24 August, 2010

Balancing the church and the state

During this election campaign, we have had some concern that the Salvos are getting too far into the political arena, and that they should remove themselves from the affairs of the state.

This statement concerns me. I understand the purpose of separation being one of protection of the people of the state; so that my values that flow from my beliefs are not unfairly placed on those who profess no such faith. I both understand and support this notion. However, if I am called to remove myself from the advocacy of those oppressed by the unjust structures inherent in capitalist democracies simply because I have both a faith, and an allegiance to a denomination, then I will have to disagree.

Some of our greatest political activists were Christians, and were active because of their faith. William Booth, Martin Luther King Jr, William Wilberforce, President Lincoln!! To be Christian does not make you silent on issues of government. The Salvation Army must speak for those who are not heard, and they must speak to the people in power. That includes business leaders, community leaders, and yes, politicians. The Salvation Army is apolitical, and will criticise any political party or position that does not represent the needs of the most disadvantaged. We will always be, unashamedly, involved in advocacy for those most in need, and that will always involve us in the political arena and at times in fierce political debate.

And let us remember, that to be political does not mean one needs to always be critical. Very often, those engaged in politics will come to The Salvation Army and seek the wisdom of our practical experience, or ask us how a policy could be shaped. We work together, regardless of the party, to better the justice outcomes for the most disadvantaged. However, when we find that a Party is taking us down a path we believe to be detrimental, we will speak out against the policy (not the party, or the person). Politics is all around us. To turn our back on it would be to turn our back on our people. The Salvation Army will continue to work apolitically until fair outcomes are a reality for all.

Here is a Papal encyclical on this topic that I found helpful, and hope you will too:

“Founded to build the kingdom of heaven on earth rather than to acquire temporal power, the Church openly avows that the two powers—Church and State—are distinct from one another; that each is supreme in its own sphere of competency. But since the Church does dwell among men, she has the duty "of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel." Sharing the noblest aspirations of men and suffering when she sees these aspirations not satisfied, she wishes to help them attain their full realization. So she offers man her distinctive contribution: a global perspective on man and human realities.” ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PAUL VI ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES, MARCH 26, 1967



Anonymous said...

wow - like your boldness.

i have many conversations with people over here in the west about where the salvo's stand in all of this politics. I have also had conversations about where I stand with party's (like the greens) who have policies that might not line up with christian values.

Have you found that people are troubled by any support to the Green's by christan's? And what would you say about it if so?

Enjoy reading your posts and appreciate your passion for social justice in Australia and around the world. Very thought provoking!

Anonymous said...

It's not at all clear that Abraham Lincoln was a man of faith in the sense that 21ast Christians sometimes suppose. He seems to have been more of a deist than a theist. In other words, he seems to have believed in Providence, or a creator, or something godly, but he was also quite skeptical about several significant aspects of Christian doctrine. It's may be more accurate to portray him as a religious skeptic than a man of faith.

Christians are not the only ones who want to adopt Lincoln as one of their own. Some atheists are inclined to portray Lincoln as an atheist, a position that is as inaccurate as the tendency of evangelicals to adopt him into what they perceive as they family of god.

It's probably most accurate to say that Lincoln believed in god, but he didn't believe in Christianity or any other organized religion.





Having said all that, I agree that Christians should participate in politics. Moreover, they will naturally take positions informed by their faith. They just need to remember that their faith should not dominate a secular society composed of people of many faiths, and people of no faith. Explicitly Christian dogma has no legitimate place in publicly funded schools, and public policy.

Anonymous said...

Worth bringing up Lord Melbourne (yes, the guy the capital of Victoria is named after). He was vehemently opposed to the religious commenting on political matters - because he was a slave trader, and was annoyed with Wilberforce and friends opposing his disgusting actions.
when people complain about religious people exercising our basic rights, worth checking *why*.

Anonymous said...

when people complain about religious people exercising our basic rights, worth checking *why*.

That's good advice with regard to anyone's position, religious or not. I'm not a believer (I wrote the previous comment re: Lincoln) and I have no objection to all members of a democratic society participating in the political arena. In fact, I welcome such participation. What all of us need to do, however, is articulate our concerns in terms of common ground held by many.

For example, when religious people cite their holy books as grounds for secular policy, people of other faiths (and no faith) are not persuaded. They/we don't care about arguments that only members of one particular faith tradition take seriously. In the same way that Christians don't hold arguments based on the Quran or the hadith as authoritative (I don't think any of you think adulterers should be stoned in this day and age, for example), non-Christians of other faiths and no faith don't hold biblical injunctions as authoritative simply because they're biblical. The thing is, Christian arguments often can be expressed in neutral language that appeals to values held by many. The same is true for members of other faiths, and even for non-believers like me.