“I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be judged.” -1816, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Mrs. H. Harrison Smith
Here in Ohio we had Issue 3, which was a statewide referendum on casino gambling. The issue passed, and, (4) cities in Ohio will be granted a license to build Las Vegas type casinos. The cities are Cincinnati (my hometown), Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus. I count (25) states with casino gambling. The impetus for this post is that the Catholic Church issued a press release a couple of weeks ago condemning the ballot initiative. The reason? “Moral, social, and economic reasons”. Being a recovering Catholic, I seem to recall festivals, Monte Carlo nights, weekly Bingo, on and on. The church would have us believe that these activities are not “gambling”, but righteous fund raisers for the salvation of a multitude of souls archdiocese would say the “Vote No on Casinos” stance had nothing to do with the possible diversion of funds that otherwise would end up in the coffers of the church. No hypocrisy here.
Throughout our country’s history, Pulpit Politics has attempted to shape public policy all the way back to pre-revolution, Tory dominated Boston, to the split of the Methodist Episcopals prior to The Civil War, and the current Roman Catholic stance that makes us scratch our collective heads. The heart and soul of the American Revolution which was Boston, was fairly evenly divided on allegiance to the crown and the complete independence from England.
Anglican churches preached fire and brimstone sermons opposing independence, with had nothing to do, once again, with the business of religion. Since the Anglicans were really just an Americanized version of the Church of England, this really was no surprise. The Roman Catholics, however, were accustomed to a huge power base for centuries in Europe, and, in actuality, were responsible for that political structure. So for the Archdiocese to preach from the pulpit about the evils of previously mentioned Issue 3, should not be a big surprise either.
Likewise, the Methodists in the southern states could not agree with their counterparts in the northern states about slavery. Sermons on Sundays were riddled with talk of the moral absurdities of the “peculiar institution” on the north, and spirited speeches about secession in the south. Granted, slavery was a very real and serious moral issue, there was no resolution that was going to come from a pastor, preacher, priest, or any other clergy. This issue was to be settled politically, and no sermon written was going to serve as a replacement for public policy.
Once again, none of this had anything to do with biblical themes or the business of salvation. Publicly, the founders professed no membership in a particular religious denomination. Privately, it may have been a different matter, but based on the First Amendment, religion was intended to be a private matter, that is, not public.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The founders had it right. Religion is and should be a personal issue. Religious doctrine should be about religion, not public policy. Political matters are for governments at all levels to determine, and the First Amendment should preclude Pulpit Politics. This guarantees us the right to worship as we please, or not at all. The founders knew that morality was based in human nature. They felt that by allowing us to choose our faith, this would be a means to the end of religious intolerance that was prevalent in the Church of England and the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The freedom is there, but so is the intolerance. Let’s go to the Town Hall to listen to politics, and church for the religion. OK?
“One man's religion is another man's belly laugh.” Robert Heinlein