What do YOU think?

Sit and reflect awhile

Amish Rocking chair

This post requests YOUR views on a hot topic.

“The GOOD Society: Religion and Politics” drew a crowd last night in Chaska.  The panel was a Quaker, a Christian, and a Baha’i. Those who came were Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Unitarian-Universalist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, agnostic, atheist searching together. Add your voice to the discussion.


What is your vision of the GOOD society, the kind of world you believe in?  Here are several answers from last night to whet your appetite.

The kingdom of God realized (Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven”).

What would that look like? What would be different if it was realized?

What are the qualities of that society? A ‘kingdom’ is a society.

The kin-dom of God, the idea of the kingdom without the ‘g’ – the society of universal kinship. “There is only nation: the human family.”

Agree or disagree and why?

The Unites States is a secular republic, not a religious republic. The founders were clear that America was not to be a theocracy. The “wall of separation” between church and state guarantees the free expression of religion.  It also protects the state (government) against any one religion being on the throne, as in Iran, and as had once been the case in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

What is the role of religion in the shaping of public life and in politics? By “politics” we do not mean “dirty politics” or “partisan politics’; we mean politics as the work of the polis (the people) in determining the values and laws that hold a religiously free society together. For example:

The Minnesota referendum on Marriage illustrates the problem.

What is “marriage”? Who defines it? Is it a religious concept or a civil concept?

Should a constitution be amended to define marriage?

Should the “wall of separation” leave the definition of and celebration of                  “marriage” (however defined) to the church, synagogue, mosque, etc., and instead provide for “civil unions” (legal contracts between two people irrespective of gender)?

All of us have religious/humanist and political traditions that informs us. One of those for me is the “Principles of Church Order” adopted in 1789 at the founding of the Presbyterian Church in the United States meeting in Philadelphia.  The Rev. John Witherspoon, one of the  signers of the Declaration of Independence and President of Princeton University, was also a key player in the Principles of Church Order intended to guide the church’s internal life and its relation to “the civil power”. Three of the eight principles, it seems to me, inform the current discussion.

On Church and State:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience…. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable. We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.

In short, we live in a secular democratic republic in which “the civil power” does not aid any religion, but protects the free exercise of all religions equally, without privileging one over another.

On the shared search for truth and goodness: That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it of no consequence what a person’s opinions are.  On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty.  Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

In short: ideas do matter. The search for what I’m calling “the good society” is based on a shared commitment to the search for truth, not just opinion. Some degree of objectivity or what philosopher Gabriel Marcell called “inter-subjectivity”, not just my own subjectivity. My opinion might be that the moon is made of green cheese or that Earth, not the sun, is the center of our solar system. Ideas and opinions have social consequences.  And in all things, the truth exists for the sake of “goodness” – human and environmental wellbeing.

On the exercise of mutual forbearance: That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effective provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good character and principles may differ.  And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.

In summary:  In a secular democratic republic, 1) no religion gets to “capture the flag” of the United States of America.  We honor individual conscience as the corrective light that reforms the prevailing ideas of truth and goodness. 2) We seek truth rather than sinking into the swamp of “I’m sorry, that’s the way I feel, and it’s none of your business, and yours is none of mine.” The acceptance of pluralism is not surrender to the swamp of anarchy or the refusal to look at the evidence of science or to engage in the common search for solutions to social problems.  3) Where we differ and disagree, however intensely, we will exercise mutual respect and patience while we work it out together.

Enough for this morning.  Chime in. Let others know what you’re thinking.

Thanks for visiting.

8 thoughts on “What do YOU think?

  1. Pastor, you provide quite a lot to digest! Some thoughts that come to mind:

    First and foremost, as I’ve said before, the Christianity that I’ve made my own makes me very reluctant to overtly mix my faith and my politics. I guess by that I mean, I try not to claim that my own personal views are somehow endorsed by God, or, worse, the “views” of God. That would be idolatry of the worst kind, the setting up of my own, fallen reason as an idol.

    Having said that, I’ll reply directly to a few of the questions you raise. As a sinner, I know that *my* vision of the good society, whatever it might be, would be fatally flawed. We’ve seen what happens when one person, or one sect, seeks to impose its version of the “good society” on a population; you inevitably get cults of personality and, often, bloodbaths (Hitler, Stalin, Mao just in the last century alone). This is part of the genius of our constitutional system; I love Franklin’s alleged quip: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Part of its brilliance is reflected, I think, in the fact that the constitution is referred to, and revered, by the full spectrum, left to right, of mainstream opinion. It’s specifically designed to keep any one viewpoint from taking full control of the reins of power. Perhaps that’s as “good” as it can get this side of the parousia.

    My opening paragraph notwithstanding, it’s obvious that one’s faith, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or whatever, will inform the choices one makes in the public arena, if it is deeply held. Faith isn’t just a “part” of the believer; it forms the foundation out of which everything else grows. (This is just as true of non-believers, whose faith seems to be in human reason.) Since you chose marriage as your case study, I guess I’ll have to go there! Marriage predates any political structure. More than that, it is ontologically prior to politics (IMHO of course). A marriage reunites the separated halves that make full humanity (God’s own image in which we are created is “male and female”). To me that puts it outside of the authority of the State to re-define marriage as such. That the question has even arisen to make this explicit in civil law just shows how far “down the rabbit hole” or “through the looking-glass” – very Lewis Carroll – we in the post-Enlightenment West have gone.

