Church, State and Kingdom

November 10, 2012

in Some Things to Think About

At the risk of igniting an explosion of arguments, I’d like to comment on two events of the past week that graphically illustrate the distinction between the Christian view of the world and other (secular) views. These events are the US Election and The NSW Commission of Inquiry into ‘alleged paedophile priests in the Hunter region.’ [Click here to read about the Commission in the Sydney Morning Herald.]

The US Election

President Obama was reelected in part because his campaign managers successfully portrayed Mitt Romney, among other things, as being captive to the far right wing of the Republican Party — the so-called “Christian Right.” In fact, if one were to do a word association test in America, I predict the vast majority of people would respond to “Christian” as “extreme, intolerant, etc.” I suspect many Christians would be proud of this dubious distinction, perhaps saying, “We are different and we are here to change the world! If other people don’t like that, too bad!” But it’s pretty hard to win elections (and get the legal right to change things in a democratic society) when you dismiss other people as “needing to change their way of thinking to our way.” At the very least, such attitudes don’t work for any wanabe politician.

The NSW Commission of Inquiry

It’s obvious that the church is not above the law. It’s obvious that when a respected policeman says that the church is involved in a “cover-up” of paedophilia, the NSW Premier must act. The terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry is where there are sticky points. For example, one policeman called for the ouster of Cardinal Pell. If the inquiry were to reveal that Cardinal Pell was involved in a cover-up (which I personally doubt was the case), the voters of NSW have no legal way to remove him from office. If he violated a civil law, for example speeding in a car or killing someone, he could be prosecuted by civil authorities. But it’s much murkier whether failing to carry out the duties as an Archbishop could be tried in a civil court. The State does not have jurisdiction over the Church, except in very limited circumstances. That is the way our system of laws has been set up. There is agreement in Australia and the US that the State and Church should be separate, each largely responsibile for their own governance.

What can Christians learn from these events?

To me the lesson is that Christians need to make a distinction between the reality of the world (State and to some extent Church) and the reality of the mystical Kingdom of God (Church when it is acting as Jesus’ Change Agent in the world). When we are acting as citizens of the State we should be as “wise as foxes.” We should get elected and do our best to govern for all people, paying special attention to the poor and marginalized, the sick and imprisoned, etc. We need to appeal to everyone and not judge them to get elected. Making silly statements about complex issues like rape and abortion is very poor politics!

But we are also citizens of the Kingdom, answering to a higher power. The grace of God is active in every human being, whether they are Christian or not. Jesus stated that very plainly — “I did not come to judge the world but to save it.” [John 12:47] So, as citizens of the Kingdom, we follow Jesus’ example. Save not judge. And save does not mean convert! It means to have compassion. “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice O earth; burst into song O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” [Isaiah 49:13]  When people do a wrod associatio  test, they should be joyful because a Chistian represents divine compassion and the really good news.

We spend too much time “in church” and not enough time in the Kingdom, bringing compassion into the world.


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