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Should U.S. public policy reflect viewpoints arrived at because of religious beliefs? What is the role of religion in national debate? Do religious viewpoints have a place in the public square?

Prompted by the many debates over legal recognition of same-sex marriage on this blog, I undertook to try to answer these questions. I do not claim to be an expert, but, have thought about these issues for over thirty years. I also am a trained Christian pastor (Master of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1983), and trained scholar of religion (Ph.D. in Religion, outside area American History, Baylor University, 2000). I undertook this writing project as well to help me clarify my own thought. I grew up in the Primitive Baptist tradition, historically a strong supporter of the Separation of Church and State. My parents even were members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. My earliest thinking on the issue, therefore, was in a strongly separationist mode. The last ten or fifteen years, however, I have moved to the opinion that a strict separationist position is too simple, and too naive. I am not, however, and probably never will become a Christian Theonomist, advocating that the laws given to Israel on Sinai should become the law of our land and of every land. (The terms "Theonomy," "Dominion Theology," and "Christian Reconstructionism" often are used imprecisely as synonymns.)

So, where do I stand? (cont. below)

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USA today carries a good report on research underway by Baylor University sociologists and the Gallup organization on the religious beliefs of Americans. One finding: the view of God held by a person is a much better predictor of positions on public issues than denominational affiliation. The researchers have grouped the results into 4 basic categories of how God is viewed: "These Four Gods dubbed by researchers Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant tell more about people's social, moral and political views and personal piety than the familiar categories of Protestant/Catholic/Jew or even red state/blue state." For example, those who see God as Authoritarian are more likely to support conservative Christian positions in politics. Also, different regions of the U.S. tend to have different proportions of views of God. Read Article.

This survey seems to lend support to some observations I made in Part 2 of my series of posts on Religion and Public Policy.
Should U.S. public policy reflect viewpoints arrived at because of religious beliefs?

Prompted by the spirited debate on this blog over the issue of same-sex marriage and public policy, I began a series of posts on my view of the proper relationship between religion and public policy, including debate in the public square of the United States. In my first post I approached the issue from a historical perspective here. In the second post I approached it from a philosophical and observational angle here. Now I want to take a look from a theological perspective.

But first, no apologies, a little history. Christianity's parent religion, Judaism, made no fundamental distinction between religious life and ordinary life. The religious community was the tribe and eventually the nation; In this respect the Jews were like about everyone else in the premodern world. The Jewish prophets went beyond what was usually seen in paganism and held the people and the rulers accountable to the Law in all aspects of life from diet to care for the poor: ethics was firmly a part of religion. When Christianity arose as a minority sect within Judaism, it arose within an existing Greco-Roman society. The New Testament, perhaps because of an expectation of the immanent return of Jesus and the fact that "not many mighty" were Christians, contains no explicit call to conform the larger society to Christian beliefs and practices. Instead, the community is to live according to its own moral code within the larger society whose laws it is to obey except where these conflict with Christian morals. But, when Christianity grew larger and obtained a privilaged place within the Roman Empire, the relationship between public policy and Christian faith had to be revisited. Short summary: in the Eastern Empire (Byzantine) church and state formed a complex whole under the leadership of the emperor; in the fragmenting Western Empire, power within the church consolidated under the Bishop of Rome (pope) who engaged in power struggles with the various rulers, all the while advocating the position that all of life must be brought under the rule of Christ. Similar positions obtained in other Christian kingdoms such as Ethiopia and Armenia. Theologically, to summarize crudely, this change was justified on grounds such as the Lordship of Christ over all Creation, and the growth of God's Kingdom. Outside these areas in places such as along the Silk Road to China and in the Persian Empire, Christian communities continued the earlier pattern of living as small communities with little power. In the West, the Protestant Reformation did not basically challenge the organic nature of society--linking public policy and Christianity (though Luther's theology separates the two more than Calvin's), except for some of the small and persecuted Radical groups who did advocate a separation of church and government. When the story gets to America, see my first post. My own view is below.

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