September 20, 1992

CHILDREN OF THE GOVERNMENT

“Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21

I want to talk with you for the next few minutes about something that’s very difficult and controversial.  In fact, before I’m finished, some of you may think that I have no business talking about it at all.  What I want to talk about is how the government is taking over a larger and larger part of our lives, at the expense of faith.

Our society places great value on religious freedom.  It’s a basic principle that the government must not establish one religious group at the expense of all others.  This is sometimes called the wall of separation between church and state, and most of us agree that the wall should be there in some form or another.

The trouble is, the government keeps moving the wall outward to include more and more territory for itself.  Government is getting bigger and bigger, and it keeps taking on more and more responsibilities.

And that’s not all.  As the wall moves, it keeps getting higher.  Originally the wall of separation was supposed to prevent the government from persecuting any religion and also from establishing any religious institution as the country’s official religion.  But lately, the wall has grown higher, so that it now in effect prevents all religious and moral influence from entering any sphere of life in which the government is involved.

The government keeps moving the wall, and it keeps making it higher, and the inevitable result is that as the role of the government grows, the role of religion has to shrink.  Examples of this are almost as endless as a copy of the federal budget.

What’s the government involved in these days?  One thing it’s doing, obviously, is what governments throughout history have always done:  making and enforcing laws to protect the general welfare.  Laws against murder, stealing, pollution, selling drugs, and so forth are vital to the public good.

But even in this traditional function of government, the wall of separation has grown higher than ever before.  For example, a higher court recently overturned the sentence of a convicted murderer because the prosecuting attorney had quoted the Bible at one point during the course of his arguments.  Had he quoted Hugh Hefner or Oprah Winfrey, however, there wouldn’t have been a problem.  Anything goes in the legal system except a reference to religion.

Another area in which government is heavily involved is the economy.  Oh, I know, we supposedly live in a market economy with free enterprise and individual initiative, regulated by supply and demand, free of government control.  But let’s face it:  the government’s fingerprints are all over the economy.

The Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States play a big role in regulating the economy through monetary policy. The government insures deposits at banks and savings and loans.  Spending decisions by the legislature have a huge impact, as do the decisions on where the tax money is going to come from.  Lately, politicians have been talking about spending more public funds on research and development to aid private industry.  And in a global marketplace, the government’s trade policy has a powerful economic impact on each of us.  The U.S. government is without a doubt the world’s largest (and least profitable) corporation.

Another area that the wall keeps moving is in government aid to the poor.  What used to be a primary task of the church has largely been taken over by the government through various welfare programs.  As the goverment has moved the wall, is has also made it as high as it possibly can.  In New York the pastor of a Moravian Church that runs one of the city’s largest feeding programs would give a weekly morale-boosting talk to the men and women who came for free food.  The city ordered him to stop.  It’s a program that uses government funds, and so the pastor must pretend he’s an atheist whenever the food is distributed.

The power of the state also extends to health care.  Canada already has its entire health care system administered by the government, and if some people have their way, the United States will soon follow.  This involvement of the government in medicine has some very important consequences.  For one thing, hospitals that are run by religious organizations have to be very careful about promoting their faith if their hospital is receiving government grants.  Also, clinics which treat addictions often use programs that emphasize God and spirituality, and even though such programs are more effective than any other, how can public funds be used in a program that mentions God?

Another factor related to the government’s involvement in health care is the abortion question.  Many states and provinces aren’t merely pro-choice;  they’re pro-abortion.  They don’t merely permit abortions;  they pay for them with taxpayer money.  So it’s not simply a matter of allowing individuals to choose abortion;  the next step is that everybody else has to pay for it, even though many of us find abortion repugnant for moral and religious reasons.  The government doesn’t simply ignore our religious convictions;  it tramples on them.  The wall keeps moving, and it keeps getting higher.

What else is the government involved in?  Well, it regulates electronic communication, both in radio and television.  Canada has laws regarding “balance” in broadcasting, and uses these laws as a way of excluding any particular religious group from owning and operating its own station to promote its particular views.  The government won’t permit a particular church to run its own network.  However, the government itself is involved in public broadcasting.  The wall keeps moving, and it keeps getting higher.

Another area of government involvement is building codes and zoning laws.  Sometimes these laws prevent the building of churches in certain areas of town or prohibit large gatherings of people who might want to worship as a house church.  As always, when church and state collide, the church must give way.  The wall keeps moving, and it keeps getting higher.

