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I wrote this editorial piece on a bus from New York City to Washington, DC, during Concordia’s first communications travel course. Visiting Boston and New York on the trip brought to mind handfuls of historical events – most involving the church, the state, or some sort of conflict between the two of them. As a member of the church and the state, I wondered on paper how I should view the relationship between the two – and more specifically, how I should vote, since voting is the most direct way I can be involved in the governing of our society.

To begin, I believe most of us would agree that the separation of church and state is a good idea, given that we live in a nation that promotes the ideological freedom of its citizens. However, separation of church and state raises many questions—including “how should Christians vote?”

The question, relevant on our campus, is very important to me – a voting Christian in a democratic society. Voting involves personal opinions rooted in individual worldviews. If your individual worldview is based on and shaped around a religion, then shouldn’t your vote come straight out of your worldview?

If this is true for everyone—for Methodists, Mennonites, Muslims, and Mormons—than the views of society’s majority religious (or anti-religious) group would win if everyone within a democratic society voted. Those who are part of these religions or denominations would essentially attempt to vote their religion-based beliefs into law by way of voting. This, I think, is where the great problem of religious voting occurs. Is it right for someone to enforce their religious views on others in a society who don’t practice the same religion? Is it right for Muslim citizens, for example, to abide by a law based on Christian thought or majority? Is it right for Christian citizens to abide by a law based on Muslim thought or majority?

There is a separation here, of course, between what most would call natural rights and wrongs and rights and wrongs that are more subject to opinion. Most societies and religions would agree that lying, cheating, stealing, and killing are natural wrongs—and that “do unto others as you would have done to yourself” is a natural right. Natural rights and wrongs are essential to keeping a society functional, and preserve the well-being of citizens. Different, though, are rights and wrongs that are based on lifestyle choices. These might involve the role of women in society, economic policies, or a universal definition of marriage. Disagreements influenced by religious views are quite common here. It’s often difficult for governments without an official state religion to legislate things like the role of women or the definition of marriage since such views vary from religion to religion, lifestyle to lifestyle. The only legitimate grounds the government of a free country would have to put things like these into law would be if the well-being and/or the freedom of its citizens was being damaged or prohibited. Increasing women’s rights, for example, could be considered legitimate. Preventing women from marrying other women, however, is not so legitimate in this context.

So, to return to our original question: how should a Christian vote, with the rest of society in mind? Should their interest be to make their Christian lifestyle law, or to promote the well-being and freedom of all citizens within their society? The Bible says Christians are called to spread the Gospel—the news of Jesus—to the world, thus spreading Christianity and therefore salvation. At no time does the Bible say anything about inflicting Christian ideas on non-Christians by the force of law. It seems that voting based on Christian ideals and not collective well-being not only promotes ideological bigotry by deeming one lifestyle superior over another, but creates an unhealthy rift between Christians and non-Christians in society. A negative perception of Christians, a distraction from non-political evangelism, and a divided society result are all consequences of religious—or in this case, Christian—voting. Religious ideals backed by government legislation go against the very idea of a free nation.

I am by no means demonizing a Christian’s desire to evangelize—for the Bible calls Christians to spread the news of Christ to the world. However, I must criticize Christians who believe spreading the Gospel through stances on political matters is useful to bringing non-Christians into the faith. Voting to exclude non-Christian ideas from our society is simply not a productive means of evangelism. Voting with consideration of how a lifestyle issue will help or hurt the freedom, well-being, and harmony of a society as a whole is not only more productive for the society as a collective body, but avoids ideological bigotry altogether…thus taking religion and evangelism out of politics and placing it where it can bear more fruit: in the churches and communities of America.

Perhaps this explains why it is possible for a Christian to be against homosexual marriage and abortion based on their religious beliefs and worldview, but pro-gay marriage and pro-choice with the freedom, well-being, and harmony of their society in mind. The separation of church and state—in this case, a separation of religious ideas and voting—is healthy for society, for evangelism, and for the religions themselves.

