A couple of years ago we held a meeting under the title "Civil Religion." Parishioner Ellen Warren, then a county commissioner was first to talk about her life as a person of faith in public service. It was a good evening and some troublesome topics were addressed with good manners around the room. It was the only episode in what I had hoped would be a series.
The title was a play on words. Usually "civil religion" means that way of being religious in public that allows moments like our Presidents ending their speeches with "God bless America." It is the anchored in mottos and phrases like "In God we trust" and "One nation, under God."
"Civil religion" informs the hosting of prayer breakfasts and declarations of national days of prayer. It also informed our talking about the interface between faith and governance and trying to be civil about religion at the same time. Crazy, I know!
My intent was not to reinforce any sense that America is God's chosen nation or that we were founded as a Christian nation. I instead wanted to push through the idea that the first amendment intends for the church -- in all its disguises -- to be party to the larger discourse of the whole nation, a discourse meant "to form a more perfect union."
That discourse is assumed in the protecting the rights of freedom of assembly, of freedom of speech, and of freedom of the press. By protecting freedom of religion AND preventing a state church we are being named in the first amendment as having a particular role in that discourse. We are not prevented from the conversation but are meant to be included for exactly what a church ought to bring to the table: moral and ethical input not serving those in power and a respect for the "dignity of every human being."
For me "civil religion" also means that we are to demonstrate how to have that "union perfecting" conversation with each other and for the sake of a government of, by and for the people.
So I'm OK with much of even my comments about politics and governance. It's not my fault those terms are confused of conflated with each other. It is my fault when I don't play fair with the confusion and help the people I love to read what I write or even more so what I post that has been written by others.
Last week's borrowing from John Pavlovitz is a perfect example. I pretty much agree with what he said. I do think that we are nearing the end of the life of much gets to call itself Christian in this nation.
Demographics galore will back this up. But JP wasn't just talking numbers, he was talking about the loss of civil religion. We have lost that first amendment intent for the practice of religion in America and replaced it with something that too often isn't civil and isn't religious.
I don't agree with everything he wrote or with all of HOW Pavlovitz wrote what he wrote. So . . .
I'll take more care in the future to be civil and to promote civility but I intend to say more about this "First Amendment Christian" that I hope to model. I'll also continue to include others' voices and writings in describing and navigating that space that is ours as members of the Church of the Advent and citizens of this nation.