Church and State, Religion and Politics

In our discussions on integral mission we need to reflect on the division between Church and State, religion and politics. The media in Europe picks up on fears that the influx of refugees could threaten the “Christian Values” that many of the European nations have been founded on. This is a somewhat interesting remark when simultaneously there is a demand for a secularisation of society, requiring the expression of faith to be separated from the public square and from politics, and to remain a private affair.

It is important to not confuse the separation of Church and State (and for that matter Synagogue and State, Mosque and State, or Temple and State) with religion and politics.

Every nation is made of up of citizens who will have different beliefs and adhere to faiths or no faiths. Each person will express their concerns regarding public life, community issues, social services, economics and political decisions through the lens of their beliefs (yes, even those who claim to have no belief have a framework – e.g. humanism – through which they consider issues and concerns of life in community). The expression of each opinion is important, it is indeed a right (Articles 18 and 19 UN Human Rights Declaration).

Every person of faith or no faith has the right of expression and as Christians we should stand for the justice and equality of this freedom of expression. Therefore, religion and politics cannot be separated because what one believes affects what one stands for and works towards. Our Micah vision is to see communities living life in all its fullness, free from poverty, injustice and conflict. This vision is grounded in Scripture and Micah 6:8 calls us to what God requires of us. My faith and obedience to Scripture directly affects my politics.

Building on this, we are called to disciple nations. We need to therefore be speaking truth in the public square, speaking truth to power and to one another, so as to positively influence decisions for our nation that move us together towards Shalom. The problem with one specific faith being linked to power – the State – is that it will swing the balance towards one faith often to the exclusion of others. Further still it could lead to authoritarian treatment of others, persecution and marginalisation.

Seeking the Common Good for our nations will include upholding the right of expression of all faiths or none in the public square, and ensuring our own voice is there. We need to find a way to discuss, debate and settle our deliberations in public life (in the public square) through reasoned persuasion, free of coercion, fear, force, intimidation, manipulation. Able to make decisions based on access to information, to truth, to unbiased research. Jesus spoke in the public square. He challenged political and religious leaders, he defended the poor and marginalised, healed the sick and delivered the possessed. His faith totally affected his politics and he lived this publicly.

His legacy is the Church (ecclesia) – a people called out to take responsibility. So how do we engage?

1) Changed perspective: we need to ask God to help us to love all of our community, our nation – each person. To love with a love in humility with compassion, mercy and justice.

2) Dare to dream and to hope: we need to have the audacity, the conviction and the belief that the Gospel is the power to bring liberation, restoration, redemption, transformation and wholeness to each person and to our nation.

3) Courage to live out what we believe: loving because we are loved, serving because we are set free, building because we are ambassadors of the King, speaking truth because what we have is too good to keep for just ourselves – it is life for all.

Micah represents a community that seeks to do this together in the public square. We call on all believers to be what God has called us out to be. Lord hear our prayer – send us.

By Sheryl Haw

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