The Audacious “Saviour State”


I was alerted to an excellent article in a blog by Briercrest Theology Professor, David Guretzki. He reviews an article by David Farrow, Professor of Christian Thought, in the magazine Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. The article, entitled “The Audacity of the State,” takes a long historical look at the principle of separation of church and state and notes how modern democratic libralism sets itself up in roles normally reserved for the church.

Dr. Guretzki summarizes Dr. Farrow’s arguments in this post. While Dr. Guretzki does a good job of summarizing, no summary can capture the depth or flow of the article itself. It is definitely a worthwhile read if you are interested in understanding the world around you and its effect on you, your family, and the church.

I presented some highlights from the article on Nov. 17 to our fellowship. It seems to explain some trends we are seeing in our schools’ curricula regarding individual freedoms and alternate styles of families.

Contrary to popular opinion, historic Christendom understood well the need to keep church and state separate. Although church and state appeared to function together as one entity under the “Holy Roman Empire” they did so under distinct spheres of influence. Any challenge from either church or state to horn in on the duties or privileges of the other were met with stiff resistance that sometimes resulted in kings or popes being deposed and replaced by officials more respectful of the other side’s turf.

With the demise of traditional organized Christianity as a force in public discourse and the political process, the way has now been opened for the state to take over “sacred” territory that once belonged almost exclusively to the church. These areas include charity, education and marriage and family relationships.

Farrow argues that the family, not the individual, is the building block of society. The family brings certain inalienable rights into the state. Marriage is a divinely ordained intstitution that brings a man and a woman into a sacred union for God’s purpose of bringing new human beings into the world in a loving and nurturing environment that enables them to become the people He intended to be: in His very own image.

It is therefore the responsibility of parents to educate children in the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, including relationships with God and neighbours. For millennia this meant that parents taught their children their business or trade or farmed out that trade education to trusted relatives. Moral and spiritual and social development was still the primary responsibility of parents.

Many people of our generation do not remember that public schooling began with church-created educational institutions that were designed to assist parents with the moral and spiritual development of their children as well as provide necessary employment skills. This well-meaning involvement of the church had a paradoxical effect. It allowed parents to slowly abdicate religious education in favour of the religious school system. Since morality is closely tied to religion, this had the effect of allowing the church free reign over moral instruction. Most parents were still very interested in their kids’ moral and spiritual instruction, but the increasing demands of a technological society made it increasingly difficult to spend the necessary time in doing the instruction itself.

Once religious and moral instruction has been delegated wholesale to schools it becomes easy for following generations to forget their primary responsibility for training their children in the ways of God and society. Imagine what happens when a religious school system becomes slowly supplanted by a public school system that promises to educate children to an equivalent level of morality and social development. And then imagine what happens when that “equivalent morality” begins to include sex education and then instruction in the acceptability of alternate sexual lifestyles.

The root of the ideal of tolerance and acceptance go back to the Enlightenment theory of the harm principle: that the only acceptable use of power is to prevent harm to others. This leaves every individual free to do whatever he or she wants unless it brings harm to someone else. What this theory, leaves unstated are two things: 1) what constitutes harm to another, and 2) who the arbiter of what is allowable is.

By default the state becomes the arbiter of harm and therefore the determiner of what is allowable. This leaves the individual unprotected against the power of the state. Without church or family to shield him or her from the direct action of the state, the individual has no recourse if the state deems the activity unlawful.

That includes churches and families.

Churches must follow all manner of laws from which they were formerly exempt. Confessor/penitent privilege does not apply in the case of a congregation member who has broken certain laws. Before a priest or pastor can hear a confession he or she must now inform the congregant that any confession involving the criminal code cannot be kept confidential from the police. Churches are also no longer safe sanctuaries for accused people who need time or help to prove their innocence.

Nothing brings to light the power of the state over the family than divorce. The state determines in court who gets what assets and even allocates custody of the children. From then on travel with the children becomes far more burdensome. Mobility of the children may be limited by the state. Passports become harder to acquire for children of divorce. Even with passports, letters from the other parent may be required for travel outside the country.

I had not considered this before, but Dr. Farrow points out that the battleground of same-sex marriage is an important means for the state to finish undermining the rights of families to govern and educate their children in their own manner.

Marriage is a natural union that has divine authority. It was designed for a holistic procreation that generates a healthy and productive society. It confers rights and responsibilities on parents to ensure the continuing welfare of their progeny by proper education and character formation.

What can Christians do to halt the erosion of their rights? Dr. Farrow suggests that parents take up again the mantle of educating their children. It probably seems impractical to home-school one’s own children. In our time the form parental control of education could be a parent-driven separate school of an appropriate size for their community. It has been done before. That is how public education began in both Canada and the United States. What it takes is the guts to do it and the commitment to putting in the necessary resources to make it work.

I am nowhere near as good or cogent a writer as Dr. Farrow, and I certainly did not present his whole argument, so it would be worthwhile to read the article itself.

Epilogue: States that succeed in destroying or altering the family unit end up paying a very stiff price in the long run, which Dr. Farrow calls “Samson’s revenge.” When the pillars of church and family are toppled by a strong-man state, the entire structure of the state ends up collapsing. The Soviet Union tried at the beginning of their Revolution to replace the family with state schools and indoctrination. They are still paying the economic and social price of rampant alcoholism, low labour productivity and high crime.

So a society deliberately trains its kids to grow up living a selfish lifestyle? What can possibly go wrong???

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About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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2 Responses to The Audacious “Saviour State”

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I am hesitant to adopt Dr. Farrow’s political philosophy, for a number of reasons, but I do like your statement about his comments on historic Christendom and church and state. I’ve long puzzled over that. I knew that historic Christendom had something like the separation of church and state—-the two swords, I believe it was called—-but it wasn’t entirely like what we have in the U.S. (keeping religious beliefs and government separate), for the king was still expected to rule as a Christian.

    • John Valade says:

      Thanks, James. It’s always good to hear from you.

      I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Dr. Farrow’s political philosophy to either agree or disagree with it. I certainly would not go back to having a state church. I think that a church that quashes political freedom and a state that quashes religious freedom are not so much polar opposites as two sides of the same unhealthy coin. I think that the original American ideal of the separation of church and state had more to do with keeping the government out of the church than forcing Presidents to operate out of a non-Christian stance. I believe Presidents were still expected to operate out of Christian principles and according to their conscience.

      Unlike prior models of Christendom they did not require the establishment of a particular brand of Christianity as the religion of the country. I’m not sure how far that ideology went. Would it have been possible to elect a Jewish President, or an atheist President for instance? I suspect not. I expect things to get pretty scary in a post-Christian American or Canadian polity.

      Thanks for keeping me thinking deeper.

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