Separation of Church and State

It’s election season! You can’t turn on the radio or the internet without being bombarded by political commercials or arguments. There is no secret that many of the issues that plague our society are based on morality, and that morality often pits Church against State in the courtroom and congress hall. What is our Church view on the state law and our religious law?

Some believe that as Christians we are obligated to obey the State, no matter what law is passed. This is based upon the misunderstanding of the Scriptures. Saint Paul commanded, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13.1-2) But you can’t stop with this verse. Here is the entire passage:

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13.1-7)

Read from a distance, the entire passage speaks about fighting evil, not blind obedience to authorities. The key to understanding our role as Orthodox Christians as members of society is two-fold. First we must live in a respectful manner, always committed to treating others with the Love of Christ. This is what it means when Saint Paul says, “Do what is good.” It is NEVER evil to love your neighbor. It is ALWAYS good to treat each other with respect even if we have differing opinions. Secondly, not that it less important, but equally important, as citizens of the United States we are obliged to participate in the civic process of determining laws and public morals that help to create a stable and good society.

There will be times when the State Law and the Church (or religious) Law are in conflict, such as with the recent debates on sexuality. When such issues arise, it is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ and members of His Holy Orthodox Church to be the voice of Christ in a Changing World. But being the voice of Christ does not mean forcing others into compliance. Each human being has been given the freedom to choose a life devoted to God or against Him. How can we be the voice of Christ?

We speak the truth in love, and allow each person to freely choose to obey Him or deny Him. But this NEVER means that we as Orthodox Christians have the obligation to follow a State Law that violates the Law of God. But neither does it mean we are free from the political consequences and social pressure to endorse the evil that some may convince the State is instead good. We must never forget that we too have the freedom given to us by God to follow Him or deny Him, and no State can take away THAT freedom.

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