How do you answer critics of the separation of church and state, who say that concept is not in the U.S. Constitution? How do you answer those who believe that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation?
According to a national survey by the First Amendment Center, 65 percent of U.S. citizens think that our founders intended the nation as a Christian nation and 55 percent believe that the Constitution establishes the U.S. as a Christian nation.
First AmendmentCenter senior scholar Charles Haynes pointed out that Americans believe the U.S. is a Christian nation “in spite of the fact that the Constitution nowhere mentions God or Christianity.”
When USA Today ran a news story about this report, it quoted a leader from WallBuilders, a Christian Right advocacy group, calling the U.S. Constitution a “Christian document, just like the Declaration of Independence.”
The newspaper posted a response from an Orlando resident, who wrote: “The Founding Fathers were almost exclusively Christian. Because of their faith, they intimately wove Christianity into the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It is only the liberal left that is in error concerning the intent of the Founding Fathers.”
He accused liberals of misinterpreting the “so-called separation of the church and state.”
For some 25 years, the Christian Right has preached a false gospel that America is a Christian nation and the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution, meaning that church-state separation should not be a guiding principle in American politics. Their drum beat has been relentless.
For example, Southern Baptist fundamentalist leader W. A. Criswell said in 1984 at the Republican National Convention, “I believe this notion of the separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination.”
In 1990, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said: “What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time and one state at a time. I honestly believe that in my lifetime we will see a country once again governed by Christians…and Christian values.”
Speaking on “The 700 Club” in 1998, Pat Robertson said: “I want to say very clearly, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no such thing in the Constitution as, quote, separation of church and state. That term does not exist in the United States Constitution. It existed in the former Soviet Union’s constitution, but not America.”
On “Larry King Live” in 2006, James Dobson said: “The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. It’s not anywhere in the foundational documents. It has been picked up and made to be something that was never intended to be.”
The Christian Right has made these arguments so often that their claims have leached into the American belief system. And too often, good people of faith have ineffective responses to these assertions.
Our new documentary-styled DVD is intended to equip good people of faith with effective ways to speak up for church-state separation and to address truthfully the myth of America as a Christian nation.
“Golden Rule Politics” devotes an entire chapter to this issue that includes interviews with two Baptist pastors, the Episcopal bishop of Alabama and a Methodist state senator, who holds a master of divinity degree.
These interviewees set the historical record straight, offer clear language and provide concise arguments.
“The words, separation of church and state, are not in the Constitution. That is true, as some critics say. But the spirit is there,” said John Baker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Mo.
James Evans, pastor of First Baptist Church of Auburn, Ala., said: “The language is not in the Constitution. I get that. The language is that Congress will pass no law establishing a religion, nor will it hinder the free exercise thereof. In that wonderful paradoxical expression you find the two fears that were at work.”
Founders feared an established church and feared the loss of religious freedom, said Evans.
Admitting that Christians may have been in the drafting process, Evans said, “We are not established as a Christian nation.”
He stated clearly that the U.S. Constitution is “a document that establishes a secular government that protects religious freedom. And it’s a good thing. And it’s something worth defending.”
If you want effective ways to answer the harmful myths about church-state separation and the nation as a Christian nation, then “Golden Rule Politics” is an educational resource designed for a popular audience.
Breaking down wrongful myths requires relentless effort, not passive hope that some day, some way, things will change.
Constructive change can begin with our DVD. Order it today. Download the discussion guide. Print the press kit. Have answers to the critics of the separation of church and state, as well as those who misstate the claims of the U.S. as a Christian nation.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
To learn more about “Golden Rule Politics,” click here.