The Broken Wall

As a church-state scholar I am a fan of Roger Williams. While Thomas Jefferson popularized the concept of the separation of church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, Roger Williams is the first American colonial figure to advocate for the practice. Williams originally settled in Massachusetts in 1630, but was banished in the winter of 1635-36 because he disagreed with the principle of creating a Christian colony. He traveled south and eventually founded Rhode Island. Williams described the church as a “garden” and the world as the “wilderness” and warned of intermingling the two. In 1644 he wrote, “when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the world… God has ever broke down the wall … and made his Garden a Wilderness.” What has always struck be about this statement is that Williams was not concerned about the effect of religion on politics, as we often seem to be in our modern context. Instead, Williams wanted the separation of church and state because he believed that intermingling the two would have a corrupting effect on religion. After the events of the past month, both in our country and in my church, I tend to agree with Williams.

The issue in our politics is clear to see, and became even clearer with the release of audio and video of Donald Trump admitting to attempting to seduce a married woman and making other disparaging comments about women in general. About two months ago, Jonathan Merritt wrote a piece for The Atlantic in which he argued that Evangelical Christians needed to apologize to Bill Clinton for their attacks in the 1990s, based on their support for Trump today. So it isn’t like we didn’t know who Trump was. Trump’s video bombshell and the resulting fallout just drove the point home in his own voice. Despite this fact, the silence about or outright dismissal of Trump’s sins by Evangelical leaders has been astounding. I want to feign shock, but I am not surprised. For almost 40 years Evangelical Christians, under the guise of the Religious Right, courted political power specifically through the Republican Party. As a political group they have accomplished little of what they desired. Instead their witness for the cause of Christ suffers because of their political maneuvering, which often comes across as a naked power grab. Christ’s kingdom is a supposed to be a kingdom not of this world, based in freedom and the love of a self-sacrificing God. The culture warriors of the Religious Right, on the other hand, depict God as a cold unfeeling tyrant, hell-bent on forcing everyone to bow to His law through the discipline of the statutory power. The wilderness has corrupted the garden, and it was the gardeners who tore down the wall.

Over the past few years, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church took up the issue of women’s ordination, deciding last year that divisions of the church did not have the authority to decide who should be ordained. Unfortunately the church returned to these issues in the past month or so, first attempting to determine how to discipline church unions that ordained women, and second proposing a plan of repentance and reconciliation for those unions, which was eventually passed. At the beginning of the process, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) released a study regarding church unity. It was in this study that I found statements that seemed to be tinged with the effect of our wilderness political structure on the garden of our church. At one point, the church argues that compliance with policies of our church “supersedes all other considerations.” At another point, the GC states the time-worn policy that the GC Session is the highest ecclesiological authority on earth and as such should be followed. Both of these statements smack of the influence of our democratic, winner-take-all system of political governance. Both statements stifle minority dissent, without even a modicum of consideration of whether that dissent is correct. Instead, it establishes a system in which the majority rules, even if that majority decides to enact certain policies not because of any biblical mandate but rather because of the vestiges of sexism. However, I cannot ignore that these decisions also take place in a context in which elements of the church have become more active in the public square, involving themselves in politically contentious issues in the same way the Religious Right did 40 years ago. Elements of the SDA church have sought to break down the wall between the garden and the wilderness, advocating that their religious beliefs should be codified in law. How naïve of them to think that the church would not be influenced in return.

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

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Such a clear and astute analysis. Thank you for explaining the danger of tyranny of the majority over the minority.


As the Poem written long ago has stated — Truth is ALWAYS on the Scaffold.
The Majority rule.
Remember Socrates.

the “Majority” sent Ellen as far away as they possibly could – to the Penal Island of Australia – for a 10 year Isolation sentence.
I dont believe they have EVER apologized for their behavior.



Excellent. I appreciate your contributions!

Roger Williams is a hero. But how do you relate to the Neo-Anabaptist take (think John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus) on church and politics? I have thought that the question is not whether the church should get involved with politics, but how. I suppose you might feel that way, too, considering, e.g., the story of the American Civil Rights movement.

But what do you think?



