Should we be culture warriors? Thoughts on church and state

Sally Kern, with help from my friend and colleague at Grove City College, T. David Gordon provides today’s open forum discussion.
Mrs. Kern is in the news today about a speech she gave in Norman, OK about her entrance into government and her role as a “culture warrior.” She says:

“I started praying about whether or not the Lord wanted me to run,” Kern said. “And the more I prayed, the more I felt He did.”
Kern said she expected to “run, lose and just be a much better government teacher.”
“But lo and behold I won,” she said. “And so here I am, and I’m not the typical legislator. The Lord showed me right off the bat that I’m not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, my Lord made it very clear to me that I am a cultural warrior. And you know I tried to say ‘no’ to that, too, ’cause that’s pretty hard. But, anyway, that’s where I am.”

I cannot discern however, what Mrs. Kern believes government should do. On one hand, she talks about preserving the founders reliance on “one true religion” and on the other she indicates that

“Government cannot force people to change, and yet we see that’s what government is doing,” she said. “Every time government passes another law, they are taking away some of our freedoms.”

I do agree that government cannot force people to change, but I am unclear how government is making people change. If homosexuals pursuing the democratic process to elect legislators and pass laws is more threatening than terrorism, then what would winning the culture war against homosexuality look like? I have a clearer picture in my mind about winning over a foreign aggressor would look like. But if homosexuals are using the democratic process (elections, laws, courts) to pursue their interests, then how will the Christian culture warriors win? What will victory look like?
I fear that many colleagues on the religious right want the coercive power of the state to enforce a particular view of morality, one that comports with their understanding of Christianity. I might like others to believe like me but I surely think it is futile to seek the state to bring it about. Closer to the therapy world, where I usually labor, I do not believe that counselors should use the coercive power of the counseling relationship to attempt to inculcate religious fruit. We can provide information but the results are not in our hands.
On this point, last school year, Religion prof at GCC, T. David Gordon presented a paper titled, “Religious Arguments for Separating Church and State” at our annual Center for Vision and Values conference. I was edified by this presentation and link to it here. A couple of excerpts gives the tone and direction of the paper:

In the so-called “culture wars” of the late twentieth century, one commonly hears allegations that the separation of church and state reflects and promotes a “secularist” agenda. It is certainly true that most secularists (such as Paul Kurtz, in the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II) wish to separate church and state. However, many religious individuals and societies favor such separation also; therefore it is misleading to refer to separation of church and state as a secular or secularist idea. The purpose of this brief survey is to list some of the religious arguments that have been presented in favor of separation, so that religious people may consider those arguments as “friendly” to their faith-commitments, rather than hostile to them.

and regarding individual liberty:

For Protestant Christianity, the doctrine of the conscience plays a very important role.
Unlike the Baltimore Catechism of the Catholic Church, where conscience normally appears only in sections dealing with Penance or Confession, some Protestant confessions have an entire chapter devoted to it, such as the Westminster Confession’s chapter on “Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience.” Within this understanding, an action or belief is only morally approved when it is a sincere act, an act that accords with conscientious faith. The conscience is thus “free” from false authority to serve God, the true Authority. Any professed faith or outwardly religious act that is merely done to avoid civil penalties is not an act of any true moral worth. When the beliefs and practices of the church are prescribed by the State with its coercive powers, this does not promote true religion, but hypocrisy. For many Protestants, therefore, one of the best ways to preserve true liberty of the individual conscience is to leave that conscience entirely free, in religious matters, from considerations of civil consequences.

Some laws which coerce moral behavior are needed to protect us all from each other. I am very glad when going to my car at night at the mall that the threat of punishment from the state might prevent some would be attackers from carrying out the desires of their evil hearts. However, as T. David states so well, some (many, which ones?) matters of personal liberty should be off limits from the state.
With that background, I will turn it over to the forum. I encourage you to read Dr. Gordon’s well-crafted paper. What is the proper role of a Christian in governance? How are legislators to govern in a plural society? Given that Christians were so involved in the founding of the nation, why did they create such protections for pluralism of belief, including the ability to believe nothing and pursue happiness via that worldview? How do we best advance the mission of the church? In which vision of governance is personal and religious liberty best achieved?

11 thoughts on “Should we be culture warriors? Thoughts on church and state”

  1. Oh Warren…. I’ve been sick since then, gimme a break! I cannot remember specifics. But I do know it started off when for some reason I ran across the blog of some complete homophobe and you were one of three persons he had links on his frontpage. So I pointed out your amelioration in thought and he removed your link! That gave me a chuckle… but then I thought that I should have let the guy live with his delusions concerning your outlook.
    I think the others I remember were the Constitution Party and some of the likes (not saying these specifically) of PornoPete, the AFA and others. Some of whom may have reordered pages and removed links to many of your pages but left some that they felt supported their positions, such as “I do exist.” I just remembered seeing you more prominently displayed on their pages than you have been in the last year (that being the year before my unfortunate incarcerations in the medical instittions of SW Indiana these last 10 months.).
    And as to:

    I was hoping to get some of the folks who take Mrs. Kern’s view to comment and get some discussion going but it is not happening so far.