    Of course other Christians (and Jews and others) take the opposite view to mine. For the State to refuse to recognize a UCC sanctioned union – which they consider a marriage – of two men as “marriage” could arguably be called an infringement on the UCC’s freedom of religion, a violation of its First Amendment rights to practice their faith as they see fit without interference from the State. I’m frankly surprised that this tack hasn’t yet (to my knowledge) been taken in the courts. Ultimately I think this acrimonious and ugly debate provides support for the idea that the State has no more business performing and regulating marriages than it has performing and regulating baptisms. (I guess that means that my answer to your question – “Is (marriage) a religious concept or a civil concept?” – is solidly “religious.”) No matter what happens, one “side” will thump its chest and gloat, giving the final victory to the mortal sin of Pride.

    You raise other interesting questions but that’s going to have to be enough for now.


    • What a THOUGHTFUL reflection, or set of reflections. You have no idea how it gladdens my heart to know that someone has taken the time to read the post but to take the time to think it through and respond. I love it, Tony. Keep ’em coming.


  2. March 7, 2012

    Excellent program yesterday. The re-defining of kingdom to kin-dom… was the breath of fresh air just when I needed it. KINGdom talk does not work very well for me. One of the things I like most about atheism is the acceptance of 75 or so years of life if you are lucky. I think that believing that THIS, is all there is… tends to encourage an attempt to make the best of every minute, for the good of all of humanity, as well as for self. Atheists seem to have a well developed regard for the earthly future of humanity.

    I have appreciated Quakers for a long time. When I was in the US Air Force, I picked up on the American Friends Service Committee, AFSC. I subscribed to their newsletter… “Simple Living.” Many of their ideas became part of my permanent consciousness. The newsletter once published a cartoon which I taped in my locker at work for decades. It depicts a family photo being taken in front of the garage. Before the photographer… stand mom and dad, the kids, the dog… and an array of material achievements spread out on the driveway… snowmobiles, jet skis, boats, boom box, etc.

    The AFSC newsletter contributed to my becoming a peace activist… as I read it in the barracks. (I was not a fighting air force pilot… I piloted one of the first IBM Selectronic computer typewriters).

    It was good for me to learn about Bahai faith. The ideas expressed by all participants would tend to achieve what I hope for… including recognition that religion and government are separate. Our government, created and nurtured by us… is based upon a carefully prepared document and over two hundred years of carefully considered interpretation and adjustment… not to mention the struggles and battles. When our government says that abortion is legal, it doesn’t mean that it is required. It means that it has been determined democratically by majority to be within the law. No religion should be making laws or rules for non-members. When that happens the results are predictable.

    On marriage… here is my story. Thirty-eight years ago, after work, across the street from the office, Kathy and I got married in the judge’s office. We did have to remind him to keep his bible in his desk drawer. Marriage is a logical legal agreement between two people and the state. A religious marriage ceremony is an option. Religious institutions should have nothing to say about the marriage of non-members. The state has no business issuing marriage licenses according to “approved sexual orientation.” Part of my Air Force time was in Mississippi, while MLK was working on the dream. My daughter got the long version of the story. She says that the anti gay marriage movement sounds familiar. We have a tendency to forget the long history of discrimination according to sex, race, economic status, and sexual orientation. Maybe I should add that I think these prejudices are convenient tools in the quiver of broadcast propagandists who work for people that most of us would oppose if we looked closely.

    -Robert Perschmann


    • Bob, I’m so glad you came last night and that you shared your thoughts here. Your life story is always interesting, in no small part, because you’ve chosen to really LIVE it, experience it, for yourself. Thank you again, for thinking these matters through out loud so that others can hear what yoou’re thinking. I’ll be sure and share your fondness for the kin-dom with Gwin Pratt, who phrased it.


  3. It seems the US is not really a country based on separation of church & state. When a nation runs itself on the basis of something called by economists “The Invisible Hand” of Adam Smith we seem to have created a church called free enterprise/radical individualism. Could we say for discussion purposes that this belief in the “invisible hand” has filled the vacuum left when traditional religion is separated from the state & we end up worshiping the bottom line/GNP as the indicator of a healthy society? The “invisible hand implies the presence of God legitimizing the free market & has in fact become the definition of democracy. Haven’t banks, the 3 largest skyscrapers in the TC metro, replaced churches as the skyline’s dominant symbol of our culture? We just dropped a trillion $ or so in these modern church’s collection plates because we believe as representatives of God’s “invisible hand” they are our church.


    • VERY interesting observations and questions. Theologian Paul Tillich defined “god” as one’s “ultimate concern.” We didn’t touch last night on the economic system, the banks, too big to fail, etc. From a Christian point of view, econonics is about “the one house” we all live in and HOW we live in it. We’re not doing well rigtht now with the concept of a single house, or with what’s happening to the re-distribution of wealth to the top. I’ve argued elsewhere on minnpost.com that we no longer live in a representative democracy. The American “house” is an Oligarchy, the house ruled by the few for the sake of the few. I’m preaching this Sunday on Jesus expelling the money-changers (the bankers) from the temple. I think that’s where it was at for Jesus, and that’s where it should be for those who seek to follow him. “Blessed are the poor.” “Blessed are the meek.” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your reward.” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Every tower of babel falls eventually of its own hubris.


    • Seconded. I hope to find time to give a more thoughtful response to this post, but for many years I’ve been convinced that consumer capitalism is the de facto state religion of the United States, in that it is the one principle which apparently cannot even be questioned. “Lo! The trumpet sounds! All must bow to the Great God Free Market!” Those who do not bow are thrown into the flaming furnace. This is the face of idolatry in our age.


      • Tony, this is what Occupy is about, isn’t it. And it’s what Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple, not because he hated the temple, but because the temple authorites had turned it into a market where they were fleecing the poor. Jesus was outraged, stood with the poor and the outcasts, the 99 percent. The god of consumer captialism is being exposed as a fraud by the Occupy movement and by so many other people of character, reason, and principle who see what’s happening as the opposite of any kind of meaningful democracy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s