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Secular Law and Religious Morality (Part III)

September 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Responsibility of Christian Officials and Activists: Benefit of the Law

I wrote two articles on this subject quite a while ago detailing my thoughts on the role of government and how Christians should aim to influence it (Part I and Part II). The recent discussions of Kim Davis’ refusal to allow issuance of wedding licenses in Kentucky reminded me that there are some other aspects of our faith and politics that are worthy of discussion. Namely:

  1. The responsibility of Christian government officials in executing their office consistent with both their faith AND their job description and;
  2. The responsibility of those Christians who choose to lobby, blog and express their opinions for freedom, logic and Natural Law to stand up (charitably) against illogical, uncharitable or inappropriate points of view claiming Christian or Biblical legitimacy.

Let me explain further:

1.)

My previous posts talked about the role of government and what I think Christian citizens should advocate for in that government. There are, however, some additional caveats for those who chose to take a position of public trust and are employees of the State (especially those who are officials of some sort). In America, government employees do have a right to express their opinions and actively seek changes to the law of the land- as private citizens. They do not, however, have the right to ignore their government appointed duties because they disagree with them. This is a responsibility that we, as Christians, should cherish and regard highly. We should love the fact that police officers are required to protect us, regardless of their personal beliefs, when we legally march for the dignity of the unborn. That the prison guard can’t just let a woman go because he feels that she is innocent, or doesn’t like the crime she was convicted of. We had the right to be outraged when President Obama decided that he didn’t like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), so he just wasn’t going to enforce it (before the Supreme Court ruled on it). Deciding not to do your job is not a constitutional right.

If rules, laws or orders change such that a person finds it unethical to perform their duties, they have a responsibility to voice their concern through the proper channels and, if necessary, step down. If the situation is so egregious that they feel allowing anyone to perform said duty would be gravely dangerous to innocent lives and/or an actual violation of laws and rules (Hitler’s Final Solution and the My Lai Massacre come to mind), then they should take a stand in whatever manner they think best, but know that they are breaking the law and subject to its punishments or relief from assignment at the very least.   Generally speaking though, our default should be to obey and enforce the law, even if we don’t agree with it. That’s why Paul instructs us in the letter to the Romans (who were not exactly the most Christian friendly regime in history) “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.  For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.  The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.  Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.” (Romans 13:1-6

Sir Thomas More is one of my favorite Saints. He was a dedicated family man, intelligent statesman (Lord High Chancellor of England) who kept his honor when all those around him were crooked even though it ultimately cost him is life. A great movie about him was filmed in the 1960s called “A Man for All Seasons”. It’s a bit long, but I found it fascinating. There was one scene though that stuck with me and seems particularly applicable to this case at hand. In this clip, More discusses the idea of the benefit of the Law, and who should receive such benefit. I don’t know if More actually said anything in this movie clip, but I think it’s a valid point either way.

Benefit of the Law

No system of government on this side of eternity will ever have perfect laws. There are some that we are going to disagree with and others that we will be grateful for. We might not like that the Supreme Court determined that same sex marriages must be recognized in all 50 states (I certainly didn’t and expressed my views on the topic here well before that ruling), but that is now the law of the land and officials of the States subject to the constitution have a requirement to uphold it. If a clerk doesn’t feel comfortable with issuing licenses to same sex couples, it should be the prerogative of that office/ governor as to whether to make accommodation for that request and always have another clerk on staff who can issue the license, or to make it a requirement of the job and wish that clerk well on his or her way out the door (or into another position). Either way, if a same sex couple that meets the legal requirements for marriage walks in to the office, they are entitled to walk out with a marriage certificate. They aren’t entitled to any particular signature or any particular person issuing the license, but they are entitled to the piece of paper and associated benefits.

