The dynamic between government and religion can be a tricky one.
Per the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Yet, America, a nation “under God,” can hardly be described as patently nonreligious.
A local church is seeking to examine that relationship with an ongoing series, “Religion and the American Government,” during the next few weeks.
Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, 615 Mallery St. on St. Simons Island, is hosting the lecture series with the goal of eyeing “how the Founding Fathers thought religions — especially the Christian faith — should interact with the functions of civil government,” said the Rev. June Johnson, Holy Nativity’s vicar.
The series, which is free and open to the public, will be at Holy Nativity at 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Feb. 7. Holy Nativity parishioner Brett Helm of St. Simons Island is leading the talks. Helms, a Marine Corps veteran and schoolteacher for 16 years, is a published Constitutional scholar and was in 1997 named a senior fellow of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, which Congress created in 1986 to foster learning about the Constitution.
“I find Helm knowledgeable, interesting, widely read and open,” Johnson said. “For me, this is a rare opportunity to learn face-to-face from a true scholar.”
Johnson added that the church created and is hosting the series to give the public a better understanding of faith and its relationship to American government.
“Too many believers describe America as a ‘Christian nation’ and too many nonbelievers fight that description without either knowing factually how to articulate the chosen position,” Johnson said.
In today’s over-saturated media landscape, Johnson said it can be difficult to separate what is fact and opinion, and the lecture series is aimed at providing people with interesting, fact-based knowledge without the spin of political pundits.
“Real facts are always more interesting, more compelling, more exciting than various versions of ‘truth-i-ness’ or sound bites coming from those with a particular view to shore up,” she said. “This is good, rich, enlightening history about the shaping of our country, my church, my family, my education and my way of living as a Christian and an American.
“I want this understanding so that I can make better decisions in the voting booth, in civic activities and in personal choices,” she said.