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Letter to the Editor: Church and politics

In my recent letter to the editor I encouraged Minnesotans to vote 'yes' November 6 on the Marriage Protection Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution, for the sake of children. This amendment would codify marriage in our state's Constitution as being between a man and a woman. In response, some Christians politely asked if I was getting too involved in politics.

Marriage is not simply a political issue. It is also a moral issue and in addition to the public square there is no better place to talk about these than in church.

No less than the wife of the President, Michelle Obama, has said, "And to anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better - no place better. Because ultimately, these are not just political issues, they are moral issues" (at the African Methodist Episcopal Church's General Conference June 28, 2012).

Pastors and churches certainly are free to say whatever they want. However, should they desire to keep their tax exempt status, they need to abide by IRS rules which prohibit pastors and churches from endorsing candidates or a specific political party. I find such rules to be quite reasonable.

However, in its wisdom, IRS law permits pastors and churches to encourage congregants from the pulpit and in Bible study how they should vote when it comes to moral issues, realizing that for many God in his word has bound the conscience. Perhaps these Christians were desirous that churches keep the main thing the main thing. And to this I most wholeheartedly agree that evangelism is the main thing; but not to the detriment of good works.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, "... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). Through the ages, Christians have been involved in good works in the political arena for the betterment of their neighbor and the glory of their heavenly father.

Good works through the political arena bore fruit in 374 A.D. through the efforts of St. Basil of Caesarea, which led Emperor Valentinian to outlaw infanticide, abortion, and child abandonment. Through the good works of St. Telemachus, gladiatorial fights were outlawed in the east under Em-peror Theodosius (378-395) and in the west in 404 A.D. Through the political efforts of William Wilberforce, British Parliament abolished the slave trade with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and fi-nally, freed all slaves in the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Within China, Christianity's influence in the political process led the Chinese government to outlaw the dehumanizing practice of female foot-binding in 1912.

By some estimates, roughly two-thirds of abolitionists in the United States in the 1830s and 1840s were Christian pastors who entered the political process with vigor. In the 1960s, a black Baptist preacher working through the political process and engaging in peaceful protest raised the consciousness of Americans pursuing equality for all.

This is but a short list of the many good works Christians have been involved in, in the political process for the benefit of their neighbor.

Thomas Jefferson's famous "wall of separation between church and state" is not in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. First penned in 1803 in a private letter to Baptists in Danbury, Conn., Jefferson assured them there was a wall that separated, or prevented, the government from erecting a "State Religion" such as found in India with Hinduism, Catholicism in Italy, or Luther-anism in Germany.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... ." This "wall of separation" pro-tects houses of worship from the government and others who would "prohibit the free exercise" of religion in this great nation.

One of the many blessings found in this great country is a freedom of - not from - religion as expressed in our founding documents. And so in the voting booth we seek to vote in a manner that best serves our neighbor, in this case, children.

And, the First Amendment protects the rights of religious people to respectfully enter into the market place of political ideas as we seek peacefully in the ballot box to influence our neighbor, for the good of the neighbor, and for the sake of the children.