The road to harmony
By DS Gands
Jun 30, 2004
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“Religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” – Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802


Jefferson was borrowing from the metaphor of Roger Williams, a fellow Baptist and Rhode Island’s champion of religious freedom. Williams had previously written:


“a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” 


"Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise." - Sam Pascoe, American scholar


This nation, America, is divided, and a house divided, falls.  In a recent Gallup poll, it was reported that Americans had reached an extreme and unprecedented level of polarization regarding the president’s job approval rating indicating a 77 point gap between Republicans and Democrats who participated in the survey.

In the social divisions of our nation, issues such as gay marriage and rights, abortion, and stem cell research are hotly contested issues with no compromise or solution in sight.  Constitutional provisions are in question, and amendments to address even the most morally clad issues are being considered, such as marriage defined as being between a man and woman, exclusively, in America.  Even given that moral values are agreed upon across party lines, the opposing forces defined as conservative fears of judicial tyranny or liberal activism maintain the battles in the courts.  Another poll has shown that 80% of all Americans, regardless of political views, believe that moral values are fair to poor and worsening.

With all of the controversy over the Separation Clause, and the press pages overflowing with articles about a quarter century of the impact of religion on American politics and policy spilling over into the world, there continues to be great and open inflammatory activity in this election season.  Religion is a major factor in the polarity of today.

Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina is the sponsor of current legislation (HR 235) that allows churches and clergy to engage in partisan politics.  His statements on the floor were entered into the Congressional Record, and this legislation is being reconsidered.  Congressman Jones is Catholic, and mentioned that he had spoken to the Prime Minister of the Ukraine, who had confirmed that their ministers could talk about any issue they choose to express, but that during the Eisenhower presidency, legislation was enacted to restrict American religious organizations.  He defended Bishop of Colorado Springs Sheriden’s letter regarding voting positions, which has been a source of great controversy.

The addendum to the “American Jobs Creation Act of 2004” (HR 4520) provided for churches and other religious entities to endorse a political party or candidate as many as three times without losing the IRS tax exemption status.  The current Section of 501(c) 3 of the federal tax code bans engaging in partisan politics, though ministers and religious organizations may speak for or against legislation or public policy and participate in advocacy or lobbying activities if these activities are not their primary function.

Used by permission. Artist: Omid Tavallai
The addendum only provided for religious organizations, and did not provide for other tax-exempt organizations with regard to these types of priviledges and was attached to the jobs bill at the request of the Republican House leadership and was not as open-ended as the Jones legislation.  It was inserted the same week that President Bush’s campaign came under fire from separation activists regarding an e-mail requesting that 1600 Pennsylvania church groups and organizations identify volunteers.  On June 14th, Rep. Nancy Johnson, (R- Connecticut) made the motion to strike the provision, and due to the serious tension surrounding it, the motion passed without dissent.  HR 4520 has moved to the Senate and has been placed on Calendars without the provision.

Some religious groups decried the legislation modification indicating that the ‘three-strikes’ provision  would invite unwanted government monitoring of  religious entities. Meanwhile, supporters of strict church-state separation criticized the provision as crossing the line between church and state.  Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the committee's ranking Democratic member, said, "You've taken Jesus out of the pulpit and put him in the polling places." 

The “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act”, House Resolution 235, by Congressman Jones, reamins active and currently touts 165 cosponsors in the House.  There have been many who have stirred the debate regarding politics and religion of late.

“We can be both conservative and cooperative," Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee and former convention president, stated at the recent Southern Baptist Convention. "God is looking for us to change the world and to do it now."  It would seem that over zealous, religiously motivated legislation is leading some non-profit organizations into a quagmire, while they are changing positions on the subject that they have determined is detrimental to their existence – politics.

Here in America, from Jewish to Baptist leadership, the voices are ringing true.  Metaphorically - beware the religious sport utility vehicle of US politicians.  The decline in religious interest in established organizations by the young and the deep division in politics stemming from a quarter century of religious warfare and ascension of religious influence in both politics and government has the leaders of these entities turning away from the political and back to the theology of their respective foundations.  These are steering away from government intervention in protected organizations.   Jones and the right continue to press for an open allowance for these activities to the exclusion of all other non-profits, like a figurative SUV running over everything in it’s path.

Religious warfare, conflicts and intolerance are the very tools used for divisiveness to advance political and global gain.  Recognizing the need for changing those perspectives may be the very first step to world peace.


John 15:17  “These things I command you, that ye love one another.” (King James Version)


It is the only road to harmony, and currently peppered with the unwritten signs  - Caution: SUV Crossing.


All best take heed.   If one steers directly into the light, they may become blinded, then, everything is in jeopardy.

Reference links:


House Resolution 4520


House Resolution 235


Search Bills link – Library of Congress


DS Gands is a columnist and freelance writer living in North Texas.