Church and state in the modern world
In modern Western Europe, church-state relationships vary widely. Some nations have strict separation mandated by their political constitutions, while others maintain state religions.
God intends that churches and governments serve each other, until Christ returns to complete this present age and usher in the new. Governments protect this present creation, while churches preach the gospel and proclaim the coming new age.
The separation of church and state
The separation of church and state generally refers to the relationship between religious organizations or authorities on the one hand and secular government on the other. Within political science it also sometimes stands for a more broader approach to the question of religious influence on politics and society.
The term has been used to describe a variety of constitutional, historical and philosophical approaches to the problem. These include secularism, disestablishmentarianism and the concept of religious liberty.
Despite its wide popularity, the concept of separation of church and state has not always been well-defined in practice. Its meaning has varied greatly from country to country, even among those whose constitutions explicitly state a separation of church and state. For example, President Benito Juarez in Mexico nationalized church property and abolished monastic orders, thereby violating the spirit of the separation of church and state that existed in his constitution. On the other hand, in the United States, many people have interpreted this principle to mean that religiously informed moral reasoning should not be considered when making public policy.
The relationship between church and state
Religious beliefs and practices have played a central role in many of the most significant political movements throughout history. From the era of colonial expansion and exploration to the present, religions have often formed partnerships with governments.
During the early years of the United States, church and state were often at odds over how to define and limit the relationship between the two. For example, Jefferson argued that the U.S. Constitution prevents the establishment of a national church and thus allows states to protect religious freedom.
However, the church-state scale also shows that most respondents do not agree with this position. In fact, nearly one-in-eight U.S. adults are categorized as expressing no opinion on the church-state scale (they refuse to answer four, five or all six questions in the survey). People who do not have a view on this issue tend to be less likely to be college graduates and more likely to be Black or Hispanic.
The relationship between church and government
In this context, the church’s teaching on the relation between church and state is a crucial part of its doctrinal heritage. As reflected in Gaudium et spes (Joy and Hope), the 1965 Pastoral Constitution on Church and State, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that the state should remain neutral with respect to religions.
Interestingly, the survey also finds that there is a strong correlation between attitudes on church-state issues and many other political and social questions. For example, the vast majority of White evangelical Protestants who favor the integration of church and state also express this view on other questions in the survey, as do a substantial number of self-identified Republicans and people who lean Republican.
The question arises as to whether respondents who select the “no opinion” category are actually church-state separationists who merely hesitate to voice their view, or people who are genuinely uncertain or unfamiliar with these issues. In any case, those who select this response are far less likely to be college graduates than those in the full sample of respondents.
The relationship between church and religion
Traditionally, churches have been independent from the civil authorities in secular societies. However, in some countries—most notably Russia and eastern Europe—the church has been closely aligned with political power for centuries.
A church may respect and obey the civil authority, but not in a way that violates its higher laws of morality or sacraments. For example, a church might excommunicate a man for his adultery, even though the law says only that he must be punished for breaking the civil authority.
In the United States, fewer than one-in-five people consistently express support for the intermingling of church and state. In particular, support for integrationist perspectives is weaker among White evangelical Protestants than among all other religious groups. The people who say they have no opinion on these questions are different in several ways from the full sample of respondents. They are less likely to be college graduates and more likely to be ages 18 to 29.