I do understand that Kim Davis was in a bit of a pickle since her name was on the marriage licenses regardless of who issued them in her office. Prison did seem a bit harsh from what I could tell compared to simply removing her from office, and I’m glad that (at least as far as I can tell at the time of writing this) her name was removed from the marriage licenses and all sides seem to be at peace, but the amount of outcry that came up touting her as some kind of hero for religious rights was extremely disturbing to me. We as Christians, and really as Americans in general, must be very careful in glorifying certain acts of civil disobedience. It will likely not be long before the tides are turned and Christians are the ones just asking to be given their legal right with an atheist or Muslim official who chooses his or her own personal beliefs over the law of the land. On that day, people will look back on the way this Kim Davis case was handled/ portrayed and (rightfully) call us hypocrites if we handle it any different. Which brings me to my second point…

2.)

For those who take the time make political comments on Facebook, blog about Christian and political topics or take an active role in your political system (all of which I generally encourage), we have a responsibility to speak up when representation of our faith is being hijacked by viewpoints that fail tests of logic or universal application.

It’s tempting to take the approach of letting things go when people take extreme or illogical arguments that still end up with the same opinion you have. After all, at least they are arguing on the good side, right? The problem with this mentality is that people who are opposed or independent on the issue hear that extreme or illogical argument, and they consider it the best that our side has to offer. So they consider our whole argument BS. The best chance we have is to do what we can to ensure those people hear other Christians willing to speak up and say, “I also disagree with this law, but you’re going overboard in this situation.” Or “I recognize the divine inspiration of the Bible too, but US Constitution doesn’t and we owe a different approach to the legal debates, especially in public forums.” Or “We may consider this or that to be a sin, but that doesn’t mean that we should treat ANYONE with less dignity than they deserve as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.” We will probably not drown out or overpower the voices that we feel are misrepresenting us – Liberal media is way too eager to jump on opportunities to publicize Christian arguments and actions that they know won’t stand up to logical scrutiny.  We shouldn’t set our hopes there though. Our goal should be to remain faithful and consistent (and open to correction ourselves). When we do this, we have the opportunity to convince friends that they are taking the wrong approach in defending the faith that way and will foster an environment that invites rational people with other opinions to see that it is possible for a conservative Christian/ Catholic to be both faithful and rational (and conservative) and maybe even start a conversation with us(usually a REALLY good conversation).

I should take a moment to point out directly, that the Bible is a fantastic resource for us as Christians to shape our moral compass and determine what we think should be a rule for our society. It is not, however a very good tool for convincing anyone with even the faintest idea of our Constitution, how to proceed in determining the law of the land. When we are talking about civil laws and government responsibilities, we should be arguing from universally acceptable (or nearly universal) precepts of natural law, ethics, and reason. We must acknowledge that the United States of America is not a Christian nation. Officially speaking, it never was.

The Bible and teachings of the Church may have had enough clout to pass a bill 50 or 100 years ago, but those days are long gone and that’s not entirely a bad thing. God gave us minds that can reason and dissect situations and he wants us to use them. The aspects of morality and society that have a place in civil law can and should be deduced from reason. The Bible is meant to be a light guiding us, not a crutch supporting us.

AMDG

Secular Law and Religious Morality Part I and Part II

P.S. If the clip piqued your interest, you can watch the full movie here……“A Man for All Seasons”

P.P.S. I probably should take a moment to be clear that I hold no particular educational qualifications for submitting my thoughts above and much more accomplished, learned, and dedicated theologians hold a different opinion. Here is one of the more logical and at least dogmatically justified opinions on why Kim Davis should be regarded as a hero. I agree with most of his foundational logic, just not the application as it applies to a government official conferring a civil right. Tim Staples: Kim Davis is a Hero If you read this far and also think I’m wrong, please leave a comment and convince me!

A Gracious Cycle (2 Peter 1: 5-9)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 1:5-9

There are a few verses like this in the New Testament (and the Old Testament) that are just packed with meaning. More often than not, when I read them or hear them at church, I loose most of it because I don’t really dissect what God is trying to tell me. Despite my best effort (or maybe because I’m not really giving my best effort), I usually process these verses like the Charlie Brown teacher when all you hear/ read is generic vowels and consonants (and maybe cue a church bell or some other holy gesture in this case). I think I let myself down rather often in this regard as it pertains to my life of faith and I doubt I’m the only one. So in this blog, I thought I would take the time to look at what I think Peter is trying to tell me in these two sentences.

