Sadly, a lovely little Kansas town, Buhler, is the latest “battle ground” in the seemingly unending struggle between Church and State.
Sadly, a lovely little Kansas town, Buhler, is the latest “battle ground” in the seemingly unending struggle between Church and State. For decades a Christian cross was displayed on the seal of the city, and recently posted on a city sign at a public park. The size of the cross was significantly increased, and became a prominent symbol of Buhler. A legal challenge was raised; the Buhler legal resources checked the Constitution of the United States, and admitted that their symbol had been, and continues to be, unconstitutional. Displaying the symbol of any particular religion on public seals or in public parks breaks the law of the land. The city council deferred to those opinions and is now in the process of changing its seal and signs. As a lifelong Christian, a priest of the Episcopal Church for 40 years, the cross of Christ is the symbol of my life. I always wear that symbol; a cross openly hangs around my neck. That same symbol adorns our home through a stained-glass window that faces the passing traffic. My home is a Christian home. But the operative word is “my” home. These symbols are displayed on my person and on my private property. All Americans and every church have the right to proclaim and placard their faith on their own property. Public property, however, belongs to the public, and must not display sectarian messages. I only wish the well intentioned Christians of America would recognize and obey the easily understood First Amendment of our Constitution. It so clearly dictates the separation of Church and State. They well know and vigorously defend their 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms, so how can they so easily ignore the First Amendment? Many of our founding fathers fled to these shores escaping bitter persecution by European Christianity. They did not want any established religion in control of their new land. They rejected theocracy and instituted democracy. America is NOT a Christian nation; it is a secular nation governed by a secular Constitution by which all religions are equally respected and accepted, equally guaranteed freedom from government intervention, and equally assured that no particular religion ever would be preferred, primary, or privileged over another. That's the law of the land and that should be public policy. Yet there always are the “aggressor” Christians. These are Christians who seem to measure the degree of their own faith by how many others they can coerce into accepting it. They are the ones who shout, “Have you been saved, brother” or who threaten “My way or the hell with you.” They seem willing to disrupt or interrupt any person or occasion to force their own agenda. Their aggressive behavior also is reflected by insisting Christian symbols be “publically displayed.” They are the Christians who demand Christ-mass displays on public property. They are the Christians who scream in horror when merchants or individuals prefer “Happy Holidays” to the oft-used “Merry Christmas.” They are the Christians who always seek to force their private religious morality on public policy. These are the Christian imperialists who so often offend others as they seek to impose their beliefs on all the people. They are the Christians who expect and demand their symbol be on a public seal or a public sign of a civic community. Then there are the “possessor” Christians. These are Christians who look down long noses at the rest of humanity with a smug proclamation that they hold all truth about God and His relationship to humanity. They are less forceful than the aggressors, but their message, spoken with an air of aloofness, is “we've got it, you can share it, if you join us and don't cause any trouble.” Unfortunately we Episcopalians have often been a part of this group. One of our satirical signs reads: “Loving Jesus with a slight air of superiority since ad 597.” This may be closer to the truth than we'd like to admit. It surely seldom attracts the searching soul. When Christians are “followers of Jesus,” however, they desire to serve not master, to give and not take, to be lowly not exulted, to offer not coerce, to seek the least not pander to the most, to include all not exclude any. “Followers” come to serve not to win arguments; they are more interested in being loving than in being right. The “followers of Jesus” shun public displays of their religion. Their Lord condemned showy religiosity, warning that the only benefit of such religion is worldly acclaim. Faithful followers of Jesus are joyfully greeted and lovingly appreciated because they are not pushy aggressors or superior possessors. They feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, teach the searching and love the unlovable. Then when someone asks “Why are you doing this?” Christians tell them about Jesus! Then the hearer's heart is open for the answer. Too often Christian fervor shouts the answer before the question is posed. When the question comes from the heart, those who have been loved and served often become themselves followers of Jesus. His love continues to be shared and spread. Maybe we just need be more of these Jesus followers; “heysusians” as I call them. I'm thankful that the city commission of Buhler decided to make their community a place for all religions, and hopefully, for all races, creeds, colors, ethnicities, and even those with a different sexual orientation. Then they surely would be an “all American town.” That would benefit the whole area. As an unabashed personal follower of Jesus, I hope for all a most blessed Christ-mass. It is a special time of the year. Fr. Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest retired living in McPherson.