These are good points to consider. The SDA Church is one of North American origin, and I believe that The American Wilderness/Garden interaction in this context has, up to now, been mutually beneficial. For example, the Wilderness has influenced the Church in selection of the very name of its highest Policy-making body , and its mass meeting in quin-quennial session:The General Conference.This name could have been referable to a Division of General Motors or other mega-business The economics ethic of the American Wilderness has also indeed influenced the garden by seeking ways to support itself and so becoming prosperous by its own efforts . But, The spiritual insights of the Garden ethic has inspired the original founders to select Bible-inspired TITHE_PAYING as the way to go. This masterful contribution by the Garden has elevated the Seventh Church from an obscure , rural- based, little-known religious entity to a prosperous , mega sized, religious entity known worldwide with membership approaching 20 million, or about the population of a medium-sized nation. Finally , the garden has also been influenced by some good political points of the wilderness, for example the democratic ethic , akin to members of a mega-business voting for its leaders… The Seventh Day Church has one of the most democratic organisational structures on the planet. Many of us are presently upset by certain decisions of our leadership, especially in the matter of leadership restrictions against women.BUT these same leaders are indeed subject to the voted. They are not implanted in office by force of arms in perpetuity.They DO USE "powerful weapons"to back up their claims to be occupiers of their positions . These “weapons” of course are self-proclaimed interpretations of what is the highest recognized authority of the Church, namely , the Bible. BUT even so in the democratic setting of the values of the Garden, who can say whether such personal interpretations will long prevail?

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I normally don’t respond to comments (as a general rule for my own sanity) but how can I refuse you sir? :slight_smile: You are correct in your assumption that the question is not if, but how. I think there are critical differences between the Religious Right (RR) and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), and I have spent much of my relatively short academic career so far trying to unpack that distinction. Here is what I have so far - In short, the difference between these two movements is that for the former, faith and theology are both the engine and end-goal of their political activity, while for the latter faith and theology are simply the engine. The faith of the RR motivates them to enter the political arena where they seek to pass policy that reflects the tenets of that faith. The CRM, on the other hand, was motivated by faith to enter the political arena in order to call America to, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “live out the true meaning of its creed.” The question of course, can sometimes be complicated by the religious rhetoric that accompanies the goals but in my estimation the CRM accomplished what the RR has never effectively done - ground a movement in an idea that has commonality in the Christian Ethos but not majority exclusivity in that ethos. (I say majority to undercut the criticism that you can find small pockets of people who agree with the goals of the RR for reasons other than Christian theology.)

Secondarily, the methods were also very different. The CRM largely stood aloof from the system, agitating it in order to enact particular policy goals. Very rarely did they involve themselves in the direct election of candidates who would then carry water for their agenda. The RR, on the other hand, have backed several candidates and some of the leadership have run for office themselves (I am thinking specifically of people like Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee.) I look at this distinction quite racially. It makes sense to me that Black people of the CRM did not see insider political activity as a viable option - not only did they have difficulty voting, but why would any Black person have faith in the very system that was causing their oppression? On the other hand, it makes sense to me that a largely White Christian movement would have faith in government - it had never let them down before.

Despite these arguments, we also have to consider the pragmatic functionality of the religiosity of the CRM as well. I have often described the CRM as not a church movement, but a movement that took place in a church. At the time, any movement involving African-Americans was going to come from the church - there were no other stable institutions around which the community could coalesce, and no other viable community leaders other than pastors.

I could say more, but hopefully this gives at least the framework of a sufficient answer. Thanks for the compliment and, in essence, the opportunity.



I have mixed feelings about this article/opinion piece.

Personally I’m a strong supporter of separation of church and state. And, for the reasons that Jason describes, I think it does as much or more harm to the religious institutions as to the public. That is the reason that several years ago I voted against a school voucher program in our state even though as a parent with two kids in SDA schools it would have been a tremendous personal benefit. But I felt strongly that use of taxpayer money in Christian education would end up with the public making demands on how our schools operate above and beyond what they already do.

Having said that, this article is clearly from a politically liberal viewpoint. And, as such is equally part of the problem. Jason is for the separation and church and state, but the reason he’s for it (at least as expressed here) is how badly the religious right has acted in this regard. If this was truly an argument for the separation of church in state, he would have provided matching examples from the left (how many black churches have invited liberal/Democratic candidates to speak from their pulpits?). And the argument that civil rights movement wasn’t a problem with church and state because it wasn’t explicitly for electing candidates is a tad to hair-splitting for me. I think you can argue that people have faith have a moral obligation to stand up when they believe injustice is being done, but now you’re having a semantics argument with the religious right (they feel an injustice is being done as they consider abortion to be the State-sanctioned murder of human beings and must do everything they can to stop it).

I think much better arguments for the separation of church and state can be made than this one.