It’s frightening how many Americans are completely disengaged from the food they eat. Not only are most uneducated about the details of what actually goes into their food, but most just don’t care—and eat crap throughout their day without even thinking about what they’re ingesting.

But can you blame them? Not exactly. Our environment tends to shape our perspective on food. In fact, I believe it’s fair to say Americans’ eating habits result from what they see around them—and largely from what’s convenient. In offices and schools, it’s vending machines. In airports, malls, or on the highway, it’s eateries like Subway, McDonald’s, and Burger King. At entertainment venues, it’s popcorn and cotton candy. These food sources are rooted into our thinking because they’re often times all that’s available. They’re convenient. And when something’s convenient, it doesn’t warrant any further exploration of options.

For example, I went through the security checkpoint at Chattanooga’s six-gate airport this afternoon to discover limited food options for departing passengers. The airport offered just one eatery, offering pre-made sandwiches wrapped in Saran-wrap—chalk-full of preservatives listed on a white sticker that circumferenced the entire thing. Their “healthy” eating options included trail mix (mostly candy-coated M&M’s), chocolate banana bread (also laced with preservatives), and non-organic apples (also wrapped in Saran-wrap, indicating they’ve been there for a long time). Supplementing the eatery were three vending machines, sporting Coca-Cola beverages. Nearly every one listed “water” and “high fructose corn syrup” as their top two ingredients.

The limited availability of healthy eating options is not limited to Chattanooga’s small airport. It’s nearly everywhere. Our society is becoming increasingly aware of the unhealthy affects of our typical diets—processed snacks, synthetic ingredients, and an astounding lack of natural nutrients—but has yet to, on the whole, care about doing anything about it. All-natural ingredients are seldom found in chain restaurants, the majority of our produce is still covered with pesticides, and organic food is just too expensive. Consider the amount of oil used to produce an ounce of beef and you’ll realize our food system is undeniably hurting our society.

The system can be fixed—but only if people start to care about it enough to change their habits. In a country where all changes come down to dollars and cents, if enough people start making more mindful decisions about what they eat and where they get it from, food manufacturers will be forced to change their ways. But what does this look like? Local advocacy? Awareness campaigns? What does a system change actually require?

The truth is, food is a different breed of an issue than oil, electricity, or other public services. We need it to survive, and we’ve needed it since the world was created. We’re depriving ourselves of proper nutrition because we’ve bought into the convenience wealthy companies have provided. We’re too comfortable to think of what we could have. It’s time we educate society and help Americans remember tomatoes actually grow in the ground.

Standing atop a parking garage in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee today, I had the privilege of joining a discussion with locals about the proposed re-vitalization of Chattanooga’s central business district.

The group was brainstorming ideas of how to draw more people to downtown Chattanooga. The potential remedies? Unique local shopping, a corporate magnet like Target or Whole Foods, a theater district, a museum. Beneath these solutions, however, lies a make-or-break practicality: parking. In a society that on the whole depends on the automobile as its sole means of transportation, could the convenience or inconvenience of parking influence one’s decision to travel downtown?

I’d say yes, it does– and I say this primarily because of my extensive suburban exposure. I’ve never lived in a location I could consider to be “downtown,” and live in a city (Austin, Texas) that does not have, in my opinion, a convenient or adequate mass transit system. Traveling downtown for me is complicated. Parking spots are usually hard to come by, unless I choose to park in a garage, which can cost over $10. Nearly every street is lined with parking meters, and I (like most people my age) rarely carry enough change to afford over half an hour at a meter. While I’m willing to make this work and pay the price to be downtown, I’m fairly confident a portion of the suburban dwellers being lured to downtown by whatever means may not believe these inconveniences are worth the effort.

That’s why I believe parking– affordable, convenient parking– is a priority in urban redevelopment. It’s important to ensure visitors from all walks of life will be comfortable with a convenient parking solution that won’t “scare them away” from downtown.

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