    How can you expect that when all those sites which espouse views like Ms Kern have removed links to your blog!? ;~)

  2. Hey Lynn, that is an interesting observation about links to my website. Perhaps you could name some names…
    I was hoping to get some of the folks who take Mrs. Kern’s view to comment and get some discussion going but it is not happening so far.

  3. Lynn David,
    Yeah – I agree. The polarization over this issue has made a mess of things. There are so many varying opinions on what gay means that we are trying to legislate it’s definition.
    I really don’t know what is the answer. I do know that I had better protect the rights of others if I am going to maintain mine.

  4. jayhuck…. That remark of mine was meant to be rather naive. We get along because we live in a country/countries with a system of laws that have come to be called democracies. In the USA we have the good fortune of having a constitution by which to judge our laws and determine our freedoms – aka rights. We don’t have to “live in perfect harmony” in the USA, we just have to respect each other’s god-given… er, natural-born rights.
    Except we have this argument going about the gay…. just what is such a person and thus what are their rights – natural born or that other thing….. god-given. As has been pointed out by many a person, discovery of homosexuality to be “natural born” does not mean rights are due from a constitution which Ms Kern considers to be a derivation of a mode of civilization set forth by the Christian god and must be “conserved” in its pristine condition.. But that pristine condition included slavery, didn’t it? So my personal view is that the Constitution is a document which is meant not to follow any particular faith (ie. Ms Kern’s brand of Christianity), but to be interpretted from the viewpiont of reason. Reason which includes new ways of thinking brought about by the discovery of new factual evidence.
    So in part the American Constitution is a document grounded in faith but determined in reason. And I look at our Founding Fathers and see the very same demeanor. Even in the Declaration, Jefferson wrote in a way of compromising faith and reason when he said that “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” They were men of faith or spirituality, not necessarily Christian, but also Deists and agnostics (still looking for that spiritual atheist like myself). But they were also men of reason, they were of need of reason most of all because they were embarking upon an experiment in which the power of government was derived of the people and were in need of encoding that, thus our Constitution.
    I look upon that act of “encoding” as an act of reason. Certainly the Founders thought of the document as flexible, a number of persons in the Constitutional Convention desired the abolition of slavery, but a comprimise was effected. Certainly those men of reason saw a future in which slavery would be outlawed, to fit the original intent in our country’s founding document, “We hold these truths to be self evident.”
    For most all gay people, our self-evident truth just does not match up with the likes of Ms Kern. I simply point out that reason should be operator in American governmental society and less that of the faith of Ms Kern an others like her. Here in a Switzerland of the culture wars, I believe Dr Throckmorton to be an able arbiter among the various viewpoints. Unfortunately, many on the side of Ms Kern seem to think Dr T a traitor, I have seen links to his websites disappear over time.
    So were does that get us when faith is so steadfast in the face of reason? 5-4 decisions in the Supreme Court, I guess. And that too is what motivates us….

  5. I personally think the question(s) we should be asking is something that Lynn touched on already – how DO we all get along? How can we ensure gay people, straight people, gay AND straight Christians – ALL (law-abiding) groups have the same rights and privileges as other groups without having those rights and privileges infringe on those of others. How do we remain believers yet not attempt to legislate our own beliefs onto those of others?

  6. LOL!!! Lynn David. I heard one (a conservative christian) say about gays that they were smarter than us. I corrected her and said “No, they are more motivated.” That is totally understandable. When I was gay, I was a heck of a lot more motivated to get my rights than let others tell me what I should do. And I’m still motivated that gays get the respect and rights that others have. Ahhh- sometimes it’s hard to bite my tongue.

  7. And dangit I forgot to check that little box at the bottom again, the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail box.”
    Dr T / Warren …. could you move that box up in the “DISCUSSION” form? Say just above the “Submit Comment” button? If I keep missing that button and have to post again just to get notifications, I’m going to be threatening the leaderboard again!

  8. The spiritual atheist in me tugs me to the center of the brouhaha that is the “culture wars” saying, why can’t we all get along. The gay person that I am often wonders why seeking controls on sexual behaviour and instituting a committed union between any two people through an act of marriage isn’t an act of Ms Kern’s social conservatism.” Which is why I have always considered myself just a little right of the social center (and the monetary one also). But I guess it all depends upon your definition of things, and moreso anymore the neo-conservative movement is defining anyone they don’t like as a cultural terrorist and unAmerican.
    Oh well…. as Ms Kern later laments in her speech, “And here’s the problem, the gay people are motivated.” Damn right I’m motivated.

  9. Warren,
    Great post. I don’t know what it will look like either to preserve a conservative christian community. I do not think it will come in the form of government. Many people are trying to legislate christianity as well as atheism etc…
    I guess we have to realize that to save our own necks we must protect the necks of those with whom we see differently on issues of religion.
    The tax laws will need to re-written for churches, faith communities, public education, social policy etc… And financial allocation will need to be re-distributed to preserve all kinds of belief systems.

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