As a Bible-believing, Christian, political scientist, raised attending church and church school (k-12 and college), and having served as a vice president at a fundamental Christian University, I have searched to find why it seems that so many American Christians cannot seem to allow every citizen in the population to enjoy their Constitutional and human rights unless those rights fall within the confines of The Holy Bible. Why must everyone salute the flag to prove allegiance to God and country? Why must there be prayer in public schools? And why can’t LBGT citizens engage in same-sex civil union? Why such social discrimination under the guise of religion?
How and when did American Christians stop thinking critically and Constitutionally about political issues? How and when did they begin to believe that democracy in America was restricted to (politically motivated evangelical-minded, heaven-bound) so called “believers”? How and when did they begin to believe that America will have to answer to a God who needs anger management if it governs outside of the mandates of the Bible? How and when did they become so hostile and xenophobic concerning those to whom they are commissioned to minister?
When I casually raised this question to a few of my dear Christian friends online a couple of years ago, and mentioned I thought it might be a good book topic, one of them responded,
I know this dialogue and the ensuing publication is going to attract a cadre of bruised Christian zealots who have neither studied nor practiced love but I’m up for it. I’m fed-up with the self-righteousness.
I agreed then, and still believe, he was right.
Frankly, I don’t know exactly how and when this ideology took root in America, except to suspect it happened along with the rise of the ideological notions of the politically conservative Religious Right Movement. I am neither Liberal nor Conservative, but I would venture to say I will be criticized as a “hell-bound” Liberal and dismissed to the realm of the “reprobate” once “the saints” read this blog. I don’t’ care. The Bible teaches, “No weapon that is formed against me shall prosper, and every word spoken against me shall be condemned” (Isaiah 54:17). Now, were my peers to criticize my intellectual ability or professional skill in analyzing this matter, that might raise a far more legitimate reason for forming a defense.
America was founded upon democratic principals that allowed citizens to exercise freedom “from” religion as well as freedom “in” religion. But I am convinced that fewer and fewer Christians understand what it means to be a member of this democracy. Democracy in America is “Government by the people;” all the people!” To deny a taxpaying citizen (or their child) for instance, the right to decline to pray to God (or any deity) in a public place such as a school, or to shame them into saluting the flag (or formally acknowledging any governmental or other symbol), or to impede them from joining together civilly as a same-sex couple seems, to me, to be ungodly, and here is why: If it is the case that God allows each individual to choose to worship Him, or not, or if God allows two non-Christians to “marry,” who is the Church to coerce the State to force a citizen to choose to worship God and to keep His commandments? If homosexuality is biblically unsound, and prayer a biblical mandate for communicating with God, then Christians ought to engage in adherence to the Bible. However, they have no moral or biblical mandate to condemn those who do not adhere to their religious choices.
Some Christians seem to miss that, in this democracy, if one is not a Christian and they do not accept the Bible as the mandate for living their life, the state allows this. Why? Because in this democracy, without exception, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, Buddhist, or not, every citizen must pay taxes and they enjoy all the same goods and services that others pay to enjoy. We all have agreed to the same Social Contract: Obey the law and enjoy an equal right to protection under the law.
Christians believe, if they agree to serve God they are protected by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus. However, they would argue, this benefit does not extend to those who choose other than God. God honors that choice. Christians need to allow others to make and enjoy their choice. After all, God does.
This lack of understanding alarms me. NEWSFLASH!!!!!! America is deliberately a democracy and not a theocracy! As a Christian, freedom is especially important to me. I need not evoke the sentiments of the Founders in abandoning England for religious freedom. The principle of “separation of church and state” is firmly embedded in the Constitution, and we must take it seriously because, in this democracy, all the laws must benefit everyone equally. The followers of Christ do not get more favor than do others under civil law.
For good purpose, the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The reason is that equality, though not perfectly achieved, was the goal. I wonder how Christians would respond if demonic or cultic religions were able to evoke their religious beliefs under civil law? Would they rejoice if prayer in schools included the prayers of demon worshippers? Surely, there are k-12 teachers who worship Satan. Do Christians wish to have them pray over their children? Why should a Jewish parent be subjected to a prayer, “…in Jesus’ name,” when his or her parent has religious rights equal to Christian parents? Why should a same-sex couple be denied the dignity of a civil union when they pay the same taxes as do heterosexual couples in a civil union? Do all Christians wish to be legally bound to observe Sunday as “Shabat?” This is the right to freedom of religion.
I make these arguments because I am a Christian, with all the hopes for equal justice and fairness that accompanies that designation. I believe American Christians have a great deal of soul searching to do. I hope what we find is two-fold: 1) a way toward the powerful but un-political, loving, non-judgmental, liberating and freeing, compassion of God who is “no respecter of persons,” and 2) that people who participate in American democracy must understand and act in way that makes government both protective and freeing for all citizens.
Author: Dr. Nenaji Jackson
About the Author
Dr. V. Nenaji Jackson is a devout follower of Christ with a lifetime of church leadership experience and a passion for democracy. She is also an executive, business leader, educator, and community advocate with 31 years of expertise in synthesizing business, job creation, public policy, community development, and higher education. She taught American Politics and Public Policy at Howard University, University of Maryland, California State University, and several other academic institutions for many years and she has also served as a University Vice President at a Christian University. In addition to operating her own consulting business, she recently served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles City College/Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. Over the past 30 years she has served on several boards, including the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. Following the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, Dr. Jackson helped to found F.A.M.E. Renaissance at First African Methodist Episcopal Church while in it’s incubation stages.
Dr. Jackson holds an earned doctorate in Education Policy and two Masters degrees in Politics and Public Policy, respectively, from Claremont Graduate University and a Bachelors degree in Political Science, with a minor in Africana Studies from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She began her career as a White House intern in the Jimmy Carter Administration.