A Church-State Playground

April 20, 2017

As I drove to Springfield, Mo., Wednesday to speak at University Heights Baptist Church, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could have big church-state implications. The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, arose after a church in Columbia, Mo., sued the state for not giving it a taxpayer-funded grant for tire scraps to resurface the church's playground.

(For background on the case, check out a Word&Way article I wrote and a Word&Way interview I conducted with Holly Hollman of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.) 


After offering a few introductory remarks about myself and Word&Way, I then spent most of the evening service at University Heights talking about the case and the historic Baptist perspectives on religious liberty and separation of church and state. The presentation provided me an opportunity to do what I enjoy doing: report and analyze current events.

During that time I also showed a BJC video from that day with Hollman's reactions to sitting in the chamber and listening to oral arguments (the video, like an earlier BJC one, includes a photo I took of the church's playground). I appreciate the BJC for standing for church-state separation and showing a higher view of sacred space than do the attorneys for the church.

I wrote a letter to the editor published in the Jefferson City News-Tribune that rebuts one common talking point by advocates of the church in the case. Despite the claim, Missouri's constitutional provision is not anti-Catholic. I was quoted in a piece by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

I fear the justices will rule for the church. If they do, hopefully it will be a narrow ruling and not what the church's attorneys are hoping to get. Ideally, the justices will decide the case is moot now that Missouri's new governor, Eric Greitens is violating the state Constitution by overturning the grant policy rules to allow funding for houses of worship.


Enjoyed speaking at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., tonight. Here I am with Senior Pastor Danny Chisholm. It was great to hang out with him before the service. UHBC played an important role in my ministry formation as I served as pastoral intern there 14 years ago. It was nice to be back as Editor of Word&Way. I spoke about the #TrinityLutheran church-state case that was argued before the U.S. #SupremeCourt today. I talked about various arguments on both sides, the many political twists in the case, & why I believe the state of Missouri was right to not give a grant to churches. Played short video analysis of case from Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to add to discussion of historic #Baptist perspectives on church-state relations & why we should worry about claims by lawyers for Trinity Lutheran. Night ended with good Q&A time.
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