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20 Dec 2013 | 4:44 pm
By Stan Friedman CHICAGO, IL (December 20, 2013) — Eschatology has nothing to do with Christians going to heaven but everything to do with heaven coming to earth and the current mission of the church, declared Jay Phelan, senior professor[…]Read more...
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If you know me at all you know how far I steer clear of partisan politics. My assumption is that followers of Jesus have always been, and are always going to be, at odds with the surrounding political culture. I also think that we need to be thoughtful about how we navigate these tricky waters. The values of the New Testament church could not have been more different than those of Imperial Rome, and yet both Peter and Paul not only counsel their readers to pray for the pagan emperor and his administration, but to submit themselves to their authority. It appears to me that there are a whole lot of Christians today (many of whom, ironically, would call themselves biblical literalists) who simply don’t believe what Paul says in Romans 13:1 & 2: that “the authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so bring judgment on themselves.”
Is Paul wrong here? Does he say what he says because he is naïve about governmental systems—because he has been brainwashed—because he has overestimated the virtues of Imperial Rome and underestimated its capacity for corruption and evil? I don’t think so. I believe he says what he says in order to keep Christians from getting sidetracked from what he knows to be the real issues of the faith—issues which he has dealt with at length in his Roman letter.
With this in mind, I want to say something about the present battle that is going on between Catholics (and others) and the Obama administration regarding mandated contraception coverage for Catholic institutions.
Let me begin by asking and answering three questions:
- Am I alarmed when the state gets mixed up in religious affairs? Yes!
- Am I concerned about the government telling us as a church what we can and cannot do—who we can and cannot hire—who we are required to marry? Absolutely!
- Would I like to be assured that Christian and other religious institutions will be free from invasive governmental regulations that contradict their foundational moral principles? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Because I am concerned about all of these things, I have recently signed a petition offered through the following website: www.manhattandeclaration.org , and, to the degree that you share my concerns about religious freedom, I would encourage you to do the same.
It’s a good thing for us to do what we can do to preserve religious liberty in this country, both for ourselves and for other religious groups. What we shouldn’t do is as Christians to be surprised when the powers that be don’t agree with us in moral and spiritual matters. That has always been the way it is. It’s not that Paul was naïve about Rome. It’s that we are naïve about our country and its real (as opposed to its romanticized) history.
As Christians we go on doing what God has called us to do, and not doing what God has forbidden us to do, irrespective of what Rome (or Washington) has to say about it. The simple fact is that no one can force us to do anything that violates our Christian conscience. The authorities can harass us, persecute us, put us into jail or even kill us. What we must not do is to concede to the authorities a power that they do not have, and yet that’s what I’m afraid we are doing sometimes. If Paul wasn’t worried about Nero’s ability to get in the way of the good news of Jesus (and he clearly wasn’t!), then I’m going to try to keep in proper perspective the latest episode in the 2000-year-long history of skirmishes between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.