[ For background to the inspiration on this post, please read my friend and blogger Rev. Jeremy Smith post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/why-go-to-seminary-is-hard-to-answer-but-it-must-be.html ]
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
Chinese philosopher – Lao-Tse – 6th c. BCE
I’m very grateful for Rev. Jeremy Smith and his suggesting I write on this topic. While it would be helpful to know the background and sources for this post by reading Jeremy’s original post (link above), the question he is writing on is why should I go to seminary when I can just be a local preacher and PREACH! As midterms loom over my immediate future, I admittedly find myself pondering a similar question. Here I am in one of the most expensive cities to live in for seminary with my wife as we both work towards graduate degrees. In full honesty, we are probably doing better financially than many others, considering that–to quote Jeremy quoting the General Board of Higher Education in Ministry–the “average educational debt for United Methodist seminary graduates has reached $49,303.” Seminary is a spiritually, financially, and emotionally massive mantel to take on. But Jeremy’s thesis on why seminary is important is
we need educated clergy who can talk about the nuances in theological difference and political application.
The last two words may seem out of place to you. Political application? There’s a clear separation of Church and State that should not be tampered with!
It’s interesting that Jeremy brings this up, the intersection of theology and politics, and perhaps the lack of dialogue between the two. When thinking of this post, I remembered a picture I saw on Reddit last week. I went to Google Images to find the image, searching “wall between Church and State.” Before I go on, why don’t you search “wall between Church and State” in Google Images yourself. I’ll wait.
If your results were anything like mine, you saw an excessive amount of cartoons depicting the President or the Affordable Care Act smashing the Church walls. The climate of the Google would make you think that Americans are tired of the federal government’s “overreaching” into religious affairs. Yet a recent survey said that Americans want more religious or spiritual components to politics and discourse. If you’d like to read more on the article, here is the link (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/10/10/study-americans-want-more-religion-in-politics/?hpt=hp_t2).
Before I continue, I am a fan of the separation of Church and State to a degree. I am by no means advocating for a theocracy and I will one day enjoy the benefits of the tax-exempt status the Church receives. But what I want to see is not a complete separation of Church and State, a world where neither bodies speak nor interact together. The picture I was Googling earlier is below:
Some thoughts on the above image. The idea that science should never go into the Church is one of the main reasons the Church is in decline. And the inspiration for such a cartoon I think is the insistence of staunch conservatives trying to insert Intelligent Design into schools while denying Climate Change, two acts I highly disagree with. But what I want to focus on in this post is the message the wall in the middle sends. Which side is like East Berlin, cut off from from some basic necessities and liberties, unable to grow and flourish? Or are these walls like the “Peace Walls” in Belfast, Ireland, keeping Catholic and Protestants apart from fighting?
What other models can we use to imagine a better relationship between Church and State? And more importantly, why is it important that there be some fluidity between the two estates?
What if, instead of a wall, we viewed Church and State as individual streets.
A street model may offer a space for everyone. If you want to keep Church solely focused on the individual’s spirituality, worship, and prayer, then you can “live” in a “house” further down the street from State St. If you want to live in a secular State in whatever forms that may take shape in, then you too can live away from Church ST. But for the rest of us, let us live within community together. Let the pastor talk to the senator about the theological (and very real) implications of engaging in war. Let the governor sit down with a bishop to discuss spirituality and theology in regards to the homeless. Let voters and congregants (who are often the same people!) come together and engage in a conversation about moving together as a people, trying to make a better world for everyone involved.
The State without spirituality and theology may have lost it’s ethical compass. The Church without politics becomes individually self-serving. A tearing down of the wall and building an intersection may help both estates reclaim their purpose and relevance in society, bestowing a faith that a better world is possible if a dialogue can occur between Church and State.
And figuring out how to cultivate such a space, is why going to seminary is important.