Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The role of Christians in political life

Almost fifty years ago John F. Kennedy, running for President, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. The speech was an effort, largely successful, to persuade Protestants that electing the first Catholic President of the United States would be no threat to religious liberty. Speaking to a forum at Houston Baptist University, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver finds fault with JFK's speech. One consequence, Chaput argues, was "privatizing personal belief" and, consequently, "Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy – the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don't really believe. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, 'I doubt it.'"

I find everything Chaput writes or says about the relationship of faith and politics to be worthwhile. "The Vocation of Christians in American Public Life" asserts that genuine Christian faith must affect every part of our lives, including our citizenship.
... Catholics and Protestants have different memories of American history. The historian Paul Johnson once wrote that America was “born Protestant.” That's clearly true. Whatever America is today or may become tomorrow, its origin was deeply shaped by a Protestant Christian spirit, and the fruit of that spirit has been, on the balance, a great blessing for humanity. But it's also true that, while Catholics have always thrived in the United States, they lived through two centuries of discrimination, religious bigotry and occasional violence. Protestants of course will remember things quite differently. They will remember Catholic persecution of dissenters in Europe, the entanglements of the Roman Church and state power, and papal suspicion of democracy and religious liberty.

We can't erase those memories. And we cannot – nor should we try to – paper over the issues that still divide us as believers in terms of doctrine, authority and our understandings of the Church. Ecumenism based on good manners instead of truth is empty. It's also a form of lying. If we share a love of Jesus Christ and a familial bond in baptism and God’s Word, then on a fundamental level, we're brothers and sisters. Members of a family owe each other more than surface courtesies. We owe each other the kind of fraternal respect that “speak[s] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). We also urgently owe each other solidarity and support in dealing with a culture that increasingly derides religious faith in general, and the Christian faith in particular. ....

.... Tonight I want to focus in a special way on the role of Christians in our country’s civic and political life. The key to our discussion will be that word “vocation.” It comes from the Latin word vocare, which means, “to call.” Christians believe that God calls each of us individually, and all of us as a believing community, to know, love and serve him in our daily lives.

But there’s more. He also asks us to make disciples of all nations. That means we have a duty to preach Jesus Christ. We have a mandate to share his Gospel of truth, mercy, justice and love. These are mission words; action words. They’re not optional. And they have practical consequences for the way we think, speak, make choices and live our lives, not just at home but in the public square. Real Christian faith is always personal, but it’s never private. ....

.... Christianity is not mainly — or even significantly — about politics. It's about living and sharing the love of God. And Christian political engagement, when it happens, is never mainly the task of the clergy. That work belongs to lay believers who live most intensely in the world. Christian faith is not a set of ethics or doctrines. It's not a group of theories about social and economic justice. All these things have their place. All of them can be important. But a Christian life begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ; and it bears fruit in the justice, mercy and love we show to others because of that relationship.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:37-40). That's the test of our faith, and without a passion for Jesus Christ in our hearts that reshapes our lives, Christianity is just a word game and a legend. Relationships have consequences. A married man will commit himself to certain actions and behaviors, no matter what the cost, out of the love he bears for his wife. Our relationship with God is the same. We need to live and prove our love by our actions, not just in our personal and family lives, but also in the public square. Therefore Christians individually and the Church as a believing community engage the political order as an obligation of the Word of God. Human law teaches and forms as well as regulates; and human politics is the exercise of power — which means both have moral implications that the Christian cannot ignore and still remain faithful to his vocation as a light to the world (Mt 5:14-16). ....

.... As I was preparing these comments for tonight, I listed all the urgent issues that demand our attention as believers: abortion; immigration; our obligations to the poor, the elderly and the disabled; questions of war and peace; our national confusion about sexual identity and human nature, and the attacks on marriage and family life that flow from this confusion; the growing disconnection of our science and technology from real moral reflection; the erosion of freedom of conscience in our national health-care debates; the content and quality of the schools that form our children.

The list is long. I believe abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime. We need to do everything we can to support women in their pregnancies and to end the legal killing of unborn children. ....

All of these issues that I’ve listed above divide our country and our Churches in a way Augustine would have found quite understandable. The City of God and the City of Man overlap in this world. Only God knows who finally belongs to which. But in the meantime, in seeking to live the Gospel we claim to believe, we find friends and brothers in unforeseen places, unlikely places; and when that happens, even a foreign place can seem like one’s home.

The vocation of Christians in American public life does not have a Baptist or Catholic or Greek Orthodox or any other brand-specific label. John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” – which is so key to the identity of Houston Baptist University, burns just as hot in this heart, and the heart of every Catholic who truly understands his faith. Our job is to love God, preach Jesus Christ, serve and defend God’s people, and sanctify the world as his agents. .... [read it all]
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

Vocation of Christians in American Public Life