And there’s more, much more.  Government also provides funding for the arts.  If a church were to apply for a government grant to pay for a splendid new stained glass window by a Christian artist, separation of church and state would prevent it.  But U.S. government money did support an art exhibit where an artist displayed a crucifix submerged in a vat of his own urine.  Another project which received taxpayer money was an exhibit that explicitly portrayed homosexual activities.  The wall keeps moving, and it keeps getting higher.

When it was suggested that the government shouldn’t be funding such projects, some artists howled censorship.  But of course it’s not censorship at all.  They can say and do anything they want, but that’s not good enough.  They also want the government to pay for it.  But aside from all the controversy surrounding a few of the projects funded by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the bigger question is whether government should be involved in the arts in the first place.

Another place that the government has taken over at the expense of religion is the public education system.  It’s illegal to have public prayers in the classroom, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that it’s even illegal to have prayer as part of the graduation ceremony.  That’s only logical, since these are government schools, and state and church must remain separate.  If you’re a teacher, you’d better not pray in your public school classroom.  You’d better not quote from the Bible.  However, feel free to distribute condoms to kids, even if they come from a religious tradition that declares sex outside of marriage to be immoral.

Now government is moving into still another area:  child care.  Politicians try to outdo each other in promising government help for the family.  But you can be sure that as government gives more “help” to the family, religion will have to retreat once again.  If you want to be sure of getting public funds for daycare, you’d better make sure your three-year-old is in a daycare center that doesn’t mention the word “God.”  Otherwise, you could end up paying for it yourself, even as your taxes are used to pay for the government-approved brand of daycare which excludes religion.

The wall separating church and state keeps moving, and it keeps getting higher.  As we’ve seen, the government not only concerns itself with basic legislation and law enforcement, but it’s also deeply involved in banking and commerce, in welfare, in mandatory saving for retirement, in health care, in radio and television, in zoning and city planning, in the arts, in education, in child care, and who knows what else.  And wherever government has gone, meaningful references to God are being systematically eliminated.  The church has to stay out of everything the government is involved in, and since the government is involved in almost everything, the public role of faith is reduced to almost nothing.

You may be wondering whether I have any business talking about these things.  After all, I’m a minister.  Aren’t ministers supposed to talk about things that are “private” and “spiritual” and stay out of public affairs?  Shouldn’t I be offering a few inspirational ideas that help people feel closer to God?  Shouldn’t I be talking about the Bible instead of talking about politics?

Well, it’s exactly because I teach the Bible that I have to talk about these things.  The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).  Everything!  Biblical religion isn’t just a warm feeling or a personal belief or a private relationship with God.  It affects every dimension of our lives, and so there’s something seriously wrong when the government chases faith out of one aspect of life after another.  At the heart of the Christian faith is the confession, “Jesus is Lord,” and he lays claim to every inch of our lives.

In our society, however, faith is often treated as a private sentiment that should be kept in a small corner.  We’ve already seen how the government has become involved in almost every aspect of life, diminishing the role of religious faith as it has done so.  Before we simply sit back and accept this, and certainly before we demand that the government do even more for us than it already does, we need to remember that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  We’re first of all children of God, not children of the government.

Jesus said,  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21), and we need to think very hard about how exactly we should apply that principle in the myriad areas in which the government is involved in our lives.  We can’t deal with all the various aspects of this issue in the few minutes we have left, so let’s focus in on the matter of families and children and education.

Listen to a new manual for first-grade teachers in New York City, called Children of the Rainbow.  It says, “If teachers do not discuss lesbian/gay issues, they are not likely to come up.”  The manual says, “Classes should include references to lesbian/gay people in all curricular areas…  Challenging sexual myths can begin on the first day of school.”  Folks, that’s in a manual for teaching first graders.

Nowadays it’s okay for teachers to promote as healthy behavior what is completely at odds with Christian teaching.  But if you’re a teacher and you tell your students that the Bible says, “God created man in his own image, male and female he created them,” or you say that the Bible prohibits sex outside of marriage, you could be getting yourself in big trouble for pushing a religious viewpoint.

Some parents want a choice and a voice in how their children are educated.  They want their children to be trained in schools that reflect their own values, and they would like their tax money to support the kind of schools they believe in rather than schools which exclude God at every turn.  However, those of us who want a real choice in the education of our children must first contend with a mindset that sees kids as children of the government.

Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union says that religion can do anything it pleases, except when it involves public funds.  He says, “Watering at the public trough means you have to accept public water standards.”  Very cute.  But what does he mean by “public water standards”?  No religion, of course.  Conducting classes as though God does not exist and as though Jesus never lived.  That’s an odd approach to “public water standards,” given the fact that in North America more than 90% of the people believe in God, and more than 80% say that Jesus is God or the Son of God.  In a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where only a tiny minority are agnostic or atheist, what gives the government the right to operate schools that exclude God?

I’m not going to say that government-operated schools should promote religion.  I’d rather raise the question whether the government should run schools at all.  If the state has an interest in educating children if it really insists on using public money to do this, then why not give parents tuition vouchers and leave it up to the parents to decide where their children go to school?

You might ask, “What good is a voucher system.  Why should taxpayer money support religious schools?”  Well the answer is simple enough.  A lot of that tax money came from people who are religious.  Perhaps a better question is, Why should taxpayer money be used to support atheist schools?

Right now the only way many of us can send our children to a Christian school or to some other private institution is if we first pay taxes for the public school, and then dig deeper into our pockets to send our children to the school of our choice.  A great many parents do exactly that, and the number is growing every year.  But for those who don’t have any money to spare once they’ve paid all their taxes for public education, there may be no choice but to send their children to public school.

And that’s just fine with some people.  One well-known politician says, “I oppose using public funds for private schools.”  That sounds sensible enough–or does it?  Remember: public funds are really nothing but private funds which the government has taken from our pockets by means of taxes.  When the government sets out to “help families,” it takes the private funds that belong to us, declares them to be public funds, and then tells us exactly what we can and can’t do with that money.

What’s happened in the public schools will inevitably happen with daycare programs as well, unless the trend is reversed.  Obviously, before the government can provide funding for daycare, it has to get the money from somewhere.  This means another tax increase, leaving government in control of more money, and parents and grandparents in control of less.  The only way they’ll ever see any of that money again is if the children are sent to a daycare center which toes the government line and excludes religion.

So beware when you hear politicians talk about helping families.  What happens is that the money which once belonged to parents ends up in the hands of the government.  And then, in the name of separation of church and state, the government won’t allow the money to be used to send children to any school which emphasizes Christian truth and Christian morality.  In other words, Caesar confiscates a sizeable portion of your income, and he won’t allow you to benefit from it unless you do things his way.  Your tax dollars for education will never come back to help you unless you send you children to Caesar’s school.  When Caesar offers to help, he also expects to take charge.

It’s time to ask ourselves:  Should we be giving our children to Caesar or to Jesus?  To the government or to God?  And should decisions concerning their welfare be controlled by politicians or by parents?  If you’re a Christian, the answer is clear.  Your kids belong to you, and they belong to God.  They are not children of the government.

So if you’re at all able, send your children to a Christian school which teaches that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  Or, if you feel you have no choice but the public school, be involved in your children’s education.  Stay on top of what they’re learning, and don’t be afraid to cause a stir when you see the teaching of anti-Christian values.  Your children are yours, not the government’s, and you should exercise your parental authority wherever you can.

Meanwhile, before it’s too late, we as citizens need to resist any trend in our society which stifles our ability to live out our faith.  Let’s beware of anything that makes us more and more children of the government, and less and less children of God who are free to follow where he leads.  We need to ask:  Is it possible that the government is involved in areas it should stay out of entirely?  And if the government must be involved in things like daycare, education, welfare, health care, economic development, and so forth, does government funding have to mean government control?  Does freedom of religion always have to mean freedom from religion?

Perhaps the wall between church and state needs to be there in some form.  But it doesn’t have to keep moving, constantly giving more territory to the government.  And it doesn’t have to keep getting higher, separating public policy from the convictions of the more than 90% of the people who still claim to believe in God.  That’s not even democratic, let alone Christian.

The government mustn’t be allowed to usurp the rightful authority of the family and the church.  Let’s not pretend that faith is limited to our private opinions and feelings.  Biblical religion is at work where the rubber hits the road.  That’s why we need the freedom to put our faith into practice, to live every part of life the way Jesus wants us to, and to train our children to do the same.  So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.

PRAYER

Lord God, forgive our sins and heal our land.  Shape our people, our families, our churches, and our institutions of government.  Renew our vision to know your will, and revive us, O Lord.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.