Breaching the Wall
August 29, 2001
As the story goes, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England, his country ran low on metal for coins. He dispatched his soldiers to scour the realm in search of new sources, and they returned with an unlikely solution. According to Cromwell's men, his best prospects were the statues standing in the corners of local churches. Parishioners paid scant attention to them, and the figures were crafted of solid silver. Cromwell's practical side apparently trumped his devout nature, for after a moment's consideration, he reportedly concluded, "Let's melt down the saints and put them in circulation!" And it was so.
While his contemporaries no doubt shrieked sacrilege, Cromwell's historic action invites a modern lesson. Writes Charles Swindoll of the story, "[His] command states the essence, the kernel, the practical goal of authentic Christianity. Not rows of silver saints, highly polished, frequently dusted, crammed into corners of elegant cathedrals….But real persons, melted saints circulating through the mainstream of humanity, bringing worth and value down where life transpires in the raw."
If legislation pending before Congress succeeds, just such a meltdown may be on the way.
For generations, a misbegotten wall of separation has cloistered spirituality within the pious confines of cathedral walls -- far removed from the public square. The faithful file in for their weekly observance, then return to the boardrooms and storefronts where they deal in real life.
Occasionally, an ambitious clergyman attempts a marriage of the steeple and the street. For him, judgment is swift. Morality isn't set to organ music, and principle doesn't sleep between Sundays, but introduce either to the issues of the day and learn in short order that freedom of religion lives on a remarkably short tether. Expound on the intricacies of the Sermon on the Mount, and risk only a dozy congregation. But commend a candidate or comment on legislation, and your pulpit is in peril.
Rep. Walter Jones has authored a bill that could blast a hole in this wall of separation. Called the "Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act" (HR 2357), this legislation would amend the tax code so religious organizations don't jeopardize their tax-free status by participating in political activities. If it passes, believers will no longer be compelled to check their politics at the church door or their convictions at the ballot box. Instead, spirituality melted into circulation will be free to bid for relevance beyond the stained glass.
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports," wrote George Washington, "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Unfortunately, the inverse is likely true. A society long deprived of spiritual influence doesn't automatically develop moral habits, and churches acclimated to the periphery no longer expect to shape public policy. But just as the Savior chose to soil His hands with secular trivia, so too should those who follow in His footsteps. A godly government can only profit from their participation.
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