does not mean there is to be a separation of God or Christianity from the State…

Quote source

Kennedy, D.J. and Newcombe, J. (2001). What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? [ebook]. Thomas Nelson, Inc, Nashville. Location 1334

Christianity should never be limited to a private matter

According to a former Australian politician:

Your religion is your view and no one else’s. My personal view is that, when you make your religion an issue, you drag it into the political domain and you tarnish it.

It’s a good thing that view was just a personal one (that can be ignored). It’s an example of lets-pretend-politics-is-religiously-neutral rhetoric—and that’s what tarnishes religion. It’s time to counter that with a quote from R.J. Rushdoony:

The central evil of the modern view is that “religion is a private, personal matter.” This is a revolutionary idea, a product of the modern era and of revolutionary ideologies. Basic to the western world has been the premise that, because the God of the Scriptures is the living God, the Maker of heaven and earth and all things therein, any attempt to establish man and society apart from Him and His law is suicidal. Because the triune God is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), any attempt to establish anything apart from Him is a lie and a deadly venture (Ps. 127:1; Prov. 8:36). In terms of this, the free exercise of religion is a necessity in order that the wellsprings of human life be nourished, personally and socially…

Religion is both a public and a private concern. To restrict it to a personal matter is to deny its truth and to deny Christianity religious liberty. If “religion is a private, personal matter,” then religious liberty has a very narrow scope; the area of religious freedom then, as attorney William Bently Ball has noted, is the distance between our two ears. If “religion is a private, personal matter” then it has no legitimate place on the public scene. It should then be barred, as the courts have progressively done, from the schools, the state, and all public agencies…

The new definition of religious liberty is tailor-made to destroy Christianity. By reducing its freedom to “a private, personal” realm, it is doing what the Soviet Union has done. This kind of “religious freedom” exists in the Soviet Union.

Quote sources

  1. Vanstone, S cited in Gray, D. (2002). Vanstone Urges Godless Debate. The Age. Available http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/11/11/1036308630970.html. Last accessed 26th Dec 2014.
  2. Rushdoony, R.J. (n.d). Religious Liberty and Dominion. Chacledon Foundation. Available http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/religious-liberty-and-dominion/. Last accessed 26th Dec 2014.

Separation of church and state is code for…

Such moral anarchists talk much about the separation of church and state. For them it means freedom from religion, and the enforced silence of Christians on all matters of law and morality. (See Frank Brady on the Playboy position in Hefner, p. 219f, 1974.) Such people want to abolish religious freedom in favor of religious toleration. Toleration was the position of ancient Rome: a religion was tolerated if it submitted to licensure, regulation, taxation, controls, and certification, and, with all this, was silent where Rome wanted religion to be silent.

My two cents

Egg laying hens (chickens) in a factory farm b...
Egg laying hens in a factory farm battery cage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This quote isn’t reassuring as such, but it’s telling. Back as a teenager, I was naive enough to think that the slogan of separation of church and state was a simple separation, and little else.

Now that I’m older, I can see how the corollary to that is the state slowly and steadily regulating the church by default. If I’m not mistaken, Obama et al are bent on taking society back to the 50s. No, not the 1950s, but the 50s (50-59 AD) when the Roman Empire set the tone for the earliest Christians.

If the church were a bird, it would be a battery hen that is trapped in a cage, and forced to lay eggs and having its beak, claws or wings clipped.

So yes, there is a separation between the hen and the farmer. But more to the point, the farmer controls virtually everything about the hen. Of course, the hen has freedom—freedom to exist, and freedom maybe to cluck. But at the end of the day, the farmer hated hearing that and slammed the hatchery door shut. How soon until the hen is sent to the slaughterhouse?

Not yet—it’s still laying eggs. Such is freedom when there’s wall of separation between hen and farmer.

Quote source

Rushdoony, R.J. (1981). The Attack Against the Family. Available: http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-attack-against-the-family/. Last accessed 15th Jul 2013.

Separation of church and state in Australia? Thankfully not!

