The North Carolina bill that would have established a state religion is dead, thanks be to God. It was killed on Thursday, the day before I wrote my post, but I only found out today.

I am astonished and troubled, though, that about a third of Americans said in a recent poll that Christianity should be the official religion of their state. 32% even said they would favor a constitutional amendment making Christianity the established religion of the US!

Those numbers should be zero, if people were smart and really cared about faith, the common good, and the life of the nation. That sort of entanglement is not good for government or religion.

At least the majority in the poll thought both possibilities were a bad idea. But the numbers are still astounding, so I say: God help us!

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.



We must not allow governments to impose Christian faith by legislation, nor should we demand undue advantages for the church. The church must be free to speak to civil authorities, neither claiming expert knowledge it does not have, nor remaining silent when God’s Word is clear (A Declaration of Faith, a document commended to the Presbyterian Church [USA] for liturgy and study).

…[W]e consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters thst respect religion, as universal and inalienable. We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others (Presbyterian [USA] Book of Order F-3.0101b).

As I thought about what I wrote yesterday, I realized I may have left the impression that I wanted politicians to leave the Church alone , that the Church or more broadly, religion of whatever sort, could demand for itself the privilege of special attention by government to its viewpoints. That was not my meaning. I want to clarify with this postscript that I also believe the Church/religion needs to keep its collective nose out of the government’s business.

I mean that while religion in our nation can and should be a partner in conversations, it cannot expect that its viewpoints will be more respected or put into practice in legislation than any other sector of society, like science or medicine or the military or  those who are thoroughly secular or the individual exercising his or her right of conscience free of religious dictates. Any attempt to control, not merely speak to, the actions of government, such as we have seen in the past week about certain health programs, is to me is the height of arrogance.

Maybe because I’m a freedom-loving Presbyterian and American, but I don’t want some church hierarch dictating my actions. “For freedom Christ has set us free” and”God alone is Lord of the conscience.” Religion can and ought to speak, sometimes with a loud voice, on matters of justice. But what has happened in the national conversation recently sounds to me more like the arrogant demand for unwarranted and undeserved power.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham

“We do not even  wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others” (Presbyterian Church [USA] Book of Order F-3.0101b, stating an historic principle guiding Presbyterians).

Probably the sole reason I remain a Presbyterian (the mainline/oldline kind) is our commitment to freedom. Freedom of conscience, with God as its only Judge and Lord. Freedom from tyranny, which led Presbyterians to participate actively in the American Revolution. Freedom in liturgy, which means that while we have an official guide, the Directory for Worship, that very standard gives me a great deal of latitude.

At no time, contrary to the claims of some politicians these days, have I felt such religious liberty threatened. Are there IRS regulations forbidding me, as part of a not-for-profit, from endorsing candidates from the pulpit or on church letterhead? Yes, and I respect and obey those rules as good and proper. Must my congregation, in personnel matters, follow the laws concerning fair employment (Book of Order G-3.0106) or must I, as well as my ruling elders, report abuse, neglect and/or molestation (Book of Order G-4.0302)? Again, yes, and we do this not simply because the law requires it, but as a theological commitment. I don’t feel that following the law oppresses me or my church.

When these politicians scream about religious liberty being attacked or curtailed, so often it’s a smokescreen to draw attention away from other issues or else they mean that the bigotry and fear-mongering of their particular brand of “Christianity” is  being exposed for what it is. Do you see these same people worrying about the freedom of expression or inclusion of Muslims, Wiccans/pagans, atheists or even other Christians, in national life or local decision-making? No. More likely they are promoting suspicion and hatred against people who do not share the beliefs of their fundamentalist supporters, with their checklist of hot-button, litmus-test issues.

The real threat to religious liberty is when government makes one brand of faith of any stripe and anywhere along the conservative-liberal spectrum, the de facto national/state/local official religion. That’s done when the leaders use their offices as bully pulpits to promote their own denomination, rather than values that may be common to all. It happens when there is no religious diversity on boards and in cabinets or when governments adopt one religiously-influenced viewpoint as the official one.

I’m glad there is no religious test for “any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI of the Constitution). I wish there were no such test, implicit or explicit, at any level of civil leadership. And the Bill of Rights protects government from religion and religion from government. That “wall of separation” (Thomas Jefferson) has served us well these many years.

Politicians, whoever you are, leave religion to the church, the synagogue, the mosque, and other bodies equipped and called to promote and practice it. Do your job, which is to govern with justice and promote the common good.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham