Scott Bartlett, a board member of Gordon Howie’s Life and Liberty group, waves his arms vaguely and inaccurately about the separation of church and state:
“It’s not the same country I grew up in,” he said. “We used to have all kinds of freedom, and I feel that’s slipping away.”
Bartlett listened to a Czechoslovakian man recently who voiced a similar concern.
“He said that if liberty disappears in America, there’s nowhere else to go,” Bartlett recalled.
He hopes that someday, Christianity will once again be the bedrock of communities.
“So if I want to bring my Bible to school, I can,” he said. “It’s to teach fundamental Christian principles, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Don’t chastise me and I won’t chastise you, and we’ll all meet our maker in the end and sort it out” [Kayla Gahagan, “Church and State ‘Intricately Woven’,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.30].
Scott Bartlett is well past school age, so the question of whether he can bring a Bible to school hinges mostly on the question of why he’s coming to a school in the first place and what he’s planning to do there. But students can bring a Bible to school. Heck, when I was in high school, I checked out a bible from the school library, carried it around in my backpack, and even read it in chemistry class. Nothing happened. Whatever good it may do us, we have as much liberty as ever to carry bibles and torahs and korans around.
Bartlett’s “not the same country” exposes both a fallacy (does any country stay the same rfom generation to generation?) and the fundamental fear motivating Tea-Partyish outfits like the Life and Liberty group. They see America changing colors… or perhaps more accurately the colors that have been here for some time becoming more numerous and getting a real say in how the country runs. Bartlett’s sense of liberty disappearing is really a sense of dominion and privilege disappearing, an unsavory fear that he dresses up in patriotism and Christianity.
Gordon Howie joins in the false hype, saying “We’re in a more critical time” without offering any quantification of heightened problems that make his call to action or the altar any more urgent than what got the Minutemen out of bed 240 years ago, or the doughboys 100 years ago, or the hippies 50 years ago. Then Howie the clever politician undermines confidence in the political system that people of all faiths can use in concert to seek solutions to the problems of our shared polis and argues that “real solutions” can only come from Christians:
“What we’re looking for is real solutions,” he said. “How do we solve the record of South Dakota having a record number of some of the poorest counties in the nation?”
There are kids in this state, he added, that go to bed hungry, raped, abused and abandoned. “We need God-fearing men and women to stop the inhumanity toward man,” he said.
The calls for help from the body of Christ, and patriotic people, are not mutually exclusive, he said. “It has to come from the community of faith,” Howie said.
“People who promote the myth of the separation of church and state miss the point. Without moral integrity, we cannot succeed as a state or nation. They are intricately woven” [Gahagan, 2015.05.30].
Notice that Howie isn’t talking here about any real solutions. He isn’t showing any theological basis for the linkage of Christianity and patriotism, a concept at least disputable within if not antithetical to Christianity. He isn’t showing any historical examples of Christian nations demonstrating more resistance to ignorance, poverty, corruption, oppression, or general inhumanity. And worst of all, especially for non-Christians like me, he is perpetuating the lie that only Christians can have moral integrity. (Need a rebuttal? Two words: Gandhi, Hastert.)
I’m o.k. with folks like Bartlett and Howie going to church and looking for ways to make our community (town, state, nation, world) better. I’m not o.k. with their vague and incorrect assertions that they are losing their liberty, that everything’s getting worse, and that they are the only people able and entitled to fix our community’s problems.