This is a subject that is fraught with many divisive opinions, so I begin this reflection with caution and a fair degree of trepidation.
One can approach this subject theologically in one of two ways: The first way is to say that all human laws must be reflective of Divine Law. So a human political constitution must not in any way deviate from what God has revealed. What this presupposes is that God has left a predetermined model that all human law must follow.
The second approach is to keep religion and politics separate for their own mutual protection. This does not mean that religious persons in the state cannot use the insights and teachings of their faith to help build up the nation. This is the only way forward when there is a varied and diverse religious presence in the nation.
The first approach seems to be favored by nations in the Middle East. With the attempt to enshrine Sharia Law, law that is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, as well as democratic principles, many Muslim-majority nations have had to grapple with issues of equality. Even Israel, with its desire to see itself as a ‘Jewish State’, struggles with this issue.
The second approach is that of the separation of Church and State, pioneered by the United States and now being approved of by many nations. This can be frustrating to religious members of these countries at times who want to steer the nation according to what they see as God-given principles in an environment where many do not share those ideas. A good example is the issue of abortion. This issue is not a religious issue alone, but is a universal human issue. So the Church has to struggle to persuade others not of our faith of the wisdom of being pro-life. The emphasis is on the word ‘persuade’. This approach gives voice to people of faith while ensuring
equality under the law.
As a priest and pastor, I have to steer clear of politics by not running for office and not telling people who to vote for. But I am duty bound by my faith to preach the teaching of Christ and of His Church which have, of course, political consequences. I can say that it is the teaching of the Church that life begins at conception and that we have a responsibility to protect life at all its stages. But I cannot instruct people on whom to vote for, even if certain candidates make this position their platform. That is up to them and their consciences.
That is why I never reveal who I vote for, lest the hearer feel compelled to vote as I vote.
There is, of course, another approach to faith and politics: the position that religion has no rights or protection under the law and that the state can do whatever it wants without interference. Such is the atheistic government of China. In this kind of regime, you cannot even preach about morality if it conflicts with the state.
Since the United States is a prime example of the second model, I wish to say a little about the intersection of religion and the state as we see it in our nation.
The Church has the right to speak its truth in the public square. As long as it does not ally itself with any one party, then the government cannot do anything against Her. In fact, the government must protect the free choice of the religious citizen and what their conscience dictates to them. This is important, lest anyone feel compelled to do anything against their conscience. We have a long tradition of this ‘conscientious objection’ status beginning with the Quakers who were against war.
However, there is always the danger of trying to silence religion and making it seem that religion is holding us back in the supposed ‘progress’ of humanity. The Church will always be accused of political insubordination and being against human rights when She insists on parts of Her tradition that in that era fall into disfavor. This has happened in our day in the area of sexuality. The Church has been accused of being out-of step with ‘progress’ in this area. But the truth is that She has the theological antidote for that which is poisoning the spiritual health of our nation. Her longstanding teaching in sexual issues is the prerequisite for a genuine humanism that is the groundwork for a proper understanding of the true dignity of the human person.
In summary, the best we can do to weather the storm of uncertainties of our current social climate is to keep our Faith in Christ as the bedrock of our lives. No one can take that away from us, no matter the status of religion and politics in the world.