During my junior year at Tyner back in the 1980’s, I took World History as an elective. One homework assignment was to name the 10 biggest disasters on record. Not natural disasters but the sociological/cultural/political kind. At the top of my list stood the Edict of Thessalonika in 380 C.E., which made Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
At the time I was very devoutly Anglo-Catholic and fully intent on going to seminary after university and being ordained an Episcopal priest.
I had grown up next door to a Jewish couple whose two sons were somewhat ostracized in the local elementary school because their parents withheld them from the Bible classes taught by a fundamentalist evangelical. So part of my reasoning at the time was that no citizen of the United States should be made to feel second class because of religious belief or lack thereof.
My main reasoning, however, was that I didn’t want the interests of the state twisting of my religion. Many fail to realize, or conveniently ignore, the inevitable truth that mixing the sacred and the profane causes both to influence each other, often in ways unforeseen. Both come out of the tunnel corrupted.
The greatest leap forward of the new American republic’s Novus Ordo Seclorum (“New Order for the Ages”), along with its complete abolition of the Second Estate (Lords Temporal), was its removal of the First Estate (Lords Spiritual) from every single aspect of government. That innovation has proven to be beneficial not only to the State but to the Church, by taking its role as merely an arm of the state and establishing the separate status to which it is entitled.
In his letter of 1802 in which President Jefferson first used the phraseology that in the United States there was a wall of separation between church and state, he was copying a much earlier figure in the European settlement of what to them was a New World. That man was none other than Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and the first Baptist in America. But neither of them can yet claim to be the originator of the idea. A much earlier teacher said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”.
Public prayer before meetings of a governmental body such as the county commission or at secular sporting events which have nothing to do with the practice of the Christian religion is the modern equivalent of the Pharisee praying on the street corner whom Jesus condemned. It is also analogous to a pimp pandering his working girls; those who do so make a prostitute of their God. Because it is not about religion, but about dominion; it is not about the God they claim to worship but about the power of their “side” here on earth over the earth. Doing thus hands the religious over to the secular, giving to Caesar the things that are God’s.