Church and State Don't Mix

National Post Comment February 2004

There was little more disturbing than the spectacle of the press bashing Christians in the last federal election. Christianity seems to be the Great Projection. Whatever evil we imagine running rampant amongst ourselves, and especially our ancestors, it is Christianity - - not greed or lust or pride -- that is to blame. The natural man, unfettered, is always good. It's that blasted Christ with his message of peace, love, humility, etc., that caused the battles of the past 2,000 years.

That something more disturbing arrived with reports of Stockwell Day going from church to chapel, drumming up support for his campaign. For one thing, it seems guaranteed that if he too closely allies himself with religious conservatives, we will have a repeat in four years of last year's shellacking. That makes him stupid. And people already consider him dull and fumbling. Thanks Mr. Day for advancing the conservative cause with such brilliance.

Unlike most journalists I read, however, I think that the largely unreported on mass of Evangelical, fundamentalist and Charismatic Christians in new churches all over North America, represent an enormous force for good. In the United States they count as 24% of the population. In Canada it may be a smaller proportion, but it is still a substantial number. And necessary. Without them, arguably, we'd be even more entirely in the hands of Steven Spielberg, Eve Ensler and Hugh Hefner, all bathos, resentment and sleaze. The good they do, both in their communities and on the world stage, is unremarked and, in some cases, greater and more effective than governments -- local, provincial or state-wide. Any casual perusal of their literature will turn up extraordinary works of charity, some almost miraculous.

But these folk are not intellectual, and they refer everything back to the Bible, which is why the herd ignores them. Yet they have provenance. They hew to the original spirit of the Protestants who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, who began the first great experiment in Church-State perfection. This was the original city upon a hill, American-version. They sought to create a total Christian society, where divine instructions on every aspect of life would be obeyed to the letter and a city of Earth created as the antechamber to entry into God's city.

Heady stuff. And a dream that informs the new churches of today. It's tempting to carry it into the political arena, especially when you see, outside the comfortable barriers erected by the new church, a culture in disarray, children in trouble, women abandoned, the family circle eroded and violence pandemic. Some conservative Christians call our current state cultural Marxism, a top-down remaking of society that does not value life, the family and faith, and will mean the death of all Western values within several generations. Chaos, in this dread scenario, will ensue.

Now, you can convince a moderate, that at its heart, fiscal conservatism means more freedom for everybody. Almost everyone understands what happens when you consistently spend beyond your means, as the federal Liberals have for two generations. And almost everyone over 35 has had, at one time or another, a run in with the vast regulatory burden imposed upon us by our various governments. Even George McGovern, that most leftist of U.S. presidential candidates, had an epiphany when he retired and opened a B&B and then had to deal with the deluge of paperwork imposed upon him by government. What we have now is shrinking freedom -- fiscal conservatives seek to reverse this -- and even the most doctrinaire leftist can, if you beat him over the head long enough, understand.

But my friends in the middle instinctively recoil from Christians voting as a block. People see the desire of social conservatives as the neurotic need to restrict, to force sameness and goodness all round. They seek to eliminate the right to abortion, they seek to marginalize homosexuals, and while these things are somewhat symbolic (a rallying cry to marshal the troops), nearly any thinking person has moments of revulsion when they face someone who would tinker with the intimate workings of another's life. In this country, tolerant and advanced as it is, it will never wash.

Furthermore, this drive for social change, sparked by the Church, is without foundational merit. The very founders of Protestantism, Luther and Calvin, were entirely clear that the Church must not interfere with the state. Luther said that the "tasks of the Church and state are of two types and may not be mixed." And Calvin said that "Christ's spiritual kingdom and the civil order are two completely different things and that we may not, as people commonly do, unwisely mix these two together."

Social conservatism does not need to be forced upon us. It is inevitable because it is sensible. Most thinking Boomers now see that the sexual revolution was largely harmful to children, women and even men. As the world becomes more dangerous and uncertain, it is equally clear that the only route to genuine happiness and prosperity is a reaching back to the nuclear family of the '50s, set in a larger cousinage, where duty and love are one. This time it will have to honour and seek to fulfill the righteous desires of women, homosexuals and non-whites.

But what the Church today seems to offer, when it invades the political arena, is yet another oppression. There is a cautionary tale to be told in the activity of the religious right in the 1998 U.S. mid-term elections. Clinton was at his disgusting worst, and the right was salivating at the prospect of winning a substantial majority in the House and Senate. The Christian Coalition passed out millions of voter guides at churches all across the country. The right's failure was a thunder clap of disaster.

Real spiritual or social change comes heart by heart, not election by election. Anything else is a corruption that will bury conservatism in this country for another 10 years.