Evangelicals, Pluralism, and Judge Roy Moore

Written By
William O. Einwechter

One of the chief foundations of evangelical political theory is its adherence to a religious pluralism where all religions are counted as equal by the state. Whether this theory is based on a strict separationist view (i.e., the state and religion are kept entirely separate), or on the positive neutrality view (i.e., the state gives equal support to all religions), the fundamental thesis is that the state must take a position of  neutrality in regard to religion.

The evangelical doctrine of religious pluralism is set forth by Monsma:

The first feature of pluralism’s mind-set regarding religion and society is its perception that it is natural, healthy, and proper for the people of the United States to adhere to a great variety of faith communities and to join a wide range of churches and other religious associations, and for some to adhere to no religious faith at all. This is seen as an appropriate consequence of a free society. Structural pluralism welcomes religion in its various manifestations and in its various activities as a legitimate, contributing, integral part of U.S. society. . .

A second basic feature marking the mind-set fostered by pluralism is a commitment to full religious freedom for all faith communities and religious associations — and for persons and structures of no faith as well. Its goal is simple: full, complete freedom of religion. Pluralism has an expansive view of this freedom. It extends to believers in all religious traditions; the wide diversity of Christian religious associations and communities should have full religious freedom, but so also should native American religions, Islam, New Age beliefs, Hinduism, and more.[1]

The state is responsible to enforce this pluralistic order by making sure each religion is fully protected by law and that no one religion is given preference by the state. The latter can be achieved by the state either by strict separation, where the state gives no encouragement, support, or aid to any religion (remaining rigorously neutral and erecting “a wall of separation”),[2] or, as Monsma would advocate, by “positive neutrality.”[3] In positive neutrality, the state recognizes the importance of religion in society and does not seek to shut it out of the civil sphere. Rather, its goal is to give equal treatment and support to all the religions that are represented in society. Thus, for example, the state should allow prayer at public, governmental functions, but such occasions should give equal opportunity for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, New Agers, etc. to publicly pray at these functions to their individual gods on the basis of their own religious faith; and if an atheist desires to give a public meditation in line with his atheism, he too should have full opportunity to do so.[4]

Skillen, an evangelical who advocates positive neutrality, explains this view’s concept of religious liberty: “Genuine religious freedom can be achieved only by means of equal treatment of all religions and religiously equivalent views of life, a treatment which recognizes that they have a right to express themselves in diverse ways in every sphere of life.”[5]

Additionally, Kantzer affirms that evangelicals believe that the framers of the U.S. Constitution “went out of their way to insure that our government would not be a Christian government, and not even a religious government,” and that the purpose of the First Amendment of the Constitution was to establish a “pluralistic democracy . . . committed to the separation of church and state.”[6]

How would this pluralistic faith view Judge Roy Moore’s stance on the Ten Commandments monument? Judge Moore believes that the God of the Bible and His law should be recognized publicly in the Supreme Court building of Alabama as the source of law and justice in Alabama. He contends that his decision not to remove the monument at the directive of a Federal judge is both right and lawful because this nation was founded on the basis that God’s law is supreme, the state of Alabama specifically invokes the guidance of Almighty God in its Constitution, and the Federal government has no constitutional authority to deny the state of Alabama the right to display the Ten Commandments.

It should be evident that evangelicals, if they are consistent with their commitment to religious pluralism, cannot support Roy Moore’s position. Those evangelicals who are strict separationists would have to agree with the Federal judge who ruled that the monument constituted a government endorsement of religion. Since the state must remain entirely neutral in regard to religion (this is what they believe the Bible teaches and the First Amendment requires), it is sinful and unconstitutional for the state of Alabama to promote the Christian religion by featuring a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Those evangelicals who advocate positive neutrality cannot support Moore either, because Moore has not invited other religions to place monuments in honor of their gods with their religious texts setting forth their understanding of law and justice along side of his Ten Commandments  monument. If only Moore would give equal honor and space to other gods and religions, all would be well, and evangelicals like Monsma could enthusiastically support him.

But Judge Moore is more biblically, historically, and constitutionally informed than the evangelical pluralist. He understands that Scripture calls for the public honoring of God and His Bible-revealed law by the civil magistrate (Ps. 2:10-12). He understands that true liberty and justice are found only under God and His law. He also knows his history, and he understands the true meaning of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If only our evangelical brethren were so informed.

1. ^ Stephen V. Monsma, Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), pp. 176-177.

2. ^ Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which advocates strict separation and was one of the plaintiffs in the suit against Judge Moore, includes many evangelicals in its membership. Evangelical theologian Kenneth Kantzer, after speaking of the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to protect “against every alliance between government and religion,” states that “Evangelicals should stand with these organizations against the establishment of a particular religion — be it Christian, Jewish, or atheistic humanism.” Kantzer, however, goes on to criticize the ACLU and AUSCS for their desire for the “total withdrawal of the government from the indirect support of religion” (“Summing Up: An Evangelical View of Church and State,” Christianity Today Institute in Christianity Today, vol. 29, no. 7 [April 19, 1985], p. 30).

3. ^ Another name for “positive neutrality” is the “equal treatment” of religion.

4. ^ Monsma, Positive Neutrality, pp. 214-217.

5. ^ James W. Skillen, “The Theoretical Roots of Equal Treatment,” in Equal Treatment of Religion in a Pluralistic Society, ed. Stephen V. Monsma and J. Christopher Soper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 74.

6. ^ Kantzer, “Summing Up: An Evangelical View of Church and State,” pp. 28-29.

This article was orginally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 146, no. 5, September - October 2003.