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Those supporting WO see the above as the issue that was voted. Those opposing WO seem to have failed to parse the actual wording of the motion and they, almost to a person, understood that the vote was regarding an altogether different issue - as to whether or not any division, union, or conference, should have to autonomy to decide for themselves how they want to interpret the existing policies regarding Ordination. As far as I can determine, there are no people opposed to women’s ordination who will acknowledge that the intent of the San Antonio motion was to hand over ordination decisions from the purview of the unions to the purview of divisions. This is the reason that the two camps continue to talk at cross purposes. They are not communicating at all because they are using the same words to talk about different ideas.


How many SdA parents opposed to the voucher plan are also against government funding for students in SdA universities? Could they still operate without such funds? It is very doubtful. So, what is the difference between accepting government funding for colleges but not for K-12?

ALL schools must follow government regulations if they are allowed to operate under standards set by the state if they wish to call themselves an accredited school. What parent would send their student to a school that might possibly not be accepted for higher learning after graduation?

Many schools have excellent charter schools that are funded just like the public schools, but of course must meet the standards. What demands on SdA schools would have to be met to operate above and beyond that they already do? There are many SdA schools that DO meet all state standards. Shouldn’t they? Who wants to see the church operate schools below the standards? The ability to teach religion should not eliminate the state requirements. Some SdA schools in the past have had few, if any standards which was a bad reflection of SdA education.


I’ve always been opposed to the voucher plan, both before and after becoming a parent. We homeschooled our kids, while still paying our property taxes in full. I’m also opposed to government funding students in private schools, but I’m not opposed to government lending money to students so they can attend college. They get it back, with interest.

Thanks for the reply. (Moderator, not entirely sure that I am responding in the right place, if not, I apologize).

So here’s my take on that. Yes, private schools must follow a variety of regulations (safety, non-discrimination in certain instances, etc.). In addition, we often follow a variety of non-required “other” like in California getting WASC Accreditation (which shows a level of competency in educational standards). Nor am I in any respects suggesting our schools not meet rigorous standards.

However, if you take what is explicitly taxpayer funds it opens the school up to potentially a whole other level of regulations. As an example, public schools have strict anti-discriminatory hiring requirements. It’s an easy step to suggest that if a school takes taxpayer funds then they must be required to hire people who are not SDA. Or required to hire someone that is an unmarried person cohabitating with a partner or someone who is gay or transgender. Or someone who is Wiccan, Baptist, Jahovah’s Witness, atheist, etc. Or, that they may be required to teach evolution and not creation. I’m not making a value judgment on any of those, just noting that if we use vouchers it becomes much more likely that we’ll have requirements that may be in opposition to SDA teaching.

Also, in my view if you end up with a voucher system where taxpayers fund private schools, you’ll end up with huge amounts of fly-by-night, fraudulent private schools who’s job is to get unwitting parents to agree to send their kids there and the gov’t pays (much like the current problems in the for-profit vocational colleges) and once there are a few newsworthy debacles, the government, in the interest of protecting innocent students will start creating new regulations, regulations perhaps in conflict with SDA teachings.

If, for example a state institutes a voucher program and your school system elects not to participate it is almost guaranteed to fail financially because parents will now have other similar choices (i.e. I can take my kid to SDA school for 9,000 per year, or they can go to the very nice Lutheran school down the block for free).

As to colleges, in fact that helps prove the point. We take funding for Pell Grants and state grants. That’s not the same as direct taxpayer funding through vouchers, but as a recent example that was noted on Spectrum, La Sierra University has had an ongoing Title IX issue regarding how to handle an alleged sexual assault and other SDA Universities have struggled with legal issues as a result of gay and transgender rights as it relates Title IX. And as you note, the SDA schools must take students with Federal grants because without it they could not survive against other private schools who do take that money (and the grant system is not nearly as intrusive as direct taking of taxpayer funds via a voucher system).

In my opinion, school vouchers which are a much more direct use of taxpayer funding will lead to the same sets of regulatory burden as happens with public schools. That regulatory oversight will supersede SDA belief’s and once you’ve taken their money you can’t go back.


You wrote…

“Those opposing WO seem to have failed to parse the actual wording of the motion and they, almost to a person, understood that the vote was regarding an altogether different issue - as to whether or not any division, union, or conference, should have to autonomy to decide for themselves how they want to interpret the existing policies regarding Ordination. As far as I can determine, there are no people opposed to women’s ordination who will acknowledge that the intent of the San Antonio motion was to hand over ordination decisions from the purview of the unions to the purview of divisions.”

