“KEEP the church and state forever separate,” said General Grant, in his address to the Army of the Tennessee. “Very well,” says some reader; “suppose he did say it; why refer to it now? I believe in the separation of church and state, and so does everyone in this country; and there is no danger that church and state will be united. It would be contrary to the principles of the Government.”
Yes, we reply, it is a fact that the people here do not believe in a union of church and state, in a certain sense; that is, they do not believe the state should be joined with the Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic, or other denominational body, making that the state church and leaving all others out of consideration. That would be discriminately against the other churches, and would be contrary to the Constitution and would meet general opposition from the people.
All this is true enough; but there is more than this to be considered. The principle of church and state union finds another way of expression, in which it is all the more dangerous because it is not generally recognized by the people. And this is in the union of the state with religion.
Are you in favor of the separation of religion and the state?
It is impossible to keep church and state separate if religion and the state are united.
If the state is religious, if it is Christian, it ought to belong to a church. That is plain. The Christian Church ought to include everything that is Christian. It is not true to its purpose unless it does.
When the state therefore professes religion, when it proclaims itself to be Christian, union with the church is demanded by the plain logic of the situation. And the question, What is the Christian Church? will surely be raised by the state’s profession of religion.
And this question will be conducive to anything but peace between the various religious bodies each of which claims to be the church of Christ. We have but to refer to the history of the church in the early centuries to find the matter illustrated in full.
If the state, moreover, is to be Christian, it must enforce religion upon the people, for the state does nothing but by force. And as Christianity is inseparable from the law of God, the “Christian” state must proceed to enforce that law, and execute its penalty, which is death. But true Christianity means life for the transgressor, not death.
Then, “Keep the church and state forever separate.” Keep religion and the state separate. Keep religion separate from force; let its power be always the power of love. All this is included in the admonition uttered by General Grant.