On Religious Liberty

On Thursday of this week President Trump issued an executive order "promoting free speech and religious liberty."  While the stated intent of the decree was to "guide the executive branch in formulating and implementing policies with implications for the religious liberty of persons and organizations in America, and to further compliance with the Constitution and with applicable statutes,"  the impetus was to fulfill a campaign promise to the Christian right.  Many denominations have struggled with the inroads that LGBTQ citizens have made in achieving civil rights and the access women have had to contraception and abortion.

This executive order's language was not nearly as destructive as many groups have feared.  Nonetheless it is a dangerous precedent.  The First Amendment of the U.S. constitution prohibits the establishment of religion in this country.  Having experienced the effects of centuries of war in Europe under the banners of different Christian groups, the founders created the First Amendment to guard against internecine conflicts.  By banning the establishment of any one religion, the United States has nurtured the free practice of many faiths and we are strong as a result.

This effort to lift the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax exempt religious organizations and non-profits from endorsing partisan candidates, is an attempt by religious groups to wield partisan political power.  It may also enable churches (this effort is mostly lead by Christian fundamentalists) to funnel dark money into politics.

Jesus was clear that we are to render unto Caesar that which is Cesar's and unto God that which is God's.  The Empire is not synonymous with the Kingdom of God.  Influencing public policy for the common good is faithful Christian practice, as is denouncing evil.  Nowhere in Scripture do we hear Jesus or the prophets exhorting us to form a Super PAC (political action committee).

Political candidates will never be endorsed from the pulpit of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.  The examination of the moral life in the public realm of our time will inform our preaching, prayer, music, and education.  Such engagement is a means of building our spiritual lives and practice.  We rejoice that civil liberties are increasingly extended to all and that the First Amendment protects our religious diversity. No greater instrument is needed.

he Reverend Lisa Hunt