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While the BJC emphasizes the importance of the institutional separation of church and state in protecting religious liberty, we also recognize that you cannot divorce religion from politics or relieve Christians from their duties of secular citizenship.

The metaphorical wall of separation does not block one's religion from playing a role in public life. Religious people have the same right as others to communicate their convictions in the marketplace of ideas and to convert their religious ethics into public policy by preaching, teaching, lobbying, and even running for office. People of faith need not limit their piety to houses of worship or to acts of private devotion; nor do they have to concede the public square to others. They should speak out, become involved, and transform culture through this public witness, including political involvement. The influence of religion and people of faith on our history and culture can readily be seen.

Massachusetts preacher Isaac Backus saw nothing inconsistent about arguing vociferously against "blending of church and state" and that church and state should never be "confounded together," on the one hand, and lobbying government in favor of religious liberty on behalf of the Warren Association of Baptists, on the other.

Virginia Baptists played an integral role in passing Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and in convincing James Madison of the need for a Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment provisions protecting religious freedom. Legend has it that John Leland, an evangelist preaching in Virginia during the 1780s, and Madison made a bargain that bore fruit in the First Amendment. Leland agreed not to oppose Madison's bid to be elected to the convention called to ratify the Constitution if Madison would promise to seek specific guarantees for religious liberty.

The progressive era of the early twentieth century was inextricably linked with the social gospel movement of Walter Rauschenbusch-Baptist preacher and professor of theology at Rochester Seminary. Working in New York City's "Hell's Kitchen" as a pastor, Rauschenbusch helped to awaken the nation to the degradation of the urban social order and the need to work to advance the kingdom of God on earth.

The African-American churches, whose leaders included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Baptist ministers, spearheaded the drive for civil rights legislation in the 1960s. And more recently, people of religious conviction played major roles in both sides of debates over Vietnam, women's rights, gay rights, abortion, the environment, and nuclear disarmament.

Any foray into politics with focused religious motivation, however, should be tempered with a liberal dose of humility and self-criticism. Blaise Pascal was right that "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."  We need to understand that, as sure as we think we are of our position, the other person at least has something to say and, in the final analysis, may turn out to be right. 

Barbara Jordan, our Baptist sister, had it right. She was once asked how properly to articulate Christian values in government.  She responded: "You would do well to pursue your causes with vigor, while remembering that you are a servant of God, not a spokesperson for God, and remembering that God might well choose to bless an opposing point of view for reasons that have not been revealed to you." Humility is called for when one enters the public debate or political arena armed with religious motivation.
Moreover, any attempt to elevate one view of an issue to "the Christian" position, to the exclusion of others, should be held in check.  Religious persons of goodwill often disagree over how their religious convictions play out in the public arena.  As has been observed, there is no direct line from the Bible to the ballot box.

Speeches | Answering the Top 10 Lies About Church and State
Resources | Five 'P's for lobbying a member of Congress
Resources | Religious Liberty Council Issue Guide
Articles | Election a remarkable event on the religion front
Articles | Obama on church & state: A look through the lens of his words
Articles | An imperfect union: religion and politics
Articles | Ground rules for religious engagement of civic life
Articles | No one can claim divine authority on public policy issues
Resources | A Critique of David Barton's Views on Church and State
Articles | God is not a Republican or a Democrat
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