Filmmaker Ken Burns Calls For Bigger, Wider Church-state Wall

Popular documentary filmmaker Ken Burns says the wall of separation between church and state should be bigger and wider.

Burns, whose documentaries include “The Civil War,” “Baseball” and “Jazz,” was interviewed by Christian Century magazine recently. He talked about his personal faith and his beliefs about religion in public life.

Born an Episcopalian, Burns says his spirituality has its roots in Christianity but told the magazine that today he finds himself in the tradition of the founders – “what Thomas Jefferson would call a deist, I guess – interested less in the organized forms of religion than in spiritual pursuit as a way toward the perfectibility of an imperfectible species called human beings.”

Asked if he thinks the Christian faith in the American experience is a possible film subject, Burns replied, “Absolutely. I think I am leery about pursuing it in a direct way – only because it then becomes appropriated by those who wish to use religion as a bludgeon, as a tool, as a political wedge, and that is not my purpose of religion or what I’m about.”

He continued, “My mission – and I’m happy to say that there is a huge evangelical dimension to what I’m doing – is preaching the gospel of Americanism, but one that is mindful of the fact that it is not separated from questions of the spirit and the soul’s survival.”

But Burns was quick to add, “I think it’s also important to say that I believe absolutely in the separation of church and state. I would make the [church-state] wall even bigger and wider. The genius of America, again, is being able to worship God on our own. When religion becomes a force in government, it has lost its raison d’être.”