Christian Mythbusters

Christian Mythbusters

Church and State

January 20, 2021

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths surrounding the separation of Church and State and asks how the church more faithfully can live into its relationship with the state. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

On January 20, 2021, at noon, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. If you are listening to this episode on Wednesday, we will be just about 90 minutes from that inauguration. If you are listening on Sunday morning, it will be in the rearview mirror.

It is normal for religion to play a role in the inauguration of a president in, at least it has been normal since 1937, when the first inaugural invocation was offered. Since 1933 there has also been an associated prayer service the morning of the election, whether private or public, and often a major prayer service the following day or weekend. 

Before this year, the previous four private services, the ones for the inauguration of George W. Bush, both inaugurations of Barack Obama, and the inauguration of Donald Trump had been at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. In fact, of the twenty-two associated morning prayer services the day of the inauguration, fully half of them have been at St. John’s. It has also become customary for there to be a public prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, a church which is not only the seat of our Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church (since it is an Episcopal cathedral) but which has often served as a national house of prayer for all people in our nation. 

Now, as a country which has the separation of church and state as one of its founding principles, it bears notice the prominent role that churches usually play in the inauguration—especially my own Episcopal Church. And so, in light of the inauguration, I’d like this week to say a few words to break some of the myths surrounding the relationship between religion—especially Christianity—and our government. 

First, we are certainly not a Christian nation. We are a nation founded on the free exercise of religion, with the first amendment to the Constitution making it clear that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Furthermore, many of the founding fathers were actually not traditional Christians. Many were deists, people who rejected supernatural revelation while still affirming belief in some kind of supreme being. 

The principle of the separation of church and state comes from a phrase Thomas Jefferson used to express his own understanding of the intent and function of the first amendment. Though the principle has largely been upheld, including by the Supreme Court, it continues to be debated, even to this day.

This is all a particularly interesting question for my own tradition, The Episcopal Church. After all, as a province of the Anglican Communion, our own mother church is the Church of England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury serves as our own global spiritual leader (albeit, with no authority in our own country). And the English monarch continues to serve as the Supreme Governor of the church,