By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
The debate about the separation of church and state, more specifically the debate about the church and politics, is perhaps more potent today than it’s been in recent times.
Considering that in the past the church was very much the state - as is still is in the case of the Vatican other theocracies - the re-emergence of the church as a player in populist politics warrants discussion.
In fact, it’s the subject of much attention.
The role of the church - and religion - in (and to) a society is undeniable.
How deeply should the church delve into temporal matters of politics, and does it risk compromising its spiritual underpinning as the guardian of the morals - the very soul - of society by becoming so enmeshed?
These are challenging questions for the modern church, or at least the church in modern society.
To what degree does the church through its teachings, especially in a Christian context, be a force to regulate as opposed to legislate the governance of society or a country?
Should the church influence legislation as an external agent or become directly hands-on by being an active part of the legislative process; having legislators as men and women ‘of the cloth’?
Recent examples are noteworthy; Barbados (opposition leader an ordained minister), St Maarten (government minister a pastor), Montserrat (current premier a lay preacher), and Guyana where two of the parties contesting next year’s general election are formed out of churches and will field religious leaders as candidates.
The United States is currently seeing a deepening of the involvement of churches in the political process not just as independent arbiters or setting the moral compass.
While traditionally a source of spiritual guidance, the evangelical church in the US has recently been taking more of a central position in matters of state notably with the Donald Trump presidency, unlike his predecessors.
Some segments of the US evangelical church have taken the active participation, volunteered or by invitation, in candidate advocacy or policy endorsement in a populist political process to new levels.
At the same time, the vilification of the church in the US for calling into question what it regards as ‘un-Christian’ policies and conduct at the highest political levels has descended to new lows.
In the UK, the Church of England as the established church does have a legislative role.
Its bishops sit in the House of Lords and are known as the Lords Spiritual. As succinctly put by the BBC, “They are thought to bring a religious ethos to the secular process of law.”
Archbishops of Canterbury have been challenged in the press for weighing-in on issues felt to be better left to politicians and society to resolve.
But the very fact that the church is an integral part of society - and occupies a place (not just mere space) in the UK's parliamentary political process - debunks that argument.
The immediacy of the issue of church and state, the separation or coalescing thereof, is now confronting society in more direct ways not observed in recent history.
The separation of church and state was never enshrined in law as the absolutist ‘status aparte’ as envisioned by many.
It was actually meant to safeguard religious liberty from political interference.
With an ever-widening range of perceptions, interpretations and denominations, even religion-based ideologies; liberation theology to the emergence of 'prosperity theology' - the church remains at centre stage in western Christian societies.
From same-sex unions, immigration, religious tolerance, a breadth of social and human rights issues, economic and environmental concerns, and all matters linked to the governance of society, the voice and leadership of the church has resonance beyond worship.
The church is the people and the people are more than the church’s flock - they are the voters.
The challenge for both church and society is how best to obtain and maintain balance in an environment where political diktat, dogma or trending populism-based policies are at odds with biblical teaching… or the interpretations thereof.
27 Jan, 2020
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