I had a wonderful time at the Children’s Spirituality Conference in Chicago this week. But a strange thing happened today during a gathering of Canadians who were at the conference. One person was talking about how Canadian culture is 7-10 years (some say more) ahead of the USA when it comes to religion and faith and postmodernism. She said we’re more “pagan” that the States and that we’re more down the road–not up the road–than our neighbours to the south. She made it clear that Canadian culture is worse off than the States when it comes to matters of faith and religion.
I had to challenge her on this. In words that were probably a bit too harsh, I said that the Church isn’t meant to be in the bed with the state, so the fact that we have a greater separation between church and state is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, I believe that secularization–not paganism–can bring about a host of opportunities to the church. We don’t need to worry about civil religion, about the government telling us how to run our churches, and about the church having an inappropriate hand in the government. I agree with John Howard Yoder who believes that the Church is to be the Church–to truly be the people of God who strive for justice and peace. And to do so, we can’t be in bed with the state. At its best, the church is a counter-cultural, alternative community that needs to be able to speak out against injustice in our world and in our nations. How can it do this when it’s part of the government? We’d be speaking out against ourselves (although this is also necessary at times).
I get so frustrated when I hear people–whether in the USA or Canada or elsewhere–talking about the need to win over the nation to Christ, to help our nation become Christian. But this isn’t the goal of the church. Jesus never came to set up a state church–he came to preach a message of liberation, freedom, justice, and peace to the world starting with his Jewish community. The goal of the church is to be a city on a hill and shine this light of liberation. The church is the city; the nation is the hill. Let’s not get these two mixed up.