As Easter approaches, church-state separation revealed as myth
President Trump's Easter wish to raise the economy from the dead won't be granted. This past week, the Trump administration extended its social quarantining recommendation through April and perhaps until June. Retail workers, wage factotums, bartenders, commission salesmen, and other grafters will have to wait longer before resuming their trade, assuming that it will still be around when the peonies are in flower.
The de facto national shutdown over COVID-19 will now swallow up all of April, arresting a years-long happy jag of economic growth. Going from full employment to depression-level job losses is jarring enough. The precipitous plunge of the employed is distressing and unexampled enough. But an even more nonpareil conjuncture is occurring, one that concerns the over GDP.
For the first time in living memory, many American churches won't hold worship services for the most important Christian holiday of the year: Easter Sunday. On a day the faithful celebrate the sacrificial gift of unending life, they'll be barred from leaving their homes.
States, mostly of the blue variety, have proscribed church services, regarding the gatherings as not social distance–friendly. Unlike McDonald's takeout or pest control, the Eucharist has been deemed "non-essential" by the public panjandrums. (A couple of red-state holdouts have blessedly rejected the progressive blanket dictates, exempting religious services.) New York City mayor Bill de Blasio went as far as to threaten to close churches and synagogues "permanently" if they refrain from suspending services.
Rusty Reno of First Things points out that during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, religious services went on, worshipers unwilling to let the threat of infection deter their witness. "Their reaction was vastly different from ours," Reno writes. "They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends."
This stubborn attachment to public life wasn't across the board. Andrew Sullivan corrects Reno, citing instances where churches were shuttered to stave off the virus. Just so, a country that just lived through and won the "war to end all wars" wasn't about to be cowed by microscopic bacilli.
The worship cancelation isn't limited to America. Peter Hitchens, in his dry, perceptive style, reflects on the forced closure of Britain's rural churches. "Such a thing has not happened in England for 800 years, since the days of Bad King John." In secular Europe, not much of a fuss was kicked up over the shutdown. The "miserable, legally dubious ban" wasn't even granted the dignity of a parliamentary imprimatur.
So it was on our side of the leaden-colored pond. Church services were put on hold with but a stroke of a governor's pen. State reps and senators were not consulted, though, if we're being honest, most would have fallen in line. The media have been characteristically supportive of the overnight erasure of the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause.
The civic supersessionism belies a great liberal lie: the separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson's oft-cited "wall of separation" between holy and public authorities was always an impractical ideal. Our Constitution is informed by Christian theology; our founding fathers (mostly) revered "nature's God." Unlike its European antecedents, America lacks a tradition of laïcité.
That doesn't make the U.S. a theocracy, and Washington, D.C. its own See of Rome. But Christianity does infuse our conception of the human person and his attendant rights. Our public policy is invariably formed from this understanding.
...except when it's explicitly rejected, as it often is for progressive prerogatives, including abortion and marriage. When liberals push for secular policies that reject Christian teaching — transgender bathrooms, legalized prostitution, uninhibited access to pornography — they do so with the patina rhetoric of moral separation. "You don't have to go to a gay wedding if your beliefs are against it," goes the argument.
The state-sanctioned hiatus of church services is a parlous revelation for not just Christians, but people of all faiths: the government exercises supremacy over the church. There is no separation. One side domineers the other. The kirk is beholden to the government code.
Christ's holy Bride is "not of this world," but remains subject to Caesar's sublunary jurisdiction. This Easter will once again be a reminder where Christians' allegiance really lies.
The truth will set you free, indeed. Even the hard truths will.