[On Wednesday, March 8 I joined with moderate Christian, Jewish, and Interfaith leaders from Kansas and Missouri in denouncing a Resolution put before the Missouri House of Representatives. Here's a transcript of what I said.]
I want to begin by offering a word of caution to the representatives in the Missouri House. The reason religion and religious institutions have done so well in the United States is due to the fact that there is no established church. The government, by refusing to meddle in ecclesiastical matters, allows churches and religious groups to operate with liberty and this way they flourish. The best thing the government can do for religion is to refuse to meddle in its affairs. In fact, when the government attempts to do theology it injures not only citizens of minority faiths but, paradoxically, even more strongly injures the faith that would aspire to the majority.
It is very clear to me, in reading House Concurrent Resolution 13, that it comes from Caesar and not from God. The Resolution talks about “prayer in public schools” and “religious displays.” Are these legislators reading the same Bible as I am? If they were, they would no doubt note Micah 6, where the people ask, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased?” And the Prophet answers, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Do these legislators not recall Jesus’ injunction not to pray with effusive piety, looking to be seen as hypocrites do, but to pray in private.
God is not impressed by resolutions, by displays, by showy piety. God is not impressed by attention-seeking and brown-nosing. God is impressed when we treat each other with justice, and mercy, and love, and when we do this in the spirit of humility. And quite frankly, Missouri House of Representatives, The Lord is not pleased with you this legislative session, because you’ve been selling out the poor for silver and trading the needy for a pair of sandals. You’ve been hurting the widow and orphan, neglecting the imprisoned, and taking advantage of the vulnerable.
The Resolution is an instrument of idolatry. Idolatry is taking the partial to be the whole, making God out of what is not God. The Resolution is a self-righteous act of idolatry, and God is not deceived. And the people of Missouri won’t be deceived either. For they want justice and fairness; they want liberty and shelter; they want health-care and safety. They do not want your golden calves; they do not care for your sermonizing.
I want to end with the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Our Constitution... has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose." The Resolution put before us is without desirable purpose.