The Separation of Church and State According to Rick Scarborough
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Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 01:14:15 AM EST
The blog Texas in Africa has a post about the debate between Rick Scarborough and Barry Lynn held this week at the University of Texas. You wonder why Lynn would even bother, but Texas in Africa takes away from the debate an important insight.
After giving the context and overview of the debate, Texas in Africa writes:

What struck me most about the evening, though, was something Scarborough said towards the end of the debate. In answering one of the audience questions, he said that he thought the separation of church and state is, on a certain level, an impossibility. Noting that the American government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, he pointed out the difficulty inherent in separating one part of a person's identity from another. "I am the state," Scarborough said, and although he didn't mean it in the Louis XIV sense, I immediately sat up in my seat and thought, "No, you aren't." "I am also the church," he said. And you can't separate me into two parts.

After the debate ended, after the applause subsided, after an angry athiest yelled his question to the crowd, after I waited to get out of the room and had walked halfway across campus back to my car, it hit me why this bothered so much. Scarborough, I think, has bought into the thoroughly American notion of individualism much more than I have. Not that I am not as individualistic and self-centered as the next American; I am. I want to protect my rights and liberties to do as I choose and to make decisions for myself just as much as anyone else in our society does. I am, for better or for worse, an individualistic American.

But I don't carry as much of that ideal into my patriotism or my faith as, apparently, people like Reverend Scarborough do. For I cannot view the church, the bride and body of Christ, as just me. The church is a body of believers who bear one anothers' burdens, laugh and weep together, and love one another as we love ourselves. I am not the church. We are the church.

(  )

The same is true of the state. I teach my students that the beauty of the American democracy is that no one - no matter how rich or powerful or intelligent or beautiful he or she may be - is above the law. No one. Our democracy works because we treat everyone the same, because an individual doesn't get to determine policy and procedure on a whim. Our democracy works because we participate, because we hold our elected officials accountable to the law and to the voters, and because we do our best not to oppress those whose views are not shared by the majority. The state is not me, it is us. The state is not "I, the person." It is "we, the people."

Scarborough's comments last night helped me to better understand the divide our country faces over the church-state issue. In his view, he cannot separate his personal politics from his personal faith. In a sense, I cannot do that either. But I can treat others as I hope they would treat me, were the situation reversed, by not standing by while religious leaders try to recreate the government in their own image. I can insist that government be fair to persons of all religious persuasions (and of none at all), whether they agree with me or not. I can point to Europe, to the corrupting influence that the co-mingling of church and state has on each, to the nearly-dead state churches of so many countries. I can suggest that this is part of what Jesus meant when he taught us to render "unto Ceasar the things which are Ceasar's, and to God what is God's."

Most of all, I can recognize that "we the people" and "we the church" are not one and the same.


by Carlos on Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 01:18:48 AM EST
Speaking at the Family Research Council "Voter Values Conference" October 2006. Scarborough was urging church pastors to blatantly violate their nonprofit tax status, by endorsing candidates, and simply accept the consequences, loss of the status.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 06:33:38 AM EST

Scarborough's attitude does seem to betray a basic contempt for the mutual respect for the rights of others that helps make democracy work.

But if each individual is a 'little state' and a 'little church' that mentality slides easily towards thinking one is a "little God".

Indeed, Benny Hinn is already there. but he's far from alone in that.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 06:41:40 AM EST

"Our democracy works because we treat everyone the same, because an individual doesn't get to determine policy and procedure on a whim."

But that has not been the reality of America since its foundation.  People are not and have not been treated the same since the beginning.  African (and Native American) slavery, abuse of and theft from Native Americans (including genocide and attempts at genocide), the subjugation of women, the abuse and denigration of the poor- this country has a LOT to answer for.

The ideal is that all are treated equal, and that ideal is attainable- but not with the present structures that are in place.  

A good way to demonstrate this point is the saying "The best justice money can buy".

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 11:45:43 AM EST

Bob, thanks so much for your comment. I agree and I teach my students that the U.S. has not always lived up to its ideals, but that our history is, in many ways, a history of expanding those inalienable rights the Founders discussed to more and more people. I would never argue that the poor have the same access to high quality legal defense, for example. Clearly the unequal treatment of Americans on all kinds of levels is a big problem. What I meant in my post, though, is that we hold our leaders accountable to the rule of law, and that the president can't normally just unilaterally make policy (although this adminstration certainly has tried). Of course it doesn't always work ideally, but it stands in marked contrast to many other regimes throughout history and in the world today. If the president commits treason, he is held accountable just as any other citizen would be held accountable.

by texasinafrica on Sat Mar 31, 2007 at 03:45:16 PM EST
That stopped being true after the '60's, even though there is a lot of "noise" about rights even today.

In the last couple of decades, the gap between the rich and poor has grown to a chasm, with the rich getting richer (and the pace is accelerating) while the poor are going downhill even faster than the rich are going uphill.  The process started in the '70's, and it is partially a reaction to the civil rights movement- but more because the elites saw a threat to their control.  So, they have started a countermovement to return this culture to something more to their liking.  (Dominionism is part of that countermovement!)  Poverty, and especially extreme poverty strips people of their rights, their freedom, and even their identity.  That is not an increase in rights.

There are moves to disenfranchise and derecognize tribes (and even take their land)- a reduction in rights.  Racism towards minorities is no less a factor in this country, although it is more covert than overt.  People are, in the name of fighting "political correctness", trying to turn back the clock to when they could be overtly bigoted and get away with it.  Sadly, they don't see how this works against their own interests and furthers the control over them.  All of this may not be as obvious as in years past- but take it from me, minority people recognize the truth, unless they've been brainwashed in a fundamentalist church to the point where they deny it.  So, the people's right to being treated in a decent and humane manner is under dire threat.

What we are seeing is part of a pattern, and dominionism is part and parcel of that pattern.  It is all about focusing power and privilege in the hands of a very few, and reducing the rest to poverty and enslavement.   Bush is part of that pattern as well- after all, like you said- he's trying to unilaterally make policy.  This is a loss of rights for anyone affected by his ways.

In battling dominionism we are fighting against something that Marx recognized a long time ago- that churches can be and are used to promote and support hegemonic control of the people.   However, like Weber, we also recognize that religion can be a force for good.  We need then to support those people and organizations that expose the lies, and resist those who would get people to believe that limiting or denying their basic rights is good and "godly" or "right".

As far as holding leaders accountable, well, as long as those at the top only get a slap on the wrist (even though their actions destroy the lives of many people), while those at the bottom get the book thrown at them for offenses that only affect a few (if any)- it isn't really justice.  As long as the elites can get away with wrecking the lives of thousands (if not millions) with only a fine or a short stint in prison (and keeping their ill-gotten gains), while some poor sap who makes a mistake is punished and put in a position where he or she cannot ever recover or gain a decent life- that is NO advance.

Also- please understand that I am talking from the point of view of a Native American who only gained freedom of religion in 1980, along with the right to exist in the southeast during the same year.  It may be a gain- but that gain is under direct and continuous threat, and there are many who would take that back and reduce us to nonexistence if possible.

If anything, freedom reached a zenith in the late '70's and early '80's, but has been gradually and subtly going downhill since then.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Apr 01, 2007 at 11:52:35 AM EST

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