In George Orwell’s classic novel “Animal Farm,” we are introduced to the saying, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Changing “animals” with “religions” could describe the sentiment of a resolution being considered by Missouri state legislators.
The proposed resolution declares that Christianity should be protected as the “majority” religion of officially acknowledges the existence of God. While not a law, the resolution would still represent a state endorsement of religion.
The resolution contends that “our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation” and that “we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator.”
The resolution then argues that “we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind.” Finally, it calls on legislators to “stand with the majority of our constituents” to support “voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property.”
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. David Sater (R-Cassville) and co-sponsored by Rep. Barney Joe Fisher (R-Richard), passed the House Rules Committee as five Republicans voted for it and three Democrats did not. It may be considered by the full House this week and then would need to clear the Senate.
This news would have shocked me on any day, but it especially hit me the day I heard it. Later that evening I would be showing the documentary “Theologians Under Hitler” to the board of directors of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri and leading the discussion of the film.
While the Missouri issue can in no way be compared the atrocities of the Nazi regime, the poor theology documented in the film was eerily similar to the Missouri resolution.
The documentary serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of mixing church and state as it shows how three prominent German theologians lent their religious voice and credibility to support Hitler and his policies. It is shocking to watch as these theologians move from preaching the Word of God to proclaiming the gospel of Hitler.
The film explains how some taught that Germany was the new chosen nation, was founded as a Christian nation, and had God on their side. The most chilling images come from the Deutsche Christen (“German Christian”) movement that basically argued that only Nazi members were true Christians. The movement is seen with flags that include a large cross with a swastika in the middle of the cross. They would put the flags in their churches and even on the altars.
Church and state became one, and the church lost its prophetic voice as the conscience of society. As with the time of Constantine, when church and state united the church was one that ultimately bowed down to the other. Sadly, history repeats itself again.
The rhetoric of those theologians about Germany is extremely similar to language used in the Missouri resolution and similar Christian nationalist statements. While I am not suggesting any atrocities like the Holocaust will be occurring in Missouri, I am fearful of how politics and power may corrupt the church. I worry that much like the church in Germany during the 1930s we could be carried away with waving the flag and lose sight of our mission to share the love of Jesus.
Making the news even worse, among the Missouri Christian leaders supporting the resolution are some Baptists. David Clippard, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, stated, “The foundations of this country started with Christianity, and this just goes back and acknowledges where we started.”
I have trouble understanding this mindset. My faith does not need confirmation from state legislators or any other people. My faith depends solely upon God. How tragic it is to see Christian leaders who allow the allure of politics to distract them from their mission of redeeming our state. As Mahatma Gandhi stated, “A living faith cannot be manufactured by the rule of majority.”
On March 14 the BGCM, in partnership with the Baptist Center for Ethics, will be offering a public showing of “Theologians Under Hitler.” Following the film there will be an ecumenical panel to help lead the discussion about issues of church and state. While I knew it was important for us to help spark this dialogue, I now realize it is desperately needed.
If Baptists do not stand up for true religious liberty, then who will? We must teach Christians about the importance of the dangers of mixing church and state, and about how the First Amendment rights are meant to protect us.
“All must toil for freedom’s sake,” Old Major declared in “Animal Farm.” This is especially important since a recent study demonstrated that Americans know more about “The Simpsons,” “American Idol,” and advertising slogans than the First Amendment rights.
Ironically, the proposed Missouri resolution argues it is in line with these rights. It states that “we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers.” It also claims that “voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state.” Apparently the resolution’s writers are among those who do not know the First Amendment.
Roger Willams, Thomas Helwys, George Truett, and many other Baptist leaders who stood for religious liberty and suffered for being a minority faith would likely be embarrassed to see Baptist support for the Missouri resolution. Perhaps they would feel like the animals in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” as they could no longer tell the difference between the humans and the pigs.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.