Dan Popp
What if the government couldn't play church?
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By Dan Popp
March 20, 2017

If we've learned anything in the past quarter century, it is that we cannot federalize virtue. – George H.W. Bush

America has a state religion. Contrary to law and contrary to barbarian shrieks of "separation of church and state," the US government operates as a religious institution.

There are several definitions of "religion," all valuable for different discussions. In this essay I'm using the definition that the Apostle James gave us. "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27, NAS95)

Historically, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the sick have been understood as religious duties – not political ones. The word for this is "almsgiving."

When we shift almsgiving from our mercy institutions (churches, synagogues, hospitals) to our justice institution (government) we pay a horrific price in both the corruption of mercy and the dereliction of justice.

But there's another price that we may not see at first. So I propose a thought experiment: What if the government couldn't play church? What if we forced it to obey the Constitution? What if we were to dump the oxymoron of government love?

What if, when you were in need, you could not go to the government for help?

Imagine a United States in which all aid was given by individuals, families, churches, parachurch organizations and community groups.

No, people would not be "dying in the streets." That's a lie, and a stupid one, for all its longevity. It has simply never been the case that poverty, misery and death prevailed in the land until the religious heartstrings of government were stirred to create a "program" that finally ensured everyone's well-being. Garbage. Baloney. Horse manure. The reality is pretty much the opposite of that.

So what would happen if we were to end our theocracy? Well, barbarian heads would explode, for starters. They're not shy about expressing their hatred of church charity. "It lines the pockets of preachers," they howl. Maybe in rare cases it does. I've met hundreds of pastors, and only 2 of them might have risen above "lower middle-class" status. Contrast that to the priests in Congress who all seem to retire from the state church as members of the detested "1%."

Mainly barbarians revile private charity because resources can go to causes they don't like. If you give to your church, some of the money may go to spread the gospel, some may go to renovate the building, some of it may even go to a crisis pregnancy center that saves the lives of the unborn. Unacceptable! cries the barbarian. Just as he wants to own what he has not earned (your property), he demands to control what he has not given. Government almsgiving is about control, not about need.

If the "most vulnerable" were helped by private groups, that would give clout to those groups. It would take social power away from the state church and give it back to the old, despised church. We would hear the objection, "We don't want Reverend Billy Bob of the Bible Tabernacle to have the power of life and death over people." Horrors, no! We want the government church to determine who will live and who will die, who will be given life-sustaining treatment and who will be given a pain pill.

Power is a zero-sum game; it's in the hands of one church or the other.

If almsgiving were done exclusively by churches and other private groups, they would command more respect, however grudgingly granted. It wouldn't be possible to "marginalize" Christians, to use a barbarian word. The state couldn't ride roughshod over the beliefs of the faithful because it would be the faithful who held the hearts and investment and gratitude of the citizenry. Churches would again be the hubs of community life.

So you see what has happened. One reason Christianity has lost influence in our culture is that her proper influence was co-opted by a rival church, the church of state. And since government is force, as our first President observed, the state church is a church of violence. If you think coercion and almsgiving go together, you are far from the religion of Christ.

Those who cry for government to fulfill the compassionate commands of Jesus are actually undermining the church of Jesus and reinforcing the anti-Christ theocracy that crushes all of us.

© Dan Popp

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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