The separation between church and state: Clarifying a concept
Yesterday, my fb was abuzz with postings and comments on those who support and against the mix between politics and the church. What I find interesting here about this debate is no one seek to clarify the underlying concepts that are driving the debate. Rather it is assumed everyone understood the idea behind the concept of separation between church and states.
Philosophers will advise us to pause from our debate to understand the underlying concepts that we use to justify our positions. What I want to do here in this posting is to take this advise and unpack these two ideas so that we understand the assumptions that are driving this debate.
Based on the comments I read, it seems the understanding is one where politics and religion do not mix. One leaves politics at the doorstep of the church and returns to it once one leave the church. The church does not indulge in politics, i.e. telling its members who to vote for, etc. Its job is to remain scrupulously neutral and silent with regard to politics. This understanding is not in line with the way political theorists understand the concept.
Put simply, this concept says the state have no business in directing and supporting the business of the church. The church, on the other hand, have no right to direct the policies of the state, particularly if members of the state are also members of the church. The idea was developed, first by the Americans for their political system, to enable religious liberty to flourish.
Within a democratic context, it does not mean that the church (as an organization) nor its members cannot participate in the political process. Churches can act as a group in competition (or alliance) with other groups in society that aims at influencing the policies of the state. The condition here being abiding by the democratic rule of the game. Of course, it also means that the church and its members can opt out of this process.