Rev. Thomas: Church-state separation does not mean religion-politics separation

Column by Emily Perper

“Some mornings when you’re a preacher … you want to stay in bed because of what God has laid on your heart. And you don’t want to tell it to people because it’s hard to hear,” said the Rev. Buzz Thomas Thursday. “That happened to me this morning.”

Thomas continued his week as chaplain with his sermon, “When a Nation Loses its Way,” drawing from Leviticus 25:8-12.

Thomas quoted a haunting passage from the book of Jeremiah: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy falsely, and my people love it. But what will you do at the end of it all?”

If congregants decided to exit the service, Thomas said he would not be offended.

“If your faith does not inform your politics, then you don’t have authentic religion, in my opinion,” he said. “The separation of church and state does not mean the separation of religion and politics.

“Politicians do what they do in many cases because of their faith commitments. They care about our country. They care about people who might be homeless on the street,” he said.

Thomas said last summer’s debates about the debt ceiling unsettled him. “We started looking at the people who didn’t have a voice,” he said, referring to the elderly and unborn children.

“I think (Abraham) Lincoln was right — the question isn’t, ‘Is God on our side?’ The question is, ‘Are we on God’s side?’ ” Thomas said. “God is on the side of the underdog. God is on the side of the elderly, of the child, the widow, the orphan, the dispossessed.”

In the Old Testament, God required farmers to leave remnants of the gleaning for the impoverished and to set aside a tithe for the priests and for the poor.

In Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 23, God instructs that loans do not include interest. In Deuteronomy 15, every seven years should be a Sabbath year, in which debts were erased, slaves were freed and cared for, and the poor could clean from the fallow lands. Every 49 years was the year of Jubilee. All of the rules of the Sabbath year applied, with one more stipulation: All property was returned to its original owners.

“The biblical writers, from the earliest days, perceived God’s special affinity for the down-and-out,” Thomas said.

He quoted Psalm 146:7-9, “God judges in the favor of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry, he protects the stranger in the land, he helps widows and orphans and ruins the plans of the wicked.”

Thomas shared several of his own ideas for improving the nation’s predicament, including that everyone who can give an extra 5 percent donation toward the national debt should, to protect the elderly and underprivileged from losing programs important to them.

Thomas said he plans to divide the congregation into small groups Friday to discuss potential local, state and national solutions to the problems the United States faces.

“Pray that God will give you the vision and the strength and the courage to do God’s will in these days. America is a great nation … with a proud legacy and a vision of freedom and equality that has inspired the world. But we are in danger of becoming an oligarchy, of becoming a banana republic, of becoming a cheap facsimile of ourselves. Don’t let that happen,” he concluded.

The Rev. George Worth presided. Sara Shelley and Zoltan Domokos from The International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons Chautauqua Scholarship Program read Scripture. Shelley hails from Cleburne, Texas, and studies business administration and education at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Domokos is from Miskolc, Hungary, and studies mechanical engineering at the University of Miskolc. The Motet Choir provided sacred music; the anthem was “Exsultate Justi” by Ludovico da Viadana. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the choir.