Stanley Fish - Think Again: Politics and the Pulpit (Once Again)

Stanley Fish - Think Again: Politics and the Pulpit (Once Again)
By Stanley Fish
Published: October 5, 2008
Sermons and candidates, church and state: a half-century old amendment is now being challenged.

BOTTOM LINE: If religion is a private matter then religion and state could remain in seperate realms. If religion is a private AND a pubilc matter then should there be a seperation of church and state? If the Christian message is political and calls us to change the way we live, then shouldn't Christians be able to preach for different actions (that is preach politics). And if the state is not concerend with spiritual matters, then does the state have a right to "look in on" the messages of the church? Should separation "mean hands off the church by the state and hands on the state by the church"?

Here is an excerpt from the article which made me think.

"[John] Locke declares that the civil magistrate has no warrant to meddle in the affairs of the church, and churches, on their part, have no warrant to meddle in the affairs of state. The church, says Locke, tends to men’s souls; the state to men’s worldly needs. (He also says that in the event of a clash between them, the state’s interests must prevail; but that’s another essay.)

But the logic and force of Locke’s arguments depend upon his conceiving of religion as a private matter, as a relationship between one’s soul and one’s God, and therefore as a practice exercised in the church or synagogue or mosque rather than in the arena of political action. If, however, your religious beliefs take a more robust form than Locke’s and require that you labor to bring the world into conformity with God’s word and will, the Johnson amendment, or any other limitation on the free exercise of what you take to be your religious duty, will be seen as an unconstitutional interference by the state in the proper business of the church.

That’s how Erik Stanley, legal counsel and head of the Pulpit Initiative for the Alliance Defense Fund, sees it. In his reply to Lynn he insists that any law “that requires government agents to parse the words of a pastor’s sermon” in order to “determine when a pastor’s speech becomes too ‘political’” constitutes an “excessive …government entanglement with religion” and is on its face a violation of the separation of church and state. In other words, it is a violation of the separation of church and state for the state to inquire into whether a pastor is violating the separation of church and state.

Pastors are in the business of preaching; their lectern is a pulpit; and they are expected to exhort their parishioners to act in accordance with religious truths, not simply in the privacy of the home and church, but in the world. If in the judgment of a pastor the imperatives she urges on her flock are likely either to be weakened or made stronger by the election of a particular candidate, is she not obliged to declare herself on what is only superficially a political issue but is really a religious issue? Wouldn’t she be derelict in her duty if she declined to do so on the reasoning (which she would reject) that religious doctrine has no implications for what one does in the public sphere?

This is not so odd an argument as it might first seem; for everything depends on just how religious activity is defined. If you assume, as Lynn does, a Lockean definition (religious belief is essentially private), separation means hands off in both directions. But if you assume, as Stanley does, a definition that demands corrective action when you see the world departing from godly principles, separation means hands off the church by the state and hands on the state by the church."