Georgene Rice: Future of Religion in America

Georgene Rice KPDQ-FM 93.9 interview with Charles Dunn, discussing his book “ The Future of Religion in American Politics”. This collection of essays provides a wide perspective of views on religion in America and assesses  its impact in four distinct time periods.

Georgene: While some argue the separation of church and state is essential in an unbiased society, others state this country was based upon Christian principles and religion should play an integral part in our government. Due to controversial issues such as gay rights, stem cell research, the posting of the Ten Commandments   and abortion, there exists a thin and thinning line between church and state. Is “separation of church and state” an appropriate phrase when describing how communities should relate to one another?

Dunn: Separation of church and state is a phrase that is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was a phrase given to us by Thomas Jefferson who was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.  What we need to do is go to the Constitution itself.

In Article I it states that Congress cannot make a law establishing religion and government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion. Even though the phrase “separation of church and state” was not in our Constitution, it has taken on a life of its own and steers the debate regarding the subject of religion and politics

Georgene: What do you hope your readers come away with from your book?

I want them to have an understanding of history because where there is a deficit of understanding of the role of religion and politics our government will make unwise decisions. The Founders saw fit to make it the first of the Bill of Rights because they recognized there must be a religious and a moral framework in order for a democracy to survive.   A democracy can run wild if there is no moral guidance. Morality emanates primarily and historically from religious faith.

Recently, President Obama made a very controversial statement before a Muslim audience. He said the United States does not consider itself a Christian nation. One of your essays addresses that very thing. Can it be said that America is a Christian nation?

Dunn: To answer that very important question you’d look first at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is no mention of the Christian faith in either of those. But, Christian influence was very, very substantial on the kind of government we have. Biblical imagery guided our founding fathers and even today influences who we are as a people.

Georgene: I think part of the problem is when some people suggest that the United States is a Christian nation they are referring to a theocracy. So there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what is actually meant.  Today there seems to be pluralistic interpretations of God. Should the American mainstream try to unify the country around some common moral and religious understandings even though we have such divergent values?

Dunn: I think it is almost impossible to find cohesiveness when we have become so divided regarding the matter of faith. We are absent a middle ground that could hold us together. To the extent that we suspend our historic moral barriers which have been borne out of scripture, the possibilities of atrocities such as we’ve seen in Germany with Hitler could overtake us.

Georgene: The potential increases over time as we drift away from those essential underpinnings.

Dunn: The word drift is important because there is a sense that we as a culture are dying without knowing we are dying. Like a frog put into water that gradually heats, he has no sense of the change and dies. We are seeing atrocities across our country on a daily basis that never happened years ago, or if they did were very rare. Our founding fathers understood that man is essentially evil. When we don’t understand our essential character is sinful and don’t act to control that, we are in trouble. We must be a people of moral restraint in order for a republic democracy to survive.

Georgene: Is there a hopeful sign that religion can express and reassert itself in ways that will be useful?

Dunn: It is possible. We need leaders who have the backbone and a heart built upon Biblical principles and who understand the natural evil nature of people. Without that understanding our leadership will leap from one policy to another without the guidance of a moral principle of what is right and what is wrong.

Georgene: Are you optimistic?

Dunn: I’m a short term pessimist and a long term optimist because… I know how things are going to turn out.

— Listen to Georgene Rice on KPDQ-FM 93.9 M-F 4-6pm.

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