Sunday, October 19, 2008

How Christendom Should Work

Historical Christendom was disasterous in many ways for the Gospel in that it tended to take away the freedom of individuals to respond to God's grace by an act of the will as it is enlightened by love. The Church sought too much political power and resorted to violence too easily. Minorities did not have religious freedom. There was persecution of the Jews instead of respect for the chosen people of God.

But one cannot be evangelical and regret the conversion of so many to Christ and it is an historical fact that whole nations did become Christian. Given the evangelistic success of the Chruch's mission, what form should the society have taken after that point? How should Christendom have developed differently? What should be the relationship between Church and State? How should a Christian majority treat a non-Christian minority? These are not merely theoretical or historical questions, but practical and contemporary ones. A short blog post is not the place to answer such questions in anything like an adequate way. However, a few thoughts to stimulate further reflection are in order. Here are 10 principles.

1. Christians need to behave as Christians 24/7, which means that they do not leave their faith behind when they enter political office or start teaching in the public school system. Christians are to be guided by their deepest religious convictions at all times.

2. Christians need the guidance of a comprehensive body of social doctrine that is: a) rooted in Scripture and faithful Tradition, b) flexible enough to be applicable in a wide variety of cultures and political situations and c) comprehensive in scope, but not merely a rationalistic system. We have this is Catholic Social Doctrine and we Evangelicals need to discover it and make it our own.

3. There must be separate, though complementary, roles for the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. They must be separate and must focus on their own areas of expertise. The Church's role is to instruct Christians on what is necessary for salvation and for the flourishing of society. The State's role is to govern the area of the secular and to do so in such a way as to be responsive to all the citizens of the State, Christian and other. The idea of the separation of Church and State should protect the freedom of the Church as much as the freedom of unbelievers. The State should not attempt to prevent Christians from living out the Gospel and when it does it becomes demonic and loses legitimacy.

4. There is such a thing as right and wrong because of the reality of the moral order inscribed in the universe by God. This is the minimum that a State must accept in order for it to guarantee peace and order without tyranny and oppression. Any State that does not accept the existence of a moral order is a pseudo-State - really a gang of thugs which has siezed power - and deserves only opposition and resistence from the Church. The twentieth century saw more than its share of such regimes.

5. The natural law is accessible to all who are open to truth, whether Christian or not. For the Church to argue for laws protecting the vulnerable or for the importance of the family from the natural law is not to impose anything foreign on non-Christians because as rational beings the truth of the natural law is accessible to them. Of course, there is always the possibility that because of sin a person or group may reject the natural law. That is no excuse to act as if it were not prefectly obvious from nature itself that, for example, murder is always wrong.

6. The Church must be careful not to legislate belief or coerce anyone into outward confromity to Christianity. God wills that man love Him freely and no amount of coercion can produce free assent to God's truth or a sincere love for God.

7. The Church may legitimately urge the government, however, to protect the weak and vulnerable by legislation. This is the proper role of government. Where Christians exist in sufficient numbers, the government may go further than where the Church is a minority in legislating morality. But the limit implied in #6 above must always be respected.

8. The Church must accompany persuasion and political actions (like voting) with a lived witness of love toward those who are weak, oppressed and neglected. The social witness of the Church must be both in word and deed and must always point the way by action, rather than merely calling on government to do something the Church is unwilling to do.

9. The Church qua Church should be committed to democracy in the sense of political freedom for all citizens. But the Church must be critical of democracy in the sense of licence to do whatever one's base desires incline one to do at that moment. In other words, the ideal is political accompanied by personal moral restraint. The goverment provides the former; the Church's mission is to instill the latter.

10. The family precedes the State and is not subject to the control of the State. People have the right to marry, found a family, raise children as they see fit and to be free from excessive State interference. Excessive State interference is any kind of law, regulation or intrusion that goes beyond protecting the literal physical life and health of children.

To go beyond these basics, we need to go into Catholic social doctrine, which I hope to do in future posts.


Paul said...

Personally, I think it amounts to what should be termed ethics or morality. Everyone, Christian and non-Christian, who is a positive person wanting the good of his or her nation and society wants ethical leaders.

What people don't want are other people's political opinions foisted on them under the guise of supposedly being God's will. The last eight years have shown what kind of results that can bring.

Craig Carter said...

Is there not a possible contradiction between wanting ethical leaders and having "other people's opinions foisted on them"?

Whenever a political leader stands for any moral position, those who disagree call it having "other people's political opinions foisted on them." When the Civil Rights Bill was signed many leaders in the South saw it as Northern political and moral opinion foisted on them.

I don't think that everyone wants ethical leaders. I think that most contemporary Westerners want leaders who will provide wealth, liesure, and opportunity for pleasure. Ethics just gets in the way of hedonism. So it is unrealistic to think that every law will be approved by every persson every time.

BTW, George Bush did not invade Iraq in the name of Christinity. He did in the name of the ideals of the French and American Revolutions - the spread of democracy, freedom and Enlightenment ideology.