3/16/2005

Church vs. State

I took a walk this afternoon. Life at the MHA had returned to a somewhat relaxed pace after a frantic morning of legislative meetings, and I love strolling around, looking at the wide varieties of architecture and planning. Where else can you find 50 year old churches with strong congregations and 5 year old office buildings that are 75% empty? Too, of course, I wanted to see the protesters.

Now, I should point out, these were not your normal protesters. On most Wednesdays (though not for about a month now), a group of 7 or 8 people comes out to the Capitol building (across the street from me) to protest the Iraq war. It tends to be a little odd… it’s not like Michigan’s government started the darn thing, you know? But no, this week a group of about 20 gathered around a peculiar object.

It was only about 3 and a half feet tall, and made of stone. It was blocky and unattractive, and didn’t seem to be serving any purpose. It sat on the bed of a flatbed trailer, and a set of steps allowed people to come up and look at it. The object became even stranger (in my mind) when you found out that it was brought in from Alabama and was the subject of a federal court case.

By now it is dawning on all my news junkie readers… the object was the controversial sculpture of the Ten Commandments that had been set up in the entrance of an Alabama court, and came to be a symbol of the debate surrounding the relationship between church and state in the US.

For a long time, that relationship was a major focus of my life. I devoted years of my high school career to the topic. I fought to show my classmates and teachers that my two great loves –politics and governance- were not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. I was certain that brilliant and convincing arguments would show the world that what we REALLY needed to move towards a happier life is leaders whose personal lives are governed by the unalterable standards set forth in the bible. It culminated in my senior year, when I did multiple reports on Constantine, an emperor who used Christianity as a force for strengthening and organizing the flagging Roman Empire. This was my vision for the country and for my life… to bring religion and governance together in such a way that lives would be changed, existence would be simpler, and all would be well with the world.

My life was all about Church vs. State.

In college, though, all that changed. I came to see how my pride was too great a motivation; I wanted to fight for church and state to be closer not because I wanted them to be closer, or because I wanted to honor God, but because I wanted to lead the fight. I wanted to be the one at the front lines, articulating arguments that I knew would fall on deaf ears and wildly different worldviews. It was like the question of what a general should do in peacetime; I wanted a fight so I could lead the fight, not because the fight needed to happen.

I sauntered past the Ten Commandments and continued my walk.

One of the beautiful things about walking in almost any city is the opportunity to see the same thing from multiple perspectives. When I went on a mission trip to Alaska we all got to see Mt. McKinley… but we all saw it from the exact same perspective that MOST people see it, because the distances are so great. In a city, everyone can see the same building or view from different places and perspectives. As I walked through Lansing, I stopped for a moment and admired an interesting view.

The corner I stood on was the corner of the capitol building’s property. I stood at a 45 degree angle to the cross-street, looking at the capitol building. To my left and across the street was a city block that had several sophisticated, box-like buildings. These contained the Lansing City Hall, the police station, the offices of the state representatives, the MHA, the department of civil rights, Comerica Bank, a few law firms, and the inevitable coffee shop. To my right stood a couple blocks of beautiful old church buildings; Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, you name it. The architecture was old and creative, and gave you that sad-but-lovely feeling you get when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun set at the end of a long day.

In the center of my vision stood the majestic capitol building, with a few people and a lectern-sized sculpture on a flatbed dotting the front lawn.

I had to ask myself: Is this where we meet? Is our destiny to show up in small numbers, protesting a world that isn’t interested in our life of absolutes? What should embarrass me more; leaders who don’t care enough to listen or Christians who don’t listen enough to let people know they care?

In my last post, I talked about the importance of being content in the place God has brought you too. That’s still true. However, I can see more and more that we are still called to be God-centered in the way we live our lives. We cannot become complacent. We are to honor Him above all… above ALL.

Do church and state meet in the middle to duke it out? No. The problem with declaring church vs. state is that we give equal honor and credibility to both. We act as though they are two evenly matched fighters (often with a slight edge for state) trying to knock each other out. We put government on the same level as God.

That can’t be for me. Some people can spend their lives walking the line between governance and public service, keeping a right perspective on public service as having a higher purpose of service to the people God has created, and so being glorifying to him. I know a man who is a policeman; his work can unquestionably be for God’s greater glory.

If I persist in looking for fights, though, I will be failing my purpose here on earth. Should we be content with where God brings us? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should flag or become lazy in pursuing His glory. My life should always be striving to know him and honor him more; if that means that I need to give up politics, so be it.

See, my life is still about Church vs. State. This time, though, it’s about which I will honor. Will I glorify governance or service? Compromises or absolutes? Bottom lines or mercy and compassion?

I don’t know what details my life will contain, but I hope they will show that Church beats State every time. I hope they show that God’s glory was of first importance in my life. I hope they show that I served my King, rather than made myself a king through public service. I hope my life commitment displays the glory of a sovereign God.

What will you commit to?

What will your life display?



( BONUS! If you'll notice, my blogspot ends every post by saying, "The monk published this discourse at...

The thing is, monks are SINGLE! And I'm getting married this summer!

So, faithful reader, if you made it this far... please comment on what you think my new nickname should be... or at the least, what my blogspot should call me. ;-) )

1 comment:

amanda said...

hi Ben I really enjoyed that post hmm I still need to think about what you said maybe I will get back to you later.

I enjoy your writing very much, I think you could write a decent book if you attempted to.

I posted yesterday in xanga today I copied and pasted my entry to blogger.