The Freedom to Worship -- a Poor Substitute for the Freedom of Religion

On July 9, 2019, Public Discourse published an insightful article (which was apparently either earlier or later delivered as a speech) by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput entitled, “Building A Culture of Religious Freedom.” Early in the article, Archbishop Chaput made three points that deserve to be repeated, and so I will spend a little time in the next three blogposts reviewing and expanding upon what he wrote.



His first point begins with an undeniable fact of human existence: We’re mortal, we’re going to die. However, for those with faith in God (and here, Archbishop Chaput means the God of the Bible), this simple truth can compel Christians to live lives in a way that those who lack faith cannot comprehend.

When the non-religious world looks at death, it is rarely to consider the consequences of one’s actions in life. After all, from the worldly viewpoint there is no afterlife. As a result, as explained so elegantly in the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes, in the grand scheme of the universe both the best and worst acts of any person are necessarily fleeting and ultimately will be forgotten. (The roots of Nihilism are found in the denial of God.)

For those of us who are Christians, however, those who believe that we will continue to live even after our earthly bodies have died, believe that God cares what we do in this life has eternal significance because in God’s eyes everything has eternal significance.
For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:14
For Christians, this means exactly what it says. Every act, every word and every thought have significance beyond our limited 80 years on this planet, and so Christians have cause to live purposefully. Living purposefully means living a life of faith, hope and charity. As Archbishop Chaput states it:
For those of us who are Christians, the trinity of virtues we call faith, hope, and charity should shape everything we do, both privately and in our public lives. Faith in God gives us hope in eternal life. Hope casts out fear and enables us to trust in the future and to love. And the love of God and other human persons—the virtue of charity—is the animating spirit of all authentically Christian political action. By love, I don’t mean “love” in a sentimental or indulgent sense, the kind that offers “tolerance” as an alibi for inaction in the face of evil. I mean love in the biblical sense: love with a heart of courage, love determined to build justice in society and focused on the true good of the whole human person, body and soul.
Later, Archbishop Chaput caps this first point by connecting up belief with action – especially political action (emphasis added):
What all this means for our public life is this: Religious believers can live quite peacefully with the separation of Church and state, so long as the arrangement translates into real freedom of religion, and not the half-starved copy of the real thing called “freedom of worship.” We can never accept a separation of our religious faith and moral convictions from our public ministries or our political engagement. It’s impossible. And even trying to do so is evil because it forces us to live two different lives, worshiping God at home and in our churches; and worshiping the latest version of Caesar everywhere else. That turns our private convictions into lies we tell to ourselves and to each other.
This isn’t a unique viewpoint, but to many it is a foreign viewpoint because the religious clauses of the Constitution have been forced like a square peg into a round hole to say that there should be some type of strict separation between government and religious belief. That is not the viewpoint that the Founders held when they created the Constitution. The idea that the religious life was somehow a private life that was to be kept separate from one’s politics and political life would have been absurd to the Founding Fathers. They lived in a world where the pastors and preachers regularly preached on political matters, and where the pulpit had served as the place to rally the colonies to fight against the British heading into the Revolutionary War. As noted in an article by Dr. Catherine Millard entitled Preachers and Pulpits of the American Revolution:
One such example of Pulpit Preaching is that of Peter von Muhlenberg, known as “the fighting parson of the American Revolution.” As pastor of a German/English-speaking Episcopal Church in Woodstock, Virginia, he received a circular letter from George Washington to the Protestant Churches, requesting that regiments be raised for the Revolutionary Army. The following Sunday, Muhlenberg’s sermon was taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ending with an appeal to his congregation: “There is a time for war, and a time for peace; there is a time to pray and a time to fight!” Upon which he dramatically pulled open his clerical robes, revealing the uniform of a colonel in the Continental Army. His parishioners readily enrolled in the army – Muhlenberg’s regiment being complete. This great man of God served eight years’ military service for the then fledgling country.
But some forget this very obvious fact largely because they are bent on squelching the involvement of religious people in the public life.



As Archbishop Chaput so eloquently put it, to try to separate Christians’ religious beliefs from our public lives is to create a Christian who is not truly living his faith. It would be simpler to ask a circle to not be round then to ask a true Christian to leave his faith at home when acting in the public sphere.

This is not a call to a particular religious political position. I have my personal understanding of what it means to be a Christian in America when it comes to politics, and I know that not even my fellow Christians on the CADRE all agree with my political positions (although they should). But it is a call to all Christians to live out their Christian faith in all aspects of their lives – including the political sphere. Nor is it a call to return to days when preachers were preaching politics from the pulpit. (I would not stay at a church that did that because the call of the Gospel is to transform lives, not argue for or against every governmental policy.) But it is a call for Christians to understand that being a Christian is a total transformation of life, and that involves bringing your faith into the political arena -- but to do it (as Archbishop Chaput put it) having the "trinity of virtues we call faith, hope, and charity ... shape everything we do."

When God enters a Christian’s life, He does not claim to be the God who is to be recognized only when the believer is in church or in the privacy of his home, but God is to be recognized in all aspects of the believer’s life – personal, prayer, service and political. The Christian who holds otherwise serves a more impotent God than even the atheists serve.

Next time, I will move to Archbishop Chaput’s second point: Religious faith sincerely believed and humbly lived serves human dignity. It fosters virtue, not conflict. Therefore, it’s vital in building a humane society.

Comments

This comment has been removed by the author.
Brilliant article. Very moving,I agree completely. That's why I will coincident working in the resistance opposing the machinations of the anti-Christ who has currently taken over the white house.
BK said…
Good. Your faith should inform your politics even if you are wrong in this case.

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