Harker (Youth Ministry in Crisis, 2004, etc.) warns of threats to the separation of church and state in this examination of America’s religious climate.
Many believe that the United States’ tradition of separating government and religion is the key to its greatness. Others believe that it’s holding the country back. In this book, Harker asserts that the latter position has been gaining strength in American politics and is poised to bring about lasting damage to the republic: “the theocratic impulse is not only alive and well in America but flourishing in ways that could barely have been imagined half a century ago.” He takes as his central issue the idea of Sunday legislation, or “blue laws,” that enforce traditional notions of Sunday as a day of worship and rest, while also defending the secular, constitutional foundations of American liberty. From the first Sunday legislation passed at Jamestown to the evangelical-backed rise of Donald Trump, Harker attempts to identify those strands within American Protestantism that tend toward theocracy and to counter them with biblical quotes, church history, Catholic perspectives, and Enlightenment-influenced Protestant values. Harker writes in a scholarly, sometimes-knotty prose that moves comfortably through the realms of history, politics, theology, and philosophy: “The autonomy of reason is a Greek legacy within Roman Catholicism that gives ultimate shape to Catholic natural law.” However, his train of thought may not always be crystal clear to readers who may occasionally become confused about how particular arguments relate to his thesis; for example, at one point, it’s initially unclear how a discussion of Vatican II and Catholic “higher values” relates back to the evangelicals he’d discussed earlier. The specialized nature of the material suggests the author is writing for other religious thinkers and not a general audience. Still, the mere fact that Harker is making a theological case against theocratic laws, however, is notable in itself, and the depth of his knowledge is impressive and authoritative. Whether such a strategy will change minds remains to be seen, but the author’s ideas will hopefully help to bring the debate into new territory.
A Christian defense of the church-state divide.