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THE NATURE
OF THE CHURCH
AND ITS RELATIONSHIP
WITH GOVERNMENT

A statement with public policy recommendations on church-state issues

adopted by the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A.

A. INTRODUCTION An increasingly complex society has produced growing interdependence and interaction among groups, persons, and resources in the governmental, economic, and voluntary sectors. The government's responsibilities to maintain equity and order have led both the churches and the state into greater contact and, at times, into tension. As governmental bodies seek to perform their roles and the churches seek to fulfill their missions, each needs to be aware of the other's purposes, principles, and methods. In their endeavors, both the churches and the government have the task of formulating and clarifying position statements and guidelines for implementation and application when appropriate.

The Lutheran Council in the USA, a cooperative agency of The American Lutheran Church, Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Lutheran Church in America, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is aware of rising concern within its participating bodies over governmental activity in matters affecting the churches and their ministries.'There are instances in which laws, rulings, and regulatory procedures on the part of government appear to infringe upon the churches and their agencies and institutions. Governmental efforts to define the nature, mission, ministries, and structure of religious organizations are likely to continue. These developments have raised questions within the Lutheran churches about the right and competence of government to define the nature, mission, ministries, and structure of religious bodies.

The Lutheran Council recognizes that an ongoing process of communication within the Lutheran family of churches and with other religious bodies and organizations in the voluntary sector is proper and timely as response is given to the government. Government officials need to be informed about the positions and perspectives of the Lutheran churches.

On these grounds the Lutheran Council convened a consultation on church. state issues which resulted in the following statement and recommendations. The report of the consultation was adopted by the council's 1979 annual meeting on May 16 in Minneapolis.

B. STATEMENT OF AFFIRMATION 1. Church and Government in God's World

God's omnipotent activity in creation is dynamic; that is, it is living, active, and powerful in all human affairs. The structure and polities of civil and Christian communities are determined and arranged by tradition, circumstances, and needs.

Lutherans acknowledge the twofold reign of God, under which Christians live simultaneously. God is ruler of both the world and the church. The church is primarily the agency of the Gospel in the new age of Christ, while the state is primarily the agency of the Law in the old age of Adam.

Given the balance of interests and differing responsibilities of the churches and the government in God's world, the Lutheran churches advocate a relationship between the churches and the government which may be expressed as “institutional separation and functional interaction."

Both the churches and the government are to delineate and describe the proper and responsible extent of their functional interaction in the context of God's rule and the institutional separation of church and state.

2. Institutional Separation

In affirming the principle of separation of church and state, Lutherans in the United States respectfully acknowledge and support the tradition that the churches and the government are to be separate in structure. As the U.S. Constitution provides, government neither establishes nor favors any religion. It also safeguards the rights of all persons and groups in society to the free exercise of their religious beliefs, worship, practices, and organizational arrangements within the laws of morality, human rights, and property. The government is to make no decisions regarding the validity or orthodoxy of any doctrine, recognizing that it is the province of religious groups to state their doctrines, determine their politics, train their leaders, conduct worship, and carry on their mission and ministries without undue interference from or entanglement with government.. a. The Church's Mission

1) The central mission of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel; that is, "the good news” or promise of God that all persons are forgiven by and reconciled with God and one another by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

2) The church is the fellowship of such forgiven and reconciled persons united in Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit to be sons and daughters of the Father. In and through that fellowship Christians express their love for, confidence in, and reliance upon God through worship, education, social action, and service.

3) The church is also the people of God called and sent to minister under his authority in his world. God also calls the church to be a creative critic of the so cial order, an advocate for the needy and distressed, a pioneer in developing and improving services through which care is offered and human dignity is enhanced, and a supportive voice for the establishment and maintenance of good order, justice, and concord. Another mark of the presence of the church in the world is in its ministries involving activities, agencies, and institutions through which the church and society seck to fulfill their goals in mutual respect and cooperation.

4) Lutherans hold that their churches have the responsibility to describe and clarify to their members and to society the mission of the Lutheran churches and to determine, establish, maintain, and alter the various forms through which that mission is expressed and structured.

5). The distinctive mission of the churches includes the proclamation of God's Word in worship, in public preaching, in teaching, in administration of the sacsaments, in evangelism, in educational ministries, in social service ministries, and in being advocates of justice for participants in the social order.

6) On the basis of their commitment to him who is both Lord of the church and Lord of the world, Lutheran churches establish, support, operate, and hold accountable their congregations, agencies, institutions, schools, organizations and other appropriate bodies.

7) While church bodies have differing polities, it is fitting to describe them, including their duly constituted agencies, according to their ecclesiastically recognized functions and activities.

8) Lutheran churches have the authority, prerogative, and responsibility to determine and designate persons to be professional church workers, both clergy and lay; to establish criteria for entrance into and continuance in the functions carried on by professional church workers; to create educational institutions for training professional church workers; and to provide for the spiritual, professional, and material support of such persons. Such support extends throughout the preparation for, activity in, and retirement from service in the several ministries of the churches.

9) Lutheran churches have the authority and prerogative to enter into relationships, associations, and organizations with one another; with overseas Lutheran churches and bodies; with other Christian fellowships or other religious groups on regional, national, and international levels; and with voluntary or governmental agencies which the Lutheran churches and other groups deem helpful and fitting to their respective purposes. b. The Government's Role

1) According to Lutheran theology, the civil government's distinctive calling by God is to maintain peace, to establish justice, to protect and advance human rights, and to promote the general welfare of all persons.

