The pages of history are amply sprinkled with records of clashes between church and state over who should bear the greater authority in the land. God's Word—if one is to take the examples of such men as Moses in his relation to his brother Aaron, and David and Hezekiah in their relationship with the priesthood—clearly shows the civil as superior in authority. However, there is also no doubt that religious leaders wielded considerable influence.
The Bible chronicles many instances of a king consulting with the high priest. Most frequently, these consultations involved whether or not to go to war. This religious influence stemmed from the civil leader's recognition of morality's importance to the nation's quality of life, as well as the efficient and effective management of its economic, military, and manpower resources. Seeking counsel of this sort was also done at least partly because the nation's civil leaders almost always believed in some sort of god to whom they must answer.
Perhaps the clearest example of a church's simultaneous participation in the political affairs of many nations occurred during the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church deeply involved itself with the leadership of virtually every nation in Europe. This association lasted for centuries, weakened considerably only by the Protestant Reformation.
England's Henry VIII exploited this competition between the churches that were vying for influence and favor. When the Catholic Church would not permit him to divorce his wife, Henry switched his religious allegiance to the Anglican Church, which became the Church of England. Disputes between Catholic and Protestant kings and queens of succeeding generations kept the influence of one religion or the other heavily involved with the British throne.
In our time, we are witnessing the revival of Muslim fundamentalism. Muslim fundamentalists arose in earlier centuries, gathered themselves into armies, and conquered, not only Arabia and Palestine, but also most of the lands along the southern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and even into Spain. This gave rise to the Crusades, when the influence of Catholicism on European governments motivated the raising of armies to liberate the Holy Land. Though they saw some spotty success, as a whole they failed miserably.
Radical Muslim fundamentalism has exploded to worldwide proportions in the past fifty years. They have seized the helm in some Middle Eastern nations. In other heavily Muslim nations, though fundamentalists do not control the governments, they are influencing them through the threat of reprisals if the governments fail to cooperate.
America's history shows a fairly comfortable and stable relationship between church and state, with each giving a great deal of cooperation and support to the other. This lasted until about fifty or sixty years ago when those of a strong secular and atheistic bent began vigorously pushing to eliminate altogether religion's influence on public life. Their efforts succeeded in eliminating daily Bible readings and prayer from the public schools. A stunning victory occurred in 1972 with the passage of laws combined with judicial decisions that made abortion on demand possible for the first time in American history.
By the late 1970s, the battle lines were clearly drawn. Feeling as if they were under siege, those of deeply felt religious conviction began to organize their influence to fight these losses through political and legislative means. From those efforts arose such educational and political action groups as the Moral Majority, Christian Voice, Religious Roundtable Council, Eagle Forum, and the Christian Coalition of America. They were greatly helped by intellectual think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution. Leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ed McAteer, Robert Grant, and James Dobson became prominent as they arose to keep these efforts organized and all the many thousands of fellow workers moving in the same direction.
That direction was to elect candidates to government offices—primarily on a national and secondarily a state level—in order to effect legislative and judicial change to move society toward a more conservative (i.e., "Christian") mind and morality. Their efforts grew to involve about 200,000 people who were directly working to accomplish this, and these were joined by untold numbers who were keenly interested in the Christian Right's aims. Most of those directly working in the movement were at first drawn from evangelical groups, but as time progressed, many socially conservative Catholics and Jews joined them as well. To get their agenda across, most stuffed envelopes, distributed campaign literature, manned polling places, did telephoning, knocked on doors, and delivered voters to the polling places. They played a large role in electing Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, but they were ineffective in getting those administrations to adopt their agenda to alter the nation's drift toward liberal secularism.
Members of the Christian Right overwhelmingly proclaim themselves as followers of Jesus Christ and His apostle Paul, who authored so much of the New Testament. What did Jesus and Paul do politically and/or socially to change people's lives in their times? The answer to that question is nothing. In fact, when Pilate directly asked Him if He was a king, Jesus responded by saying His Kingdom is not of this world, and thus neither He nor His servants would fight (John 18:33-37). He never petitioned the cruel and devitalizing Roman government for anything. In fact, He said that we should pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21) and strive to love our enemy (Matthew 5:44).
The apostle Paul was of the same stripe. Slavery was a common practice wherever he traveled in the Middle East, but the Bible records no efforts that he made to end its dominance over so many people's lives. Both Jesus and Paul were revolutionary in their religious teachings, but those teachings did not involve even peaceful efforts to overturn governmental practices that Christianity would not consider to be in the people's best interests. Who, then, is the Christian Right following as the authorities and models for their practices?
- John W. Ritenbaugh