There has been much debate in recent years over the role of people of faith in the public arena, particularly people of the Christian faith. The secular-progressive movement in this country has sought to relegate Christian influence in our culture to the ash heap of history, and to scrub any remaining vestiges of the Judeo-Christian Ethic that formed American culture from our national consciousness. Many well-intentioned Christian leaders have aided and abetted these progressives in purging Christianity from the public arena, by calling on Christians to avoid cultural controversy and / or confrontation.
Such misguided thinking was recently manifested in Pope Francis I’s statements about the political arena. In speaking with the press regarding Christian engagement in the culture, the Pope stated “I say that politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action, which is not that of religion. Political institutions are secular by definition and operate in independent spheres.” While this is not an extreme sounding statement, it is, in effect, a call to the complete separation of religious belief from civil governmental institutions and the policies they produce. This is not in keeping with the Christian worldview of renewing the culture, and of applying the good news of the Gospel to every area of human life. Instead, I humbly suggest, it is a call to capitulation and retreat.
The Pope is right in reasserting the concept of the separation of church and state; that was an inherently Christian invention from the beginning. However, past church leaders, and the Founding Fathers of America, didn’t see separation of church and state as a complete wall between faith values and public policies. Instead, they sought to ensure that the church was never coerced by the state, and that religious freedom flourished so that the Gospel may go forth unimpeded by an emperor or an empire. Separation of church and state was designed, from the beginning, to protect people of faith from the government, not the government from people of faith. Pope Francis, however, takes it a step further by suggesting that “politics is the most important of the civil activities and has its own field of action.” This effectively opens the door to the notion that Christians can support same-sex marriage and immorality in the political arena, while still being personally for natural marriage, against abortion, etc., in their private lives. Such a statement is Nancy Pelosi’s dream come true; no longer must she choose between her political support for same sex marriage and abortion, and her Catholic faith’s teaching against such stances.
Christianity is a total lifestyle belief system; it is an all-encompassing truth. No true follower of Christ can separate the teachings of the savior from their public values. To do so has, historically, been called hypocrisy. Authentic Christianity has been the most culturally-developing and cultural affirming movement in human history; it has led untold millions to help a neighbor in need, provide shelter to the homeless, protection to the preborn, food to the hungry, and comfort to those in the challenges of life. Those believers’ commitment to be their brother’s keeper has made our society more just and generous. In short, it has provided a compass for the whole of society, both in the civil arena as well as in the abbeys, churches and cathedrals where it has met. For leaders of the Faith to erect a high an impenetrable wall between the values of our faith, and the values of our society, is to consign our culture to the dustbin of human history.
Followers of Christ are called to, with love and mercy, lead lost individuals to the cross for hope, healing and reconciliation with our Creator. At the same time, those same followers are called to renew the culture around them so that the prayer Christ taught us may come true in our time “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” The message of Christ isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, going to heaven when I die religion; it is a real and tangible relationship with a God who has given us abundant life both on Earth and in the world to come. Yet, some church leaders are becoming so heavenly minded they are no earthy good, while our country desperately needs the compassion and character true Christians contribute to our society.
I will never back down on standing up for the truth in American culture. Our nation is in upheaval politically, culturally, economically, and emotionally. People are hurting. People are struggling. Among our youngest citizens, the second leading cause of death, after car accidents, is suicide. Our nation is looking for hope; this was affirmed by the President’s own campaign slogan “hope and change.” The truth is, however, that no political savior, neither Democrat nor Republican, can heal the heart of America. Only Christ can. That means that Christians must bring his truth into every arena of American life, so that liberty can once again flourish in the consciousness of our country, and the hearts of the American people.
I call on my fellow believers to be the change in our culture that you want to see. Never surrender your values, for our nation’s success depends on their presence in the arena of ideas.
Yours in liberty,