Friday, December 27, 2013

Antidisestablishmentarianism and Antichrist

Today is the final day in our 50th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 24-27; Revelation 17.

What's the longest word in the English language?  Some have suggested it's "antidisestablishmentarianism," but others say that it's "smiles," because there's a mile from one s to the other.

Today, I don't want to talk about smiles, but about antidisestablishmentarianism.  The Free Dictionary defines it as: 

the doctrine or political position that opposes the withdrawal of state recognition of an established church; - used especially concerning the Anglican Church in England. Opposed to disestablishmentarianism...
the principles of those who oppose the with-drawal of the recognition or support of the state from an established church, usually used in referring to the Anglican church in the 19th century in England.

This word comes from a 19th century debate, where some English citizens (disestablishmentarians) wanted to withdraw their tax support from the Church of England, thereby dis-establishing religious preferences by the government.  Antidisestablishmentarians were in favor of established religion, and opposed the disestablishmentarian movement. 

In this debate, any Christian who was not a member of the Anglican Church resented having their tax money go to support an institution that they did not agree with--or may even be opposed to.  Yet for centuries, the kings of Christendom used the authority of the church to enact their wishes--and vice versa.  Since the time of Constantine, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, a marriage has existed between church and state.  It's only within the past few centuries that the notion of the separation of church and state has existed.

So, what do you think about the separation of church and state?  It's a concept that is greatly misunderstood in America today.  Click here for a Wikipedia article, if you want to read about this concept around the world.  In America, the concept began with believers who wanted freedom from state-sponsored religious persecution.  Many of the first Americans immigrated to New England because they were trying to escape state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. That is why, when the US became a nation, they lobbied so hard for a separation between church and state.  What the Constitution actually says is:  

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This means that the state doesn't sponsor religion, and that religion doesn't try to use the power of the state to accomplish its purposes, either.  It also means that the state cannot impede the freedom of religion.  So, for example, a teacher cannot say, "Gather round while I lead us in prayer, class," a student can elect to attend a student-sponsored religious group on campus.

And this is a good thing.  It keeps the government's hands off of religion, and religion's hands off the government.

Through the years, I've heard a lot of conservative Christians bemoaning the fact that "they took prayer out of the schools," or "the Bible out of the classroom."  First of all, I'll say that's hogwash!  Someone once said that as long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools!  What was removed wasn't prayer--but state-sponsored prayer.  What was removed wasn't the Bible (which, incidentally, is still used in student-led Christian meetings throughout the country)--but the use of the Bible in the classroom, where it's part of the curriculum and where non-believers can't avoid it.

Many conservative Christians grieve the days when the teacher could lead kids in a devotion and prayer.  But to those people, I'd ask, "Would you want your kids to be subjected to a Muslim-led Koran study and prayer?  Or Buddhist services being imposed on your children?"  Of course not--so why would you want a state employee to lead your children in Bible study?  And besides--what if that teacher isn't a Christian?  Or, if they're a different kind of Christian from you?  Would you want their theology imposed on your kids?

We tend to be in support of a Christian government...if we're Christians ourselves.  But what about the right of a non-Christian to be free from state-sponsored religion?  And...have you ever wondered what might happen if another religion becomes the dominant religion in the US?  Rather than the majority religion calling the shots, it truly is better to have religion and state completely separate.

So, the separation of church and state is a good thing.  Baptists have traditionally been strong supporters of it.  At the most recent meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, that body voted to say no to an amendment in the Virginia Constitution that authorizes prayer in public schools and government meetings.  Click here to read the entire story.  

A while ago, I shared this news on Facebook, and my post met with mixed reactions.  Some agreed with this move, while others mourned the passing of prayer in schools--misunderstanding the reasons for the resolution.  The Associated Baptist Press reports:

“Virginia Baptists collectively have traditionally and consistently taken the position that religious expression coming from or endorsed by government is inconsistent with the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience,” notes the resolution presented by the BGAV’s religious liberty committee. “Sectarian legislative prayers have the effect of utilizing civil government as a mechanism for advancing faith, and Virginia Baptists have historically held that individuals and not the government should advance faith.”

Baptists were once a religious minority, persecuted by the state and ridiculed by society.  So it stands to reason that we support the separation of church and state.  Just because a civil leader someone prayers "your kind of prayer" in a school or government meeting, that doesn't make it right to impose it on others--any more than it would be right for an idolater to force his kind of prayer on you.

"The Whore of Babylon"

And so we come to today's prophetic passage.  In Revelation 17, we read about a woman, called Babylon, who is described as a prostitute and who represents false religion.  Verse 2 (NIV) says:

With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Revelation 13 also talks about false religion and deceptive, that have the power of the state as its backing.  When kings and religions make alliances with each other, watch out!  

Rather than try to identify the kingdoms and religions that might be suggested by these passages, I'll just make a general statement that when the state uses religion as its puppet, we're all in trouble.  And, when religious leaders have the power of the state at their disposal, it never ends well.  

So yes, as a Baptist, I'm a disestablishmentarian.  To all those dear antidisestablishmentarian souls who wish we could go back to the good ol' days when your children's teacher had the authority to lead them in prayers and devotions in school--I'll say that I'm glad those days are behind us.  I want my kids to get their religion from their parents' teaching, and from their church--not from the public school system.  To do anything else is antichrist.  

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