A lot of folks can't even say the phrase "separation of church and state" without looking like the chocolate candy they just chewed was actually a clump of dirt. It's not without good reason we often observe that response. The phrase has been torn from its original meaning and a has become the anthem of all who wish to ban religious expression from any public and many private places.
Many of us know the phrase originated as description of where government should not tread rather than where religious beliefs should not be expressed. True separation of church and state is a good thing. The government is not the church and the church is not the government. Each has its place and purpose, ordained by our Creator to provide benefits to His image bearers. And, neither should encroach upon the boundaries of the other.
Does this mean the Christian conscience should not operate in political activity? Certainly not. Just as in other arenas of life, the Christian must carry his conscience informed by the Word of God into his political activity. This is true for the voter and the elected official. Chuck Colson, in his book God & Government states three good reasons for Christians to engage political activity. "First, as citizens of the nation-state, Christians have the same civic duties all citizens have . . . Second, as citizens of the Kingdom of God Christians are to bring God's standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdom of this world. . . . Third, Christians have an obligation to bring transcendent moral values into public debate." We've seen examples of these principles throughout history - William Wilberforce and his successful fight to end slavery and rebuild the moral fabric of British society comes to mind.
Does this mean that political office becomes a pulpit for the elected? No. The church often finds itself marginalized in public debate, suffering prior decades of hiding from political activity. To swing to the other extreme and use government to accomplish the goals of the church would miss the mark by an equal margin. The elected official's duty is to facilitate government's delegated duty of preserving order and justice. According to Colson, "there is an alternative to the imposition of religious values or the passive acceptance of majority opinion, a principle that pays both pluralism and conscience their due. Christian politicians must do all in their power to make clear, public arguments on issue of moral and political importance, to persuade rather than coerce.
Separation of church and state - each operating in its own sovereign sphere without encroaching on the other - can restore much needed biblical balance to life in the public square.