Jimi Jobin’s Credo: Liberty U. Grad Makes The Conservative Christian Case For Separation
It’s not every day that I find myself in agreement with a Liberty University graduate on the proper relationship between religion and government.
OK. It’s probably not even every decade – or maybe even every century. Students at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s school tend to fall on the other end of the theocratic spectrum from me.
Today, however, is a most unusual day.
In an essay at Religion Dispatches, Pastor Jimi Jobin, a Las Vegas preacher and Liberty alum, argues for a healthy distance between religion and government and against partisan politics in the pulpit.
Jobin’s essay, headlined “The Conservative Christian Case for Separation of Church and State,” is an open letter to H. Wayne Williams. Williams, as you may remember, endorsed a Republican gubernatorial candidate from his tax-exempt South Dakota pulpit recently, and Americans United filed a complaint with the IRS about that blatant violation of federal tax law.
Jobin, pastor of Terra Nova Faith Community, takes issue with Williams from both a religious and a pragmatic perspective.
“For the historically minded among us,” Jobin says, “the reasons for not bringing our spiritual authority into political campaigns are blood red. For nearly 2,000 years our faith forefathers were persecuted and oppressed, not always by the irreligious, but more often by competing tribes within Christianity. Clerics would jockey for favor in the kingdoms of men, then use any clout gained to suppress the views of their theological enemies.”
And that religious-political relationship had truly dire results – religious war and persecution – until Americans figured out a better way.
Observes Jobin, “For almost 1500 years Christians wielded political power to slay one another, until the founding of America. America was the first country without a designated faith; here was the only place in the world where Catholics and Protestants, Radical Reformationists and Orthodox (not to mention Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers and others) could live as neighbors. An accomplishment not won by better theology nor a love of peace, but because each lacked the ability to oppress one another by controlling the government.
“We have created a land,” he continues, “where church and state are separated to protect them from one another, not to diminish the role of either. The integrity of the church is jeopardized when politicians can appeal to spiritual leaders and gain their endorsement because the opportunities for abuse and ambition are too rampant. The same quid pro quo corruption that taints those tempted by lobbyists will await pastors when their support can yield inexhaustible American power. This is why America has passed laws to preserve the dignity and purity of the pastoral office, exchanging tax exemption (a unique phenomenon in the world) with the trust that the nation’s charitable goodwill can’t be used as a political force.”
Jobin is particularly intense on the damage done to religion when it becomes politicized.
“It desecrates our pulpit to yield it to politics,” he asserts. “We are called to something higher than to meddle in the affairs of ambitious men. We are not so Holy that we can merely baptize a candidate, and never drink the poison of his words. We do not stump for Senators, we do not campaign for Congressman, we do not preach for Presidents, because the name of Christ is too precious to risk on a common election, no matter how important the issues at stake may seem.
“We cannot,” Jobin insists, “allow Jesus to become a political puppet, a sock on the arm of the statesman. Our role is to translate the values of scripture into the hearts and minds of every American, not to rule those Americans or force our values on them by manipulating the vote. The humble witness of Jesus is weakened when it is communicated through the edicts of rulers rather than the powerful persuasion of changed lives, hearts, and minds. The Kingdom of God cannot be voted into existence.”
Jobin concludes the essay with an appeal to political pastor Williams to take his “opinion to the poll and not the pulpit. Encourage your church to lobby their convictions, but don’t let a lobbyist lead your church. Your vote belongs to a candidate, but your pulpit belongs to Christ, so ‘give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give unto God what is God’s.’”
The Religious Right Machiavellis at the Alliance Defense Fund must be in a frenzy today trying to figure out how to shut Jobin down. If his carefully reasoned appeal gets around, the ADF’s campaign to forge evangelical churches into a disciplined political machine will be finished.
Let’s do what we can to see that Jobin’s fine essay is read as widely as possible.
And let’s hope Liberty U. Chancellor Falwell doesn’t revoke Pastor Jobin’s diploma. You’ve produced one outstanding student of history and theology, Jerry!