One advantage that I have when I read this and study it, is that I don’t need to look at it in order. In this case, I think the second sentence helps me frame the first. Peter is telling me that following the prescription in the first sentence, and increasing frequency and magnitude, will protect me from being stagnant [idle] or ineffective [unfruitful] in my relationship with God [knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ]. This relationship with God or knowledge of Christ is what many would consider to be the foundation of faith. Interestingly enough, that’s the first word in the chain that Peter discusses in the quote. Coincidence? I think not…

Before I get into the 8 specific characteristics that Peter emphasizes to Christians, I need to understand the relationship between each of them. Each of these words has a “supplement”al role to the others.

sup·ple·ment  noun \ˈsə-plə-mənt\ : something that is added to something else in order to make it complete. [Merriam-Webster online]

Other bible translations say “add to” (add later word to previous word) or “support” (support earlier word with later word). I need to think of each word that follows as something that strengthens, empowers and completes the previous word in my life.

 

So if I were to paraphrase: if you want stronger faith, be more virtuous. If you want to be more virtuous, be more knowledgeable. If you want to be more knowledgeable, have more self-control. If you want more self-control, have more endurance. If you want more endurance, have more devotion. Strengthen your devotion through mutual affection. And strengthen your mutual affection though love.

How does virtue strengthen our faith? The way I see it, living virtuously causes us to actually take ownership of our faith instead of allowing it to just be something in our head. Many people claim to have faith in God, but until we LIVE that faith, it doesn’t mean much. This is what the book of James refers to in Chapter 2 when it says, “faith without works is dead.” James isn’t talking about works of the law, he’s talking about virtuous living.

How does knowledge strengthen our virtue? Much like faith can be misguided into a mere belief and therefore grows stronger or more complete through virtue, virtue can be mistaken as mere volunteerism and easily veer off track if it is not fortified with understanding of what motivates the virtuous life and what does or does not actually constitute virtuous living. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t just strengthen virtue, it will also strengthen our faith to know more about who Jesus was, what the bible and the church teaches and WHY I believe what I believe.…

How does self-control strengthen knowledge? We don’t gain knowledge overnight, and studying virtue and the faith is rarely fun. It takes discipline to develop that stronger knowledge. Come to think of it, self-control helps us develop knowledge, but is also directly beneficial to virtue and faith as well. Funny…

And how does endurance supplement self-control? That discipline and self-control doesn’t come any easier than the knowledge does, and it will take endurance to keep trying and develop the habits of self-control so that they become a part of our character. And you know what, endurance in my faith, virtue and knowledge is actually a really good thing too. I think I’m noticing a pattern…

What good is devotion to endurance? Devotion gives passion and perspective to our efforts. It’s that fuel that we need sometimes when we just don’t WANT to. All that endurance, self-control, virtue, knowledge and faith seems REALLY BORING or inconvenient sometimes. If I don’t have a sense of devotion, none of it will last long…

How does mutual affection fit in? It’s that emotional factor and interpersonal relationship with other Christians and the world at large that keeps us from becoming a selfish, greedy jerk who thinks that all of the above is “all about me”.

And “What’s love got to do with it?” It’s not an emotion (second-hand or otherwise). It’s a selfless allegiance of the heart, formed and solidified by the will. It’s a decision for the good of the other and it’s the fuel that makes the world go round. It’s the relationship that God IS. It’s how we were made, why we were made and what we were made for. If I don’t have love, I’m nothing (see 1Cor13).

When all is said and done, Peter is inviting us solidify our faith by making it a habitual pursuit of both mind and body, will and emotion. It has to be an integral part to everything that we do. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only formula that can make our whole life worthwhile.

