The process of interaction between the religion and politics takes place in every society, however the degree to which theses phenomena influence each other are differed. In the context of the interaction of religion and politics the US is a unique country. No place in the world has the same combination of religious and political components. By all means the nation in the US by far more religious than any other population of an industrial developed country. The religiosity in the society has deep roots, as practically all the spheres of human activities (culture, politics, family and etc) are formed on the basis of human behavior and the state as a form of coordination of many aspects of such behavior has many points of intersections with religion. Naturally, the process of interaction of religion and politics is many-sided, as far those two conceptions are complex social formations in their essence. Therefore from all diversities of the contacts between religion and politics, the perspectives of such engagement are essential to analyze. This paper analyzes one of the approaches of Christian political engagement, which is the Catholic social perspective, based on the book “Church, State and Public Justice” by Paul Charles Kemeny, Clarke E. Cochran, Derek H. Davis, Ronald J. Sider, and Corwin Smidt. This analysis examines this perspective in terms of faithfulness to Biblical passages that address political responsibility.
Overview of the perspective
In presenting the Catholic perspective in “Church, State and Public Justice”, Clarke E. Cochran includes such approach in which the relation of the Church and the state can be described as “tense”. The main idea of his arguments lies through the fact that the limits of such relation are initially vague. This statement is related to the many challenges that the political world is presenting. “Arguments and differences of opinion on the church-state border reflect the reality that borders are essentially messy; they do not lend themselves to permanent, tidy solutions.” While defining the relation as unstable, the author defined four aspects in which the church will react to many issues that happen in the world related to politics, culture and society. These aspects are summarized as following:
- Cooperation – the collaboration between the Church and the state in government programs.
- Challenge – A form of protest directed toward the state on issues of divergence through demonstrations or agitation.
- Competition – Establishing institutions parallel to that of the state that compete with it in several directions such as the educational.
- Transcendence – a distance between the Church and the state on issues are beyond the state competency, where it remains in neutral to the Church’s activities.
In implementing these approaches the Church maintains flexibility in covering a wide variety of issues and accordingly a set of options “which gives Catholic social doctrine unique power and flexibility.”
Further, the author describes the mission of the Church and the State according to the Catholic Doctrine, where it shows the various features of these missions dividing missions of each as a relation to the Christian principles. In this division the purpose of the state and the Church are put in the context of the bible as to show the points of agreements and divergence. This division at the same time outlined that the Church has always remained a public institution, thus stating that “the Church has no choice but to be related to the state, to the economy, and to society and culture. The choices involve how to relate to them.”
In conclusion of this perspective the author stated that the tension between the Church and the state is a healthy and necessary, where the authorities of both institutions should handle different direction without intersections. These intersections can be eliminated in handling different duties, where “The Church should not have the authority to write laws that govern the secular lives of citizens; the state must not have the authority to adjudicate proper forms of worship.” However, as these directions are not always perfectly followed, the “healthy” tension mentioned should not be eliminated, where both institutions will coexist in a form of two-sided control scheme. This control scheme is shown in the book as an example of the implementation of the Catholic’s perspective aspects in the Health Care. This example showed the practical approach to implement the collaboration, challenge, competition and transcendence.
The perspective presented by the author can be analyzed based on the aspects the Catholic doctrine presents as a view of integration of religion and politics. If relating these aspects to the Bible, not all aspects are totally integrated. For example the aspect of challenge, as presented as a form of a protest, even in a passive mean, can be translated as a rebel. “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom. 13:2 New International version) The aspects of cooperation and competition do not require such confrontation with the state, which is defined as the authority; however, when analyzing the disagreements they can be related to the second passage. “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.” (Rom. 13:3 New International version) For a position such as protests against wars, do the previous passage can related to the “rulers who do wrong”? To answer such a question, the separation of the state and the Church is seems more logical as some political decisions cannot be based on the Catholic doctrines. This fact can be explained in the situation analyzed in “Church, State and Public Justice” as the problem of the absence of “privileged zone of innocence into which one can retreat to avoid participation in what we perceive to be the evils of the state.” This problem shows that the tension stated in the book between the Church and the state is not so healthy after all. The degree of involvement of Christians in politics based on “Christian Perspectives on Politics” by J. P. Wogaman is divided into five groups:
- Christian Pacifist and Anarchist Perspectives.
- Christian Liberationist Perspectives.
- Neo-conservative Christian Perspectives.
- Evangelical Perspectives: Right and Left.
- Mainstream Liberal Christian Perspectives.
If relating those two books the Catholic perspective is similar to the Mainstream Liberal Christian Perspectives, who can be described as theological liberals who believe that “Biblical thought is quite aware of oppressive forces against which the government must act” (Philip Wogaman J, Christian Perspectives on Politics, p.135).
With the exception of the aspect of “challenge” the Catholic perspective are the mainstream liberals who have a good view on the government and act according to the Bible “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right “(Peter 2:13-14 New International Version).
In such away the intersection of the Church and the state is witnessed in the social beginnings, where the Catholic doctrines and the Law are mostly coincided and go in one direction which is “serving humanity”. In other issues where the implementation of the Catholic doctrine requires changes in the law and the situation is more political than social, the state and the Church will go in different directions and the differences in the reactions can be witnessed through the different interpretations of the Bible.
In summary, as classified by the term “mainstream”, the religion for the mainstream Christians became an external attribute, some sort of a symbol, behind which social representations of morality, values and virtues are concealed. In implementing all the religious doctrines in the government, the state will lose its political image which often is related to terms far from being religious such as economy, finances and foreign interests. In that sense following the Bible is the only healthy way to remain a good Christian and a good citizen.
Kemeny, Paul Charles, Clarke Cochran, E, Derek Davis, H., Ronald Sider, J., and Smidt Corwin. Church, State and Public Justice. N.P.: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Wogaman, Philip, J. Christian Perspectives on Politics. N.p.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Harter, David Louis. “Christian Political Perspective.” Harvest Christian Center. 2008. Web.
BibleGateway. Bible. 2008. Web.