Thursday, March 26, 2015

Politics and the Christian Writer by Terry Burns

The first Presidential candidate has announced and others on both sides of the spectrum are already apparent whether they have announced or not. It has begun, and I guarantee we will all be sick of it before it has run its course.

As writers we have special communication skills to offer. For those of us who are Christians we have an obligation to stand for our principles. As citizens we have an obligation to use our vote wisely and to try and have a say in how we are represented.

But as writers we have to apply caution. Wherever we fall in the political spectrum there are people who are important to our writing career who will be on the other end of that spectrum from us. If we antagonize them it can have a detrimental effect on our writing career. That doesn't mean we should be silent. For too long we have had people trying to convince us that "separation of church and state" means we are not allowed to talk about politics if we are Christians. That is rubbish, That concept (which is not even in the constitution) came from the writings of Thomas Jefferson and simply means that government was not to interfere with religion and never meant that people with religion gave up their voice.

So as Christian writers we have something to offer to our country, but as writers we have to be cautious how we use that ability. Let me say this is not intended to be a political debate and if posts are entered that take it that way I will remove them. But just so you know where I stand in that spectrum so you can evaluate my thoughts, I am a life-long independent and a conservative. I believe in a limited government and a frugal government. I try to evaluate the thoughts and the candidates from all parties and try to support those I feel best represent the values I support as a citizen and as a Christian.

That's the first principle to apply as a Christian writer. A good writer researches their topic well, whether fiction or non-fiction. We all know what a problem it can be to write something and have someone call our hand on it. The most dangerous thing to our system of government is a non-informed voter. If we intend to use our voice in the political process being as informed as possible is mandatory.

If we wish to not offend those who may be important to our writing career we must not be contentious. By this I don't mean "politically correct." I abhor political correctness. It is yet another means to silence the voice of the Christian writer in particular. There is no problem stating a political position that some important to us might differ with, that is a major part of the political process, but we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the fray. By that I mean a clear stand on an issue we believe in, even responding in a limited way in rational debate, but never be drawn into name calling, personalities, all of the things a practicing Christian should not do. If the forum we are expressing our opinion in goes that way we should stay above that sort of thing.

Finally, as Christians I think we all believe that the Lord is in control. Anyone who is elected to office it is because He wants them there or allows them to be there. But in the process He most often works through His people. I believe we are intended to stand up and be counted as Christians in the political process and to use our vote properly. I believe we have writing skills to offer in the process, but should use the Biblical litmus test in the use of that writing. We shouldn't beat people over the head with our Christian beliefs, but if we do it properly people will always know where we are coming from.


PS I should point out that this is my personal opinion and I don't speak for the entire agency on this subject.


Diana Flegal said...

I agree with Terry here. Exercise your free speech prayerfully. Do not be a hater under any circumstances. If you must - rather to be quiet than spread ugly dissention. "We shall be known by our love FOR ONEANOTHER. And not all who call themselves Christian are in agreement. Let's not be caught throwing one another under the bus! And he is right, some publishers are liberal and some conservative. Be very cautious what you say on social media.

Linda Glaz said...

AMEN! I do find it hard sometimes to avoid getting caught up in the rhetoric, but I try not to. Great post, Terry. Wisdom!

Rick Barry said...

More than once I've seen inflammatory social media comments by writers who have achieved a certain level of fame and thought, "Really? That's what he believes?" Online comments (written perhaps in the heat of the moment) can alienate readers and cost future sales. Although authors need not live under a cone of silence on topics of the day, prudence would suggest thinking through the possible cost of venting or responding with knee-jerk reactions.

Doug Indeap said...

Confusion understandably arises about separation of church and state because the constitutional principle is sometimes equated with a widely supported political doctrine that goes by the same name and generally calls for political dialogue to be conducted on grounds other than religion. The underlying reasons for that political doctrine are many, but three primary ones are that (1) it facilitates discussion amongst people of all beliefs by predicating discussion on grounds accessible to all and (2) it avoids, in some measure at least, putting our respective religious beliefs directly “in play” in the political arena, so we’re not put in the position of directly disputing or criticizing each other’s religious beliefs in order to address a political issue and (3) since the government cannot constitutionally make laws or decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion, it makes little sense to urge the government to do just that. This political doctrine, of course, is not “law” (unlike the constitutional separation of church and state, which is), but rather is a societal norm concerning how we can best conduct political dialogue in a religiously diverse society. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the doctrine is a good idea or not and whether or how it should influence us in particular circumstances.

Anonymous said...

First thanks to Terry for really hitting the nail on the head regarding the Judge made doctrine of Separation of Church and State. Of course as Terry pointed out, the “Separation of Church and State” phrase is not in the Constitution. What are in the Bill of Rights are the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. These clauses protect us from a theocracy and the suppression of religious rights. They are a shield to prevent a minority from being suppressed or forced to conform, not a sword for the minority to impose its views upon the majority.

Daniel L. Dreisbach, D.Phil. (Oxford University) and J.D. (University of Virginia), a Professor of Justice, Law, and Society at American University in Washington, noted (former Klu Klux Klanner) "Justice Hugo L. Black, who authored the Court's ruling, . . . The "high and impregnable" wall central to the past 50 years of church-state jurisprudence is not Jefferson's wall; rather, it is the wall that Black--Justice Hugo Black--built in 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education."