AMDG

Faith and History

March 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A few years ago, I posted a blog on Faith and Science which elicited a very logical and detailed response from a reader of the opposite opinion. I appreciated his comments because he made them in a dignified and logical way and expressed what seem to be many people’s reservations about Christianity and religion in general these days.

The first thing that I noted though, was that he wasn’t really countering my discussion on faith and science. Instead, he was addressing a separate issue of faith and history. You see, science and religion are fields which seek truth about very different aspects of the same reality. Where science seeks to understand how the universe works and how to control it, religion seeks to explain the meaning of the universe and Who or What created and already controls it. Science deals more with concrete realities while religion handles the realities that we can’t put our hands on.

History is an interesting topic because it becomes something of a meeting point for the two fields. Science uses its concrete methodologies to determine realities of the past, and many religions claim a God who has actively participated in history. Christianity, more than any other religion (that I know of), lays itself on the line in the historical stage. As a Christian, I believe in a God who sent his son, Jesus of Nazareth, as human being to live, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. If those things did not historically happen, then my faith is false. What I have noticed though, is that the larger issue is that both faith and science have tended to overstep their bounds in trying to express their discoveries about reality. As I discussed in the original post, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, has a rap for the insistence by church leaders in various centuries that certain physical realities were revealed by God in the bible and therefore irrefutable, when God was simply using the terms and culture of the current society to express the reality of his love and faithfulness. Conversely, scientists who make discoveries or develop theories about physical realities have on occasion claimed that their work points to a reality that either has no place or no need for God. However, the philosophical implications of those statements are well beyond the expertise and field of a scientist.   When both of these flawed perspectives make their way into historical discussions, the process generally results in tainted religion, science, and history.

If you have some time, please read the blog response to my initial blog below as well as my follow-up and let me know what you think. I’m sure there is much more perspective to be added on both sides of the argument and I welcome the discussion…

Read more…

Christian Romance

June 19, 2011 1 comment

I read this a while back and it was an important influence for the time that I took discerning my vocation. I think it’s a message that most Christians can benefit from hearing because we don’t usually look at romance in this light. let me know what you think: Read more…

Apostolic Succession

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Peter encouraged the early followers to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”(1peter3:15). I think most Christians have one specific thing that does root us in our faith. When doubts arise in our hearts there is one thing that we remember and know. Even though we may not understand it all, we know this one part is true and so the rest must be true too. For some it’s the historicity of the resurrection, for some it’s our definitive need for a savior, still others fall back on some specific encounter they had with God. I believe God grants most, if not all of us, at least one strong foothold by which to persevere in faith when we are struggling with disbelief or confusion. If you have not found such a stronghold, pray that you do, I will pray with you…

I think most sincere Catholics further have some aspect within the Church that secures their faith and identity as members of the Universal Church. It may be the validity of a certain teaching or practice unique to Catholicism, a personal experience, or any number of other things. In my limited time on this earth, God has blessed me with more faith building experiences and insights than I could have ever reasonably asked for, but my sincerest security has always been with apostolic succession – the fact that Christ founded his church on the rock of Peter and gave his authority to his apostles who specifically appointed men to take on their roles, assume their authority and carry the keys that were handed down to them by Christ. These successors are today’s Roman Catholic clergy. And to this day, they retain the power that Christ gave his apostles to forgive sins, teach with authority, confer the Holy Spirit, and offer the sacrifice of His true body and blood. Read more…

Faith and Science

June 18, 2011 3 comments

The other night I was talking with one of my friends about the role that our faith has in our pursuit of scientific truth. She was concerned because of a fairly common notion these days that intellectual evaluation of the world leads people to loose their faith. It’s a misconception that scientists and Christians alike have fallen prey to over the last few centuries. The basic idea behind that philosophy is that religion is for the ignorant. That it can’t withstand intellectual scrutiny and has no place in the mind of a person who wishes to understand how the world really works. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Read more…