2) As one of God's agents, government has the authority and power in the secular dimensions of life to ensure that individuals and groups, including religious communities and their agencies, adhere to the civil law. The churches and their agencies in the United States are often subject to the same legislative, judicial, and administrative provisions which affect other groups in society. When necessary to assure free exercise of religion, however, Lutheran churches claim treatment or consideration by government different from that granted to voluntary, benevolent, eleemosynary, and educational nonprofit organizations in society.

3) Government enters into relationships, associations, and organizational arrangements with nongovernmental groups, including churches, according to the nation's laws and traditions, in order to fulfill its God-given calling and without compromising or inhibiting the integrity of either the groups or the government.

4) Government exceeds its authority when it defines, determines or otherwise influences the churches' decisions concerning their nature, mission, and ministries, doctrines, worship and other responses to God, except when such decisions by the churches would violate the laws of morality and property or infringe on human rights.

3. Functional Interaction

Lutherans in the United States affirm the principle of functional interaction between the government and religious bodies in areas of mutual endeavor, so that such interaction assists in the maintenance of good order, the protection and extension of civil rights, the establishment of social justice and equality of opportunity, the promotion of the general welfare, and the advancement of the dignity of all persons. This principle underscores the Lutheran view that God rules both the civil and spiritual dimensions of life, making it appropriate for the government and the churches to relate creatively and responsibly to each other.

In this functional interaction, the government may conclude that efforts and programs of the churches provide services of broad social benefit. In such in. stances and within the limits of the law, the government may offer and the churches may accept various forms of assistance to furnish the services. Functional interaction also includes the role of the churches in informing persons about, advocating for, and speaking publicly on issues and proposals related to social justice and human rights. From the Lutheran perspective, the church has the

task of addressing God's Word to its own activities and to government. The - U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of the churches to communicate concerns

to the public and to the government.
a. The Church's Responsible Cooperation with the Government

1) The church relates to the interests of the state by offering intercessory prayers on its behalf. Christians are called to offer supplications and thanksgiving for all persons, especially “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1).

2) The church relates to the interests of the state by encouraging responsible citizenship and government service. The church has always admonished its members to be "subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1) out of respect for the civil power ordained by God.

3) The church relates to the interests of the state by holding it accountable to the sovereign law of God, in order to provide judgment and guidance for those leaders responsible under God for the peace, justice, and freedom of the world.

4) The church relates to the interests of the state by contributing to the civil consensus which supports it. Especially under the U.S. system, which provides for wide participation, the church has the responsibility to help create a moral base and legal climate in which just solutions to vexing political problems can take place.

5) The church relates to the interests of the state by championing the human and civil rights of all its citizens.. Christians believe that under God the state exists for people, not people for the state. In addition, the church may volunteer its resources as a channel for meeting the needs of society through cooperation with government.

b. The Government's Responsible Cooperation with the Church

1) The state relates to the interests of the church by ensuring religious liberty for all.

2) The state relates to the interests of the church by acknowledging that human rights are not the creation of the state.

3) The state relates to the interests of the church by maintaining an attitude of "wholesome neutrality" toward church bodies in the context of the religious pluralism of our culture.

4) The state relates to the interests of the church by providing incidental bencfits on a nonpreferential basis in recognition of the church's civil services which are also of secular benefit to the community.

5) The state relates to the interests of the church by providing funding on a nonpreferential basis to church agencies engaged in the performance of educational or social services which are also of secular benefit to the community.

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C. PUBLIC POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS The foregoing “Statement of Affirmation,” prepared by the Lutheran Council's Consultation on the Nature of the Church and Its Relationship with Government, speaks in broad terms about a Lutheran understanding of the appropriate relationship between church and government, under God, which has been described in terms of "institutional separation and functional interaction.”

The consultation applied this understanding to a number of concrete issues presently confronting Lutheran churches, their agencies and institutions in their relationship with government. The following recommendations, which deal with current issues, illustrate ways our churches can address future issues and should be understood as relating to the “Statement of Affirmation.”

1. Religious Liberty

We affirm in principle the civil right of the free exercise of religion by a wide variety of groups in our pluralistic culture. We acknowledge that the constitutional guarantees protecting religious beliefs are absolute. However, we recognize that those guarantees governing religious practices are not absolute. The violation of human rights and the breaking of just laws in the name of religion are deplored by our churches.

Recommended:

That the Lutheran Council encourage the participating churches to oppose any attempt by government to curb religious liberty through criminal and/or administrative measures focused at groups, except in cases posing a grave and immediate threat to the public's health, safety, or welfare.

2. Regulatory Processes

Lutheran churches, together with other churches and voluntary organizations, perceive a trend toward greater governmental intervention and regulation leading to erosion of civil and religious liberties.

Recommended:

That the Lutheran Council urge Congress to review the regulatory processes, to ensure that they afford adequate notice and opportunity to the public to study and respond to proposed regulations and rulings.

3. Integrated Auxiliaries

Prior to 1969 most religious organizations, including churches and their related agencies, were exempted from filing informational returns with the Internal Revenue Service. The Tax Reform Act of 1969, however, stipulated that all organizations exempt from taxation under Section 501 (a) of the Tax Code would henceforth have to file an annual informational Form 990 return-except churches, their "integrated auxiliaries,” conventions and associations of churches, the exclusively religious activities of any religious order, and exempt organizations with gross receipts under $5,000 annually. The law involves the reporting of information; no payment of taxes is involved.

The problem for the IRS since 1969 has been to define “integrated auxiliaries,” since that term had no legal meaning and no common definition among religious groups. In February 1976 the IRS issued proposed regulations which had the net effect of providing for all churches a single and extremely narrow definition of

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