Separation of Church & State: A Big Misunderstanding

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At a time of growing hatred and disunity in America, most Christian denominations remain as silent as church mice. National issues such as immigration, abortion, Critical Race Theory, and gender identity should evoke a response from Christ’s followers, but it’s not happening. The big question is “Why?”

Fear of criticism, reprisal, or persecution is one factor. These risks are real. Both clergy and everyday Christians come under negative public scrutiny when they speak out. Cancel culture has already claimed many victims.  

There’s another reason many Christians give for not speaking up, often identified as “the separation of church and state.” They use this official sounding title to support a claim that churches and government entities are to exist separately and distinctly from each other. In practice, people in this camp often expand this separation to include any expression of faith within any public square. I encounter many folks who take this view. They don’t understand how to integrate their faith with the rest of their lives. They compartmentalize, believing that one’s faith should not mingle with politics. Neither the Bible nor our Constitution supports separation of church and state.

The origins of the expression “separation of church and state” can be traced to a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The Danbury Baptist Association had written a letter voicing concern over the failure of their state’s constitution to include specific protections for religious freedom. Jefferson responded to the Danbury Baptists by referencing the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Jefferson went on to say this: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The metaphor, “wall of separation”, didn’t mean that religion should not influence one’s opinion on government issues. Rather, it was used to affirm free religious practice for citizens thanks to a protective wall between them and any government that would try to influence the expression of their faith.

Accordingly, Christians have the right and should have the courage to be bold in their faith. They should permit the truth of God’s Word to influence all aspects of their daily lives, including their politics. The “wall of separation” is intended to keep the government from  influencing our religious practice, not to keep our personal religious values from how we vote and what issues we stand for or against.

As Americans, we are citizens of a democratic republic. The government has been established to serve its citizens, not the other way around. When that government fails to fulfill its responsibility, its citizens need to speak up. Americans not only have the right to become involved in politics; they have a civic responsibility to do so.

As mentioned earlier, taking a public stand for your faith takes courage—a lot of courage. Jesus didn’t mince words when he declared the cost of discipleship. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24,25-NIV).

Jesus has called His disciples to be salt and light. When you see wrongdoing or evil being done, don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that there’s nothing you can or should do. Pray to God, investigate His Word for guidance, and then act as God leads.



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