Faith and Government, How Do We Achieve Balance Whilst Respecting All Our Faith Traditions? By Dr. Leonard Sowah

Constitution First Amendment government and politics religion Religious Freedom

I grew up in a Christian family so I understand the expectations of a life lived for the honor of God. I understand the concept of Christians supporting each other to good works. I believe in the need for people of faith to pray for the good of their nation and its leaders.

In my life through I have seen and experienced some Christian traditions that go further than what I believed. I have heard and been instructed on the ideology of taking by force in Christian proselytizing which I reject. I have also been told by some that God’s anointing can only come to lowly Christians like myself through my local religious leadership which went against everything that I believed.

As you can tell from my experiences Christian religious ideology has many variations which can challenge a Christians faith. I have had more bumps in the road than I care to share but I guess Christ warned me. John 16:33 reads “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Today in the US many Americans are leaving their churches or Christian faith completely as more and more Christians face ideological bumps. Our Churches and pews are getting more sparsely populated with believers. The question that one may ask is; “is this a sign of the end times or are our churches losing their relevance?”

Screen Shot 2019-08-18 at 7.12.44 PM
A 2019 Gallup Report showing  25% decline in church membership from 1999 Source: Gallup

To this question I would say I do not believe we are any closer to the end times than we were at the time of Christ we are just going through growing pains. The founding fathers of this country understand these issues well because most of them had seen or knew about such changes at a more personal level and sought to prevent these affecting the growth of our nation.

The First Amendment reads;

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.”

Many believe the full extent of the First Amendment with respect to religious freedom can be shown in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. The relevant part of this letter reads;

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties”

Thus it appears our Founders sought to exclude the vicissitudes of faith from influencing the government of our state. Unfortunately we would always have leaders who would seek to drive issues of faith into our government.

god-we-trust-1
Article VI Section III; which specifically drives a wedge in the argument that the US is Christian country based on the words “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill

In today’s political climate some faith related issues which hitherto had remained on the periphery of our national policy or been over-aching in their influence and as such non-polarizing have lead to a significantly polarized electorate. This unfortunate situation is partially responsible for some of the dysfunction within our government.

Last week in a discussion with colleagues all of differing faiths and traditions the consensus was that we needed a unifying leader to guide us out of these most difficult times.

So our focus in 2020 must be, which captain or what ideology can get us out of these dangerous waters?

I am a Christian but I do not expect other Christians to see their relationship with God the same way I exercise mine. That is the beauty of revelation, each one gets what is appropriate to their growth. How many of us would feed noodles to a baby? Nor would we expect a Chinese with limited western exposure to love a Philly Cheesesteak like a person born and bred in Philadelphia.

Faith and ideology is similar and as such even within the same faiths we need to be aware of our differences and not seek to force everyone into one mold. This is even more complicated at the national level in a country like ours with our rich and diverse cultural traditions.

Those who seek to use our government to propagate beliefs that they inherited from their faith based traditions should reconsider the value and the risks of forcing their beliefs on their neighbors.

Sermon-on-the-mount
Jesus depicted in a LDS produced video “Sermon on the Mount: Treasures in Heaven,”

I have no problem with religious proselytizing but those who seek to bring their neighbors to their faith must be aware this involves prolonged repeated personal contacts. Christians must not attempt to replace that with laws especially for actions that cause no harm to others or occur among consenting adults.

Claudius-Roman-coin
Roman Coin circa AD 41-54

Please let us give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what really belongs to God.

Dr. Leonard Sowah is an Internal Medicine Physician in Baltimore, Maryland

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