“Throughout his public career, including two terms as President, Jefferson pursued policies incompatible with the "high and impregnable" wall the modern Supreme Court has erroneously attributed to him. For example, he endorsed the use of federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians. The absurd conclusion that countless courts and commentators would have us reach is that Jefferson routinely pursued policies that violated his own "wall of separation."

I do agree with Doug that confusion exists regarding this policy and much of it is caused by our law schools. I was astounded a few years ago when Christine O’Donnell pointed out that “Separation of Church and State” was not in the Constitution. An entire class of law students burst into sarcastic laughter. They didn’t know she was right. Of course the joke was on them, or maybe on all of us.

Those interested can find more information at this link,

Or . . . there’s this great novel represented by Diana Flegal called “Separation of Church and State.”

I hope I’m writing within the spirit of your post Terry. Thanks, Joe

Terry Burns said...

Very well stated, thank you.

Doug Indeap said...

While realizing that your post is only tangentially about separation of church and state, I cannot let the reply by Anonymous pass without response.

Dreisbach’s fundamental error is his largely unspoken and unexamined presumption that the Constitution’s separation of church and state is merely a First Amendment textual matter. It is rather a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

That the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who mistakenly supposed it was there and, upon learning of their error, reckon they’ve solved a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Some, including Dreisbach, try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Rather, the Court discussed the historical context in which the Constitution and First Amendment were drafted, noting the expressed understanding of Madison perhaps even more than Jefferson, and only after concluding its analysis and stating its conclusion did the Court refer–once–to Jefferson’s letter, largely to borrow his famous metaphor as a clever label or summary of its conclusion. The notion, often heard, that the Court rested its decision solely or largely on that letter is a red herring.

Dreisbach’s suggestion that Jefferson sent missionaries to an Indian tribe and built a church for it are partly false and otherwise misleading. Jefferson signed over forty treaties with various Indian nations. Only the one with the Kaskaskia said anything about religion; in it, the U.S. traded various items, including $300 to help the tribe (whose members were largely Catholic) erect a church and $100 per year for seven years to support a priest, in exchange for nearly 9 million acres of land. The aim of the treaty was not to convert Indians to religion, but rather merely to trade with a sovereign nation by providing items it desired.

Anonymous said...

Terry: I read “InDeep’s” reply post on the matter of Separation of Church and State twice and will, with your permission, clear up a few issues. First, I find no support for his assertion that Professor Dreisbach’s comments are false, misleading or both. In fact to the extent he responds, he appears to admit Jefferson did supply support to Christian missions and that Dreisbach is correct.

Second, InDeep’s argument that the Constitution says nothing about this Judge created Separation of Church and State, so that proves the Framers intended one is . . . less than compelling. The same argument could be used to claim the Founders intended to supply subsidies to the Pittsburgh Steelers, prohibit the use of cell phones or astrology, etc.

The Constitution is not a blank page upon which the powerful can write their wishes, it in conjunction with the Bill of Rights is exactly the opposite. The Constitution says this is what you can do and this is how you have to do it. The Bill of Rights says it doesn’t matter whether or not you can gin up the votes, keep your hands off these one boys. If you don’t like them, amend the Constitution. Let’s also remember the Constitution had to be ratified and wishful statements made after ratification are not relevant to what was passed.

If InDeep or others think we should expand the Establishment Clause to limit religious expression, they should pass an amendment. That’s why the Framer’s provided for it.

As I point out in my novel, Separation of Church and State: “If what you say is true, American elections are a sham,” Cardinal Thomas Guzetti said. “Why should anyone bother to vote? Congress and the Presidency? Mere advisory boards, a pretty facade to placate the citizenry.” I would also remind Doug of this:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED, (emphasis added)”

The Declaration of Independence (along with the Constitution) is in volume one of the U.S. Code (Front Matter) under the heading Organic Laws of the United States. "Organic Law" as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary means: “ The fundamental law, or constitution, of a state or nation, written or unwritten. That law or system of laws or principals which defines and establishes the organization of its government.” Consent of the Governed.

Thanks for the opportunity to clear up all the misunderstanding over this issue Terry. Thanks, Joe

Terry Burns said...

Very interesting discussion, but to return to the point I was making, I believe Christian writers have the right and even an obligation to comment on how they wish to be governed. Being a Christian does not mean we give up our citizenship rights to do it. However we must not be contentious in the process and confine ourselves to issues rather than personalities to avoid conflict with those who might be on the other side of the political spectrum from us that we wish to do publishing related business with. That's just a much more Bible based approach to the process anyway.

Doug Indeap said...

Terry, speaking of your point, I’ll not offer a rejoinder to Joe’s last comment, and will instead point out that in his otherwise well informed, well written (even if mistaken) comment, he slipped, albeit ever so slightly, into the very sort of thing you caution against—name calling. Had Indeap been my real name, I may well have been offended or insulted by his effort to twist it into some sort of witty put down—the sort of thing that once was most commonly encountered during grade school, but appears to have regained popularity among those of all ages in the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Terry - I’ll also speak to your original point and tell you rather than insulting Doug InDeep, I think by choosing the moniker Doug InDeep along with the shovel, he proves himself witty. By choosing such as a Pen Name behind which to blog on controversial topics, he proves himself a formidable tactician since if you address him by it you automatically open yourself to claims that you lack sensitivity, a charge which in good Christian conscience I must admit in my case has some validity. Nevertheless, quite clever.

Witty and Formidable - and I mean it. How’s that for making amends?


sapnudin15 said...
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