"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." These words form the very first part of the first amendment to our national constitution. I found it interesting, during the recent silly season and beyond, that there are still numerous folk who insist that the originating documents of our country never intended that there be a separation between, as we say, church and state. They cry out for a merging of these two monumental institutions, denying all the way that a gap was ever intended between them. There is no clean way to put this; those who press this point want a government that reflects their religious beliefs, and theirs alone. And that's scary.
But do those who espouse such thoughts really understand what that would mean if it became reality? As it now stands, both benefit from this arrangement. Government can call upon religious teaching for input on how to create a better communal life. Religious institutions benefit from the provision and protection of government. And for those who choose not to arrange their worldview around some religious tradition, their choice will be respected. It is a wonderful exercise in democracy.
Religious institutions also benefit by receiving tax-breaks and being able to count donations to their cause as a deduction come April 15 of each year. And there is the built-in advantage of being able to speak truth to power. Much of the time, the provision and protection we receive under our government is truly remarkable. On some other occasions, it needs to be challenged. And religion has the freedom to do that under the present arrangement.
So what if there was a merger and we developed a state-church and a church-state. Well, first we would need to get ready for our religious institutions to start paying taxes. What a blow that would be to a local congregation. A raise for the preacher might not be in the works because a congregation would have to scramble to figure out how to add the tax payment to the annual budget. And then all those tithes and offerings we total up each year as a deduction which makes our tax responsibility a bit more bearable. Well, we would no longer be able to do that.
Those who follow this line of thinking...are they really sure that's what they want?