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The Myth of Church and State Separation

I believe that the Church should use its pastoral and teaching functions to minister  Jesus’ admonitions to us and to representatives of the State to love other people, do them no harm, and never tire of doing good, as the Apostle Paul enjoins us to do (Galatians 6:9); seek to apply Jesus’ teachings to contemporary issues and concerns. 

However, the Church’s influence in matters of the State (and often in religious matters as well) has not only been an abject failure when it comes to applying Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings to contemporary issues, but it has all too often been diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings in secular matters and has helped enable the State to roll over the most vulnerable in society by justifying both the status quo and by mouthing the shibboleths of those in power who share its bureaucratic and political concerns to remain in power and continue exercising control over others.

The institutional Church has become enmeshed with the State and beholden to the State for assorted reasons, not the least of which is its tax-exempt status!  Denominational and church leaders certainly don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, so the myth of separation of Church and State certainly rings hollow!

It is only when the Church, in fact, speaks truth to power, speaks out for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the downhearted, and fights people’s natural inclination to be aggressive to their fellow human beings, and out of their selfishness and greed literally and figuratively rape others, the land, and their environment, that the Church will deserve the respect it should have by being both the repository of faith as well as the vehicle to authentically teach and live out Jesus’ life, work, and teachings in the public square.

It is, therefore, a profound tragedy that a presumed minister of the Gospel and an institutional Church leader can be designated “bigot of the year” by anyone or any group in Britain, or anywhere else for that matter!

“In a night of mixed awards, the Rt Rev Anthony Priddis, the 104th Bishop of Hereford, was named bigot of the year by Stonewall. An employment tribunal in Cardiff in April heard how youth worker John Reaney, 42, was left feeling humiliated after a two-hour interview during which the bishop grilled him about a previous gay relationship. The tribunal decided Mr Reaney had been a victim of unfair dismissal and awarded damages against the Church of England.”  [For the full article, see here.]

Most of the institutional Church in the U.S. is against legal sanctioning of full and equal civil rights for LGBT people because its homophobic clergy will no longer be able to discriminate against them with impunity!  Moreover, these homophobic clergy are frightened that after their homophobic rants, there might be some wack job who will then, after hearing those rants, go out and assault or murder a Gay person and the clergyperson will then be held liable for civil, and perhaps criminal, damages and prosecution.

Clergy who publicly defame LGBT people must be held civilly and, if appropriate, criminally liable for their words and acts of discrimination!  There is absolutely no reason why clergy should be given a pass to condemn others and, after helping to create and reinforce a climate of hate, wash their hands, much as did Pontius Pilate, and say that the consequences of their hateful speech and actions are none of their concern, and for which they should be held immune.

Nonsense!  The fight for LGBT rights must begin with the homophobic churches and homophobic clergy who vent their prejudices in the name of God, thereby giving those prejudices a biblical justification which they don’t deserve, and which distort the very admonitions Jesus gives His followers!

If organized, orchestrated activism is to occur, it should begin by being directed against homophobic churches and clergy, for it is they that largely provide “justification” for political, social, and individual acts of hate and discrimination directed against God’s LGBT children!  Boycotts, picketing, letters to the editor of local, regional, and national newspapers, and other such coordinated activism must begin and continue until homophobic clergy and churches come to the point where they either manifest Jesus’ teachings, or close up shop, which all too many of them should do!

It did my heart good to read in this article that “The tribunal decided Mr Reaney had been a victim of unfair dismissal and awarded damages against the Church of England.”  We have got to come to the point in the U.S. where the equivalent occurs and where no clergy or other “religious” representative can discriminate against anyone with impunity!

Most of the institutional Church enjoys being enmeshed with the State?  Good!  Hopefully, one day soon it will be forced to live up, under penalty of secular law,  to the mandate of “equality for all” that is part and parcel of what we say the U.S. is supposed to embrace!

For this state of affairs to occur, meaningful activism directed against homophobic churches and clergy is one of the first, and most important, places to start!

[Also posted on A Christian Voice For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, And Transgender Rights.]

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Jerry Maneker

Jerry Maneker