Normally, I don't like to write about politics. It can become very divisive and quickly takes our attention away from Jesus.
But something happened today that is significant for the church in America.
After reading the article, I glossed over the bill to see if it was actually true. I scanned down to the bottom and looked for Emperor Constantine's or Henry VIII's signatures, but found nothing. (If it wasn't the third of the month, I would have almost thought this was an April Fool's joke.)
But there we have it - a U.S. state declaring its right to establish an official religion.
The bill reads;
"Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion."
Naturally, the assumption is that North Carolina would like to establish a state religion some time in the near future after this bill's ratification. Once passed, the state will be able to setup its own established religion. Services for the Church of North Carolina will start spring of 2014.
Of course, establishing an official state religion would buck up against one of America's foundational principles - the separation of church and state - which has lead to a flourishing of churches across our country since its inception.
"But wait," you may say, "isn't there something in the constitution that stops this sort of thing?"
I'm glad you asked. Yes, there is. In fact, it was the first thing added to the U.S. Constitution after its ratification - the First Amendment.
However, the North Carolina bill argues that the First Amendment does not apply to individual states. It only applies to the federal government. The First Amendment reads;
"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 the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Thus, according to North Carolina lawmakers, the state can establish a religion but the federal government cannot.
Now, before diving into the theological relevance of this bill it's beneficial to draw out the legal consequences to its logical conclusion.
Couldn't this logic be applied across other aspects of the First Amendment?
For example, could California abridge freedom of speech because it's a state and not the federal government?
Could Indiana abridge the press because it's a state and not the federal government?
Could North Dakota abridge the right of the people to peaceably assemble (all eight of them) because it's a state and not the federal government?
Where is the line drawn in this logic? If one aspect of the First Amendment doesn't apply to the state then it could be argued that none of the First Amendment should apply to the state. It seems to me that this is a very slippery slope.
Not to mention, what happens in fifty years when the Church of North Carolina begins teaching crazy things like its leader's ability to forgive sins in exchange for the donation of money?
Let's just hope there is a town called Wittenberg in North Carolina.
THE GOSPEL CHANGES PEOPLE, NOT LAWS
Although this bill will no doubt attract a lot of attention, it is highly unlikely that it would stand up to constitutional scrutiny in the long run. But the fact that it was created at all speaks volumes to the current political climate in America.
Underneath the bill is the reason that it was suggested in the first place. As NBC News alludes, even though there is no mention of a specific religion the motivation behind the bill seems to be towards promoting Christianity.
In my humble opinion, it seems that Christian lawmakers in North Carolina are displeased with the changing morality in America and do not want certain federal laws being mandated within their state.
While it's true the morality of America is changing, is it reasonable for Christians to expect the answer to be found in laws? Should Christians pass laws to "preserve" America's morality?
I would argue a heavy "no".
Laws are not the way to go about changing people's hearts. The gospel is. If Christians are unhappy with the shifting morality of American culture then they need to share the gospel, become more Christ-like, and pray for the nation.
The answer is certainly not found in establishing a state religion. If history has taught us anything, it's that official state religions don't always work out for the best. Just look back at the marriage of the Roman Empire to the Christian church. It took years of reformation, war, and heartache to separate two things that should never have been together in the first place.
Christians: instead of repeating our mistakes, let's get back to the gospel. If we want to see change, true and lasting change, then we need to get serious about what God takes seriously - making disciples of Jesus.
To do that, we need to repent of our own evangelistic apathy. We need to publicly speak about God's grace, the truth of His holiness, and the deep well of His mercy. We need to pray for our nation, its leaders and citizens. We need to get back to the basics - Jesus.
Kyle Beshears lives in Cambridge, England, is the author of Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew and blogs at Dear Ephesus on church issues and apologetics.