Let’s get one point clear at the beginning: Australia does not have a legally entrenched principle, or even a vague set of conventions, of the separation of church and state. From the appointment of Rev. Samuel Marsden as one of the first magistrates in colonial New South Wales, to the adoption of explicit policies of state aid for denominational schools during the 1960s, to the two examples mentioned above, Australia has had a very consistent tradition of cooperation between church and state. ‘Separation of church and state’, along with ‘the separation of powers’ or ‘pleading the Fifth’, are phrases that we have learned from the US, and which merely serve to confuse once they are taken out of the context of the American Constitution.

My two cents

This citation follows on from some comments I made earlier in the month about the religious mindset in Australia; I’m glad I found it, and moreso that I can share it.

Back to America, it is a world leader—both in Christianity, yet probably also in atheism. I think one reason for this is America’s large population, which is large enough to support a critical mass for both sides.

It’s interesting how Australians get a lot of influence from American TV programs and the like, but thankfully the church and state issue hasn’t rubbed off in quite the same way. Rather, it’s ended up as an empty-headed parroting (by certain Australians) of whatever Thomas Jefferson thought was right—something that can be swiftly rebuffed in an Australian setting.

I like how the Lord’s Prayer is said at the beginning of Australian Parliamentary sessions to this day; apparently there was talk back in 2008 to end it. Thankfully that got nixed by the leaders from both sides of Parliament.

Quote source

Hogan, M. (2001). Separation of church and state? Available: http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2001/05/hogan.html. Last accessed 20th Dec 2012.

Democracy as a buttress to churches

Well, today Russia is investing $100 million to rebuild Christian churches throughout the country. Money to rebuild theses churches is coming from Russian tax payers. This would be impossible in the US of course. Imagine the US Media’s reaction if President Obama decided to invest $100 million dollars of US tax payer dollars to rebuild Catholic Churches. In the US there would be outrage yet Russia citizens are supportive of the investment.

My two cents

St Nicholas Russian Orthdox
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (Photo credit: gillfoto)

For a nation that was blowing up churches a century ago, how nice it is to see it repent and help build them instead.

Too often we limit the debate on church and state matters to what vocal Americans (or humanists) have to say about it; there’s nothing to gain by holding to that approach. If I were more motivated, I’d embark on a project where I’d research what every country in the world has to say about state funding of churches—especially to publicise the countries where the populace is OK with it.

And too many people hold to Thomas Jefferson’s ‘wall of separation between church and state’ mantra while not realising that Jefferson cut and pasted the bits of the Bible he liked, while ditching the rest. And people (even Christians) take their cues from a fool like that?

Quote source

Ryan, S.K.. (2010). Is Russia more Christian than the United States? Medvedev might just say Yes! Available: http://www.ministryvalues.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=787&Itemid=354. Last accessed 6th Dec 2012.

Semantics of church and state; don’t fall for the trap

A cautious comment must here be inserted about the word ‘Church’. To the Christians of the East the Greek word ecclesia, or ‘church’, has always meant the whole body of the faithful, alive and dead. This is the Church mentioned in the Creed. But in practice, especially in the West, we use the ‘Church’ more and more to describe the priestly hierarchy, as opposed to the lay authorities. Indeed, owing to the deficiency of the English language, there is no other suitable word for the hierarchy. But in contrasting Church with State we are making a distinction which would have been meaningless to the Byzantines; and in making it we are committing a historical and philological error.

My two cents

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The semantics of words like church have important implications—the above quote explains why. I like how the Byzantine worldview saw the church’s reach in a much broader, less institutional fashion than people do today (I wonder how many anti-Christians understand this point). If that’s the conception that existed in days gone by, it’s a tad annoying that we haven’t stuck to it.

It reminds me of debates between Christians and atheists, where if the Christian has the atheist on the ropes when referring to God, the atheist will sometimes backpedal and ask rhetorically, “which God?” (as if it solves the debate). If that’s how it’s going to be, then two can play at that game. If atheists call for separation of church and state, then I’m going to say, “which church and which state?”

If they answer “all of them”, they’ve made the same philological error mentioned by Runciman; using the Byzantine conception (which precedes the current-day conception), there is only one church i.e. the whole body of the faithful, alive and dead.

Quote source

Runciman, S. (2003). The Byzantine Theocracy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 4