Mars Hill Forum #101, November 29, 2005, Harvard Club, New York City: “What is the Proper Relationship Between Religion and Government?” Guest: Nadine Strossen, President, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Outline Used by John C. Rankin

  1. The answer is simple, and in a bilateral way – to maximize religious, political and economic liberty for all people equally. Hence, the name of the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union – is most appealing. But is the ACLU historically and philosophically equipped to serve such maximized liberty?
  2. I ask this question in deep respect for Nadine – for we both share the same goal – we are united in affirming American civil liberties. And I ask this question of myself equally – do I serve such liberty?
  3. There are two choices before us tonight: a) biblical ethics; and b) a definition of government “neutrality” toward religion.
  4. We are all partisans, so “neutrality” for me is a fiction. Who among us is so positioned as to rise above our humanity to the status of a Platonic ideal and judge the rest of us? Or who wants to forsake his or her humanity and partisan convictions? The real question for me is this: How do our respective partisan convictions serve the equal liberties for those who believe differently?
  5. I will argue that biblical ethics are uniquely proactive – able to provide the freedom for religion in a pluralistic culture. This is the soul of the American Revolution.In contrast, government “neutrality” is reactive – seeking a freedom from religion. This is the soul of the French Revolution.
  6. I also argue that religion is a public matter, not a private matter to be closeted away. Jesus in the face of the false separation of temple and state…
  7. The (POSH Ls article 1) of the image of God (Sayles Auditorium, Brown University in April, 1989).

Thus, a brief history of human liberty.

  1. Biblical ethics is the concern for public life – not doctrine or church authority. This is a historical argument, and requires no belief on any person’s part.
  2. The Six Pillars of Biblical Power and Honest Politics – especially freedom.
  3. Creation, sin and redemption of Genesis 1-2: only truly proactive text in all human history.
  4. akol tokel [“in feasting you shall continually feast = metaphor for human freedom] of Genesis 2:15-17 v. pagan texts, secular origins (e.g., Athens and Rome).
  5. Early church v. early Islam – informed choice v. coercion.
  6. Question of theocracy – community of choice v. imposed conformity.
  7. Reformation v. Enlightenment.
  8. American Revolution (1776) v. French Revolution (1789): backdrop of religious wars in Europe; proactive v. reactive, and historical follow-through.
  9. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed …”
  10. The U.S. Constitution and no imposed Protestant hegemony.
  11. The order of liberties in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
  12. Thus, the question for me is how we who are biblical people treat others.
  13. Smith College in November, 1994 w/Patricia Ireland of NOW – two choices: give and it shall be given, or take before you are taken. Sums up six pillars.
  14. I do not desire one inch greater liberty to say what I believe than the liberty I first honor for those who disagree with me, within the rule of law.
  15. Is the church equipped to serve such liberty? If we argue that there is one unique Source for liberty, can a skeptical world judge us by our fruit and find any good news in our demeanor and actions?

Thank you.