Amazing; this effort to color the motion in San Antonio as only pertaining to which entity/organization would oversee ordaining women. I must confess that you are the first, that I have read, to make the remarkable claim that “the intent of the San Antonio motion was to hand over ordination decisions from the purview of the Unions to the purview of divisions.” The “acknowledgement” that you seek from those who oppose women’s ordination, as to this idea of a mere transference of jurisdiction, would only come if the presupposition were accepted that the Unions already possessed the power (pre-San Antonio) to determine both the criteria for ordination and who actually is approved for ordination. Those who assert this don’t even believe their own claims, because there certainly existed widespread lamentations over the SA Vote; certainly not because they were upset that the Division wasn’t allowed to take over the authority to ordain women from the Unions. In fact, since Ordination is, by and large, a local function happening within the Conference territory, why would any organizational entity look to have ordination be overseen by the Division and not the more localized Unions?

As you have no doubt read many times, the part of the motion that is in question, based on your assertions is: "
is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”

The “make provision” and “in their territories” portion of the motion indicates that, up until the very time the motion is being considered, no provision has been made for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, within the “Divisional territories.” Not just the Division offices, but their territories as well.

Finally, I call upon those who read these assertions and know that they are not true, to speak out, even if you are a proponent of Women’s Ordination. To read these things and let them stand, just because it is written in favor of WO, is wrong.

See my follow-up on the Lounge (if this article is there).

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If the essays here are not yet on the Lounge, can we reply to those comment directly to our original comments?

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Are you suggesting that Adventist schools do not need to comply with Federal and state laws? Why? Are you suggesting that SdA schools may be required to teach evolution and not creation? Why should teaching creation ever be taught except in a religious course and current science of this earth and humans be taught in the science department?

If the voucher program fails for lack of financial support, the parents have agreed that is not worth their money: simple economics of supply and demand. If consumers aren’t willing to pay, who is expected to pay for something that is not sufficiently demanded? Does this denomination have a surplus of funds?

Are you willing to see Adventist schools lose accreditation? There goes the schools for certain. What parent would pay tuition for a non-accredited school?

(Not sure if I’m replying in the right spot).

Not suggesting that SDA schools not comply with appropriate Federal and State laws - as it pertains to religious organizations that do have certain exemptions. A religious educational institution has a legitimate reason to require that it’s educators come from that same faith. So they are allowed certain levels of discrimination, not allowed at public schools. If a religious denomination has certain beliefs that are currently allowed for them to have (such as a belief about homosexuality, or a belief about sex out of wedlock, or against serving meat at school events, or Sabbath-keeping), then their schools should be able to have those same beliefs. Note, I’m not advocating for or against those belief’s I’m advocating that if we believe in the Bill of Rights, there are certain protections as it relates to the free exercise of religion. I’ll also add that we are speaking about SDA schools. But in the wider world of religious freedom, there are other private schools with different belief’s than ours who’s belief’s would potentially be threatened by a voucher system as well.

If a religious denomination has a 6 day creation as a fundamental principle of their religion, then they have the right to teach that in their schools.

I differ with your comments about vouchers failing for lack of financial support, that wasn’t what I said. If you institute a voucher program (in this case meaning kids can go to a private school and the cost is directly paid for by the gov’t) then there will be intense pressure on all private schools to accept the vouchers and our SDA schools will have to accept those gov’t payments or will go out of business. If the SDA schools accept that money they will be under increased gov’t scrutiny and regulation - regulation that in my view will require them to change their mission - in fact become no different than public schools.

The comments about vouchers have nothing to do with accreditation. In fact, I was a parent that participated in our school’s accreditation process the last time we had one.

In any case, I appreciate the conversation. Have a wonderful day.

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Attorney Hines,
Thank you for your excellent article.

I think the walls between Adventism and the State were broken some years ago, when the religious Liberty secretary of the Pacific Union Conference (himself an attorney, who should have known better) went out to battle for proposition eight in California. This was to determine whether gay and lesbian taxpayers could get the same tax breaks that their heterosexual married friends and relatives had enjoyed for decades.

While the church disapproves,of homosexuals, this disapproval should NEVER allow the Church to impose its religious views on a largely secular society by LEGAL EDICT.

When “Sunday Laws” are imposed on Adventists, what claim against them will we have, when we ourselves tried to legally impose our own religious views on others?

The religious right, including. Adventists, are so ardent in their support of social mores, that regrettably they wish to IMPOSE these same values on the wider population by LEGAL EDICT, thus permanently eroding the walls between Church and State

As a Dutch descendant I know the story of the hole in the dike-- unfortunately the hole has now caused the dike to collapse and flood the below sea level plains below!