The only wall President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to want to build these days is the civically sacred one separating church and state. Trump may not be convincing as a pious man to most, but with Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his administration enjoys the robust backing of the religious right. They may be soon joined by Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, who’s poised to further tip the balance against the firewall between democracy and theocracy.
Reverend Nancy Brink, Director of Church Relations at Chapman University, is deeply concerned with ensuring the separation of church and state remains sacrosanct. She’ll be speaking about progressive Christianity’s historical contributions to uphold the principle during a talk Saturday afternoon in Irvine. The good reverend teaches a course on the subject at Chapman, a Disciples of Christ-founded campus that hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in OC before anyone else, an invitation that came courtesy of the Disciple’s chaplain at the time.
Brink also serves on the national board of trustees for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The group’s Orange County chapter invited her to speak this weekend on progressive Christianity in these perilous times. The Weekly reached the reverend ahead of the event to talk church and state before any future vice and virtue police in America ends up shutting down this foulmouthed fishwrap!
Gabriel San Roman (OC Weekly): Let’s start with the Trump Administration in generally evaluating the health of the separation of church and state. Is this historical moment peculiar and if so, in what ways?
Brink: In terms of the Trump Administration itself, it’s part of a larger trend that’s been ongoing for some time which is being pushed by the evangelical side of Christianity. It’s using the same kind of arguments that we heard around civil rights in the 60’s, that people’s religious objections should protect them from certain laws and public accommodation. That was the basis of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Here it comes around again mainly in response to LGBT people and how people want to serve them or not serve them the same way it was around African-American people or any other persons of color. We’ve said as a nation, “No, if you’re to serve the public, you serve the public and protected classes are not something you can discriminate against.” Americans United is pushing very hard for us to keep the same legal definitions that have been in place for decades.
When something like the Religious Liberty Task Force hatches from the Department of Justice, what’s your response even just to the name and also to the function that it seeks to perform?
I actually heard the speech the day Sessions gave it. It felt again like it was just pandering to the base. What this Religious Liberty Task Force is seeking to do is encourage discrimination or move to protect it in the name of religion which I find unconstitutional.
Locally at the Orange County Board of Education, there’s been resistance to the California Healthy Youth Act and it’s coming from that same religious anti-LGBT sentiment we’ve been talking about. Are public schools, especially with Betsy DeVos, an important front in the separation of church and state?
When people say they’re uncomfortable about this or that, particularly when it comes to school and their children, I say, “Okay, how would you feel if the dominant religion was Muslim and we were the minority? How would you feel then?” Usually people go, “Ooh!” because all of these arguments are coming from a supposed Christian privilege which is not supported by the First Amendment. In fact, it was against that kind of understanding. The colonies had many different kinds of Christianity and they did not all see eye-to-eye nor were all of them firmly Christian themselves. For too long, we’ve had a buildup of this myth that America was born a Christian nation, but it’s ahistorical.
We had thousands in OC march against Trump’s policy of family separations at the border. There was a citation of Biblical verse by Sessions to justify it. There was a counter-argument against it that was also based in scripture. Americans United had a different response against providing any religious rationalization for government policy. Can you expand on that?
The overarching ethic of welcoming the stranger, or as in most English translations, the “alien” among you, is consistent value throughout the Bible. In terms of the border, the roots are not so much based in religious issues but more in terms of racism. Way before the Trump Administration, I’ve been disturbed that our policies on immigration really have not allowed for us as a nation to be nimble in helping people that are caught in dire situations within their home country. Immigration policy is such a value-important conversation. It gets to the heart of us as a nation.
For those concerned about the wall of separation between church and state in these times, what kinds of action can people take up to maintain that pillar of society?
The Kavanaugh nomination needs to be stopped. He is terrible on church-state relations. All four of the final nominees were, frankly. Should the Kavanaugh nomination happen, we’re really feeling like we’re going to go back 30 to 40 years. It will empower the norm of an evangelical Christianity in this country. It’s deeply disturbing to women when we think about birth control and abortion, it’s disturbing to LGBT persons when we think about even marriage equality being upheld, it’s disturbing to religious minorities and also atheists and agnostics. There’s still people in our country that are very suspicious about people who aren’t persons of faith. Action to me is stopping the Kavanaugh nomination and for people to pray for the good health of Robert Mueller!
Rev. Nancy Brink at the Community Room of the Irvine Ranch Water District, 15500 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. Sat., 1:45 p.m. For more info, visit www.au-oc.org or call (714) 299-4551
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.