Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Separation of Church and State in 1916

Here is another interesting editorial from the archives of the Los Angeles Times:

November 21, 1916
The Ambition of the Church for Temporal Power (author's name not mentioned)

Recent ecclesiastical incursions into politics leave little doubt in the average lay mind that political influence is the ultimate aim of many branches of the Christian church. This cannot be too seriously deplored by those who wish to see thr church strong in spiritual influence, above and apart from the sordid political considerations which ever make strife, controversy, bitterness.
It is a historical fact that whenever the church has become so immersed in politics as to be influential in the political life of a nation it has brought concerted rebellion against it. Every nation has passed through this troubled and bitter experience at some time in history, always ending in a violent severence of church and state, to the detriment of the church. The most recent example has taken place in Mexico, where the church interfered so brazenly in politics and government that a violent reaction set against it. Francisco Bulnes in “Las Grandes Mentiras de Nuestra Historia” says in connection with the loss of Texas to Mexico:

“The truth is that we owe the loss of Texas to Lucas Alaman, a leader loyal and faithful to clerical interests and a man of the greatest credit with the church – a militarism personified in the vices, ambition, corruption and degradation of its general, Santa Ana.”

Speaking of the ambitions of the clerical party and their impositions upon the Mexican government, Gutierres de Lara, in his historical survey of Mexican affairs, says:

“Conditions in Mexico at this time were at their darkest. Special taxation had been imposed by the church-influenced Congress, from which, of course, church property was exempted; while nearly all of the coin in the country was the debased product of counterfeit mints owned and operated by officers of the army…Anastacio Bustamente, that faithful watchdog of the clerical interests, was elected to the Presidency of the republic. Appointed to the Presidency would more accurately state the case, for the exercise of the franchise was so hedged about that all trace of popular will was destroyed. And, be it remembered, this same clerical party in Mexico believed that its incursion into politics was atricly moral.”

And so it has always been when the church has sought and acquired political power. So soon as the church believes that virtue can come through legislation rather than spiritual upbuilding, corruption and graft are rampant in the land. So long as the church prefers temporal to spiritual power, so soon does the spirit of the nation decay.

Yet we find our American churches showing the same dismal, soul-wrecking tendencies. Pulpits everywhere were the most violent of political rostrums at election time. Not the laws of Christ, but the laws of man, were the perpetual theme of discourse. Not the beauty and sweetness of life as it can be, but the brutality of life as the church prefers to view it, was dinned into our ears.

Now our churches are exempted from taxation in this State because of their exclusively spiritual vocation. If indeed our churches are convinced that their place is in politics, controversial and liberty destroying, why should other taxpayers be called upon to support them? The churches, too, should, and assuredly will, be called upon to pay their share of the taxes of the nation, even as taxpaying members of each political party are called upon to contribute their share. In this fair country, in which justice and religious liberty are our pet boasts, the great body of the voting taxpayers will never concede that the churches’ can have it both ways. Either they are strictly and exclusively religious organizations, aiding the soul in its struggle against submerging materialism, or they are political organizations frankly maintained for the influence of special legislation. The first may fairly and reasonably be exempt from taxation on their property; the latter have no iota of claim on the whole community. A movement to so amend the State Constitution as to repeal all exemption of church is already afoot – the war cry being that the church properties are used for political meetings and therefore not entitled to exemption from taxes.

And in the matter of voluntary contributions. How many church members are willing to make their donations for political purposes? At present, notwithstanding the incessant demand for money and still more money, the coluntary contributions to the churches are generous and colassal. Congregations everywhere find themselves exhorted to give, give, give. And the respond magnificently for the most part, playing their part generously in the maintenance of the House of God, and God’s spokesman. But when the House of God becomes a mere political auditorium – when the man of God becomes a mere political orator – they might as well make their contributions direct to an efficient and frank political party and done with it.
When, as in the case of exemption from taxes, the whole community supports an oganization it must essentially be non-partisan, nonpolitical. No man is prepared to suscribe to the funds of his political opponents unless only and when thez have been elected by a popular majority vote. As it is, church-goer and non-churchman alike support the religious organizations of the country, on religious, not political, principles. Agreed that the church has its important place in the nation, agreed are we all that religion is a basic need of civilization. But religion is one thing and politics another. If the church has nothing but the welfare of the soul, of the conscience, of the character at heart, its influential ministrations should assure our usuing our vote according to our conscientious convictions, without specific exhortations from the pulpit upon our duty. Duty is a matter of individual conscience. Given the conscience, we ourselves will make the necessary laws.

Once again, I find it fascinating how many issues of almost a century ago, are contemporary issues as well. What I find even further interesting is the fact that the LA Times was a pretty conservative newspaper, promoting the interests of the real-estate barons of the era, and also very anti-labor and anything giving a whiff of socialism.

Perhaps their (Republicans at the LA Times) strong opposition to politicking in churches at that time (in contrast to nowadays) was due the Progressives (Democrats) alligning themselves with moral issues, such as temperance (eventually leading to Prohibition). Pro-labor sentiment and women's suffrage were also couched in the Progressives moral stance. Churches had become their auditorium.

At the end of last year, Newsweek had an great interview with Barak Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, a Democrat and devout Christian. He mentioned that one of the problems with the Democratic Party today, was the fact that in distancing itself so much from religion its had lost its foundation. In the interview Obama said he wants the party to reconnect to its moral tradition: "This shouldn't be hard to do. Martin Luther King did it. The abolitionists did it. Dorothy Day [of the Catholic Workers] did it. Most of the reform movements that have changed this country have been grounded in religious models. We don't have to start from scratch."
The task now, Obama says, is for Democrats to "reclaim and reassert in very explicit language that our best ideas rise out of communal values."

I digress...don't really have much more to say about the article, still mulling over it...and I wanted to share it.


Blogger ac blue eagle said...

My only comment after scanning what you presented is that the Church has always been a big force in Mexican politics and Mexican government. I think that is because there has always been "one church" in Mexico, or the Roman Catholic Church and because all the people were Roman Catholic. In the US, however, I see the church as a political group that can be compared to some of the business/industrial groups as well as social organizations. By that I mean they try to influence legislation in the same way representatives of the auto industry or the dairy farmers do. They do it for specific slices of legistation that benefits them. I think, as the junior senator from Illinois says, religion does provide moral fiber for our lives, and I think our laws. That moral fiber is based on a sense of knowing right from wrong. I think it is that sense of right and wrong that keeps the country pretty well balanced. Sometimes it swings slightly to the left or slightly to the right, but in the end there is usually balance. When you talk religions one of the most interesting stories I ran across was in Charleston, SC, where the founding fathers of that city encouraged many, many religious groups to settle in their town. That led to the founding of one of the earliest snyagoues (sp) in the American colonies, the founding of a French Hugenout church and on and on and on. That resulted in a dilution of religous ideas with no one religion dominating the lives of the city. Great idea.
I ramble. So I stop. Keep studying history. It is fascinating. By the way, I think I FINALLY understand why those men inside the Alamo stayed even though opposed by a much, much larger force.

1:27 AM  
Blogger Bluesman said...

You are really into this Church topic. But keep on going with your studies. As a student of Angloamerican History you will not have any problems in finding more articles about state church relations in the US from the Declaration of Independance till today. Of course the Catholic Church is different from Protestant Churches.
Maybe one day you will surprise us readers by quoting a comparism of a church as an enterprise and MCDonalds, who knows?

10:34 AM  

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