Issues Of Separation

Mark Nymeyer

When someone uses the word “Separatists” I am reminded of the original Puritans who came to the shores of Massachusetts to find a place to worship God. They left England because it was not a friendly place to worship as they saw fit. They separated so that they could worship God their way; the challenges came from both the institutional Church of England as well as the State that was wed to it. That was the 1600s.

When someone uses the word “separation” I am reminded of a story that took place in the 1800s. Thomas Jefferson had just been elected the third president of the United States and he sat down New Year’s Day (1802) to send a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. In that letter he stated two things which define an issue of separation in 2020.

He wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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 & State.”

It did not take long for the letter to be published and then it went quietly away into the same place that all Presidential papers go. However, in 1879 the Supreme Court referenced the letter and used it to describe the “scope and effect of the [first] amendment.” It went away again, for 68 years but returned in the majority opinion of Justice Hugo Black in “Everson v. Board of Education”. He wrote, “a wall of separation between church and State.’ . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

Jefferson idealized “Individualism” and provided a missive metaphor that has become a “Legal Absolute”. In 21st Century America we are sold on individualism as our personal right and “the wall that separates Church and State” as a national distinctive among the community of nations.

A couple of years ago I listened to a radio commentator interview a Muslim cleric who identified a key difference between his country’s political views and America’s. He said that we Americans celebrate “separation of Church and State” as an enduring strength; whereas he comes from a country where their strength is rooted in the “absolute union of Mosque and State”. He further stated that because of the union of Mosque and State the Muslim world would defeat the West. He believed that without their union there is no enduring reason to engage an enemy who threatens a nations’ lifestyle that is solely rooted in capitalism. He did not believe that the American public would battle the Muslim world just to sustain our Western Capitalistic ways; there has to be more. At that moment I turned off the radio and pondered his comments. I believe that his conclusion has merit.

As we separate our national conscience from traditional Christian mores we grow more and more fragmented around our individual agendas. The political result is that our new leaders are the people who promise the most to the most people yet are unable to keep any of those promises. Meanwhile they access the top rung of the good life as elected representatives. Just today two Cabinet nominees have withdrawn because they were “sloppy” living the good life.

Perhaps traditional Christian virtue would return to the political stage if we separated all levels of political leadership from money and placed every elected official in the same Social Security network that the blue collar worker lives with. End any and all contributions from PACs and any and all gifts from Lobbyists; limit all contributions to $99 per person, period. Put the entire sum of PERS into the Social Security Trust Fund and separate the “mother’s milk of politics” from the politicians who have the power to direct money. Finally, deposit all “left over” campaign funds into the public till and begin again.

We began as a country with deeply held religious beliefs and it was expected that those beliefs would inform and govern our public and political conscience. Over the past 60+ years we have systematically separated our national soul from our religious roots and the moral convictions that nurtured them. All we have left is the capitalistic machine that was born from it and it is consuming us; it may be destroying us.

We stand on the precipice of financial disaster. Could it be that we have separated ourselves from the wrong thing and cling to the one thing that should never be the goal of any person or nation?

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