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Faith and Culture

Deacon Keith A Fournier
( c ) Third Millennium, LLC

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"Do not cause God to lose His coin among you." St. Augustine

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The Fall election campaigns will soon be upon us in full throttle. Having served as an advisor in a presidential campaign last time around, I understand the planned momentum that has already begun. So much of it is orchestrated, building in momentum as the primaries begin. The consultants are "advising", the pollsters are pontificating, the strategists strategizing.

This coming election cycle bears serious examination by Catholics, other Christians, and all people of faith and good will. Among the questions we should ponder is an ancient one. As citizens of two kingdoms, what is our role in the temporal one and how do we fulfill it?

Our involvement as Catholic Christians in the entire political process was questioned during the last election cycle. In particular, many of the reports questioned how we participated, why we participated, and what we accomplished (or didn't accomplish). Additionally, the enigmatic and elusive concept of a "Catholic Vote" became endless fodder for the pundits and the prognosticators who fill the Sunday Morning talk shows. It will once again, by both major parties.

I still remember feeling that it was rather ironic (or providential) that the Gospel reading for the Catholic Liturgy on "Super Tuesday" in the last Presidential campaign was the classical passage historically used to explain Christian citizenship. (Mark 12:13-17) It contains the oft-quoted line "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." It actually reveals within its disarming simplicity a fundamental truth that we always need to consider as citizens of two kingdoms. The struggle between Caesar and Christ is a metaphor for our own unique vocational mission in the political order.

The challenge of both understanding and applying this passage has plagued us for centuries. It is particularly important this year, given the challenges we face as Christians in a contemporary American culture that has lost its moral foundation. The recent Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v Texas, eroding, as it will, the foundation for the family as the first vital cell of society, now takes its place in the hall of shame with its cousin, Roe v Wade.

The "inalienable right to life," enshrined by the American founders in the "Declaration of Independence" has become a victim of a counterfeit notion of freedom, a "freedom" to do whatever one chooses, including the taking of innocent pre-born human life in the womb. This is now called a "choice." In fact, this "right" to choose to do whatever one wants, is worshipped at the altar of some versions of political freedom and has birthed a political strategy.


Now, also hidden in the same "penumbra" of privacy", the new arbiters of what constitutes "freedom" (un-elected judges) have discovered another "right" that certainly was not within the American founders' notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One more "freedom" has gone too far in a culture rapidly substituting license for liberty. The language of the Lawrence opinion, though feigning to be "narrow" in application, tracks the trajectory of Roe and will lead to more carefully orchestrated cases and legislative initiatives all geared toward refashioning the very definition of family.

The truth is that some "choices," even if temporarily "legal," (like the taking of innocent unborn life in the first home of the whole human race, the womb) are simply wrong! This counterfeit understanding of "freedom" as a raw power over those who are vulnerable or have no voice or defense is a far cry from the concept of "ordered liberty" which informed our Western tradition. Similarly, giving legal equivalency to homosexual relationships is simply an effort to undermine the family and portends poorly for our future as a truly free people.

It is the Christian conviction that authentic human freedom entails personal responsibility for others - particularly the weak, poor and vulnerable. The Christian understanding of freedom requires as well that it be exercised within a moral constitution precisely because this exercise must always be bounded by objective moral truth. It carries with its exercise, the obligation to do the good and to promote the common good. It entails an obligation of solidarity - we simply are our brothers' keepers--even when their cry cannot be heard. Our neighbor, no matter how small, must be treated as another self.

Though there are many issues that involve the exercise of prudential judgment in the arena of what is called the "political", issues on which we as Christians can (and do) disagree, we do share certain common bedrock convictions. Chief among these is a respect for the dignity of every human life, the primacy of the family, what should constitute authentic human freedom and our obligation to and solidarity with the poor, the needy and the vulnerable. These are not changeable political positions which can "evolve" as a culture (or its Courts) throws off restraint and substitutes license for liberty.

These are pillars of participation, entry points for our social and political efforts. They also form the foundation of an authentic, faithful Christian worldview. They have done so for over two millennia. They provide us with a "hermeneutic," a lens, through which we should inform and direct our political participation in order to promote the common good.

These issues are neither "left" nor "right," (whatever those terms have come to mean in the ever shifting sands of political jargon) , nor, are they simply "religious" issues. These are human issues! They involve basic human rights and truths that have been written on the human heart, revealed through the natural law.

Our unwillingness to compromise on these bedrock social foundations will be denigrated once again this Fall, as we enter into the exercise of our faithful citizenship. We will be derided. However, this must not deter us in our efforts to live as citizens of two kingdoms.

We must remember the prophetic dimension of the Christian vocation. We are not in the society simply to "protect" ourselves but rather to carry forward in time the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. Our convictions concerning the dignity of life, primacy of family, authentic freedom and solidarity, are true and right for all men and women. They promote the common good and provide a framework for all human flourishing. They are not simply "religious" positions.

We Christians are here, to use the Biblical terms, as "salt," "leaven," or as an early Christian manuscript expressed, to be the "soul of the world." We have a social mission which we must not abdicate for the good of the world.

We should be careful and not identify our faith with any particular political party. Though understandably we choose to identify with parties in order to leverage our impact on the culture, our first identification must always be with the Lord and His Church.

We must remain focused and insist on the fundamental issues, informed by our faith, as promoting the common good of all men and women, in spite of the derision and the pressure that will inevitably come from those who will try to marginalize us and imply that we are somehow "forcing our views" on others. Remember, these positions are not "our views".

Our testimony and our participation in the middle of the temporal order, the dominion of "Caesar," must be as both exemplary citizens and faithful Christians. We are called, in the words of Pope John Paul II, to "infuse into temporal realities the sap of the faith of Christ."

As a Catholic Christian, long active in political and public policy issues, I know that there currently is no discernible "Catholic vote." Efforts to "use" Catholics in campaigns have been both well intended (in some instances) and manipulative and disingenuous in others. I am not sure which will characterize the next campaign. It is still too early.

However, there are issues upon which Catholic Christians (at least those who are faithful to the "Magisterium" - the teaching office- of the Catholic Church) cannot compromise on and upon which we are joined to other Christians, other people of faith, and people of good will. This connection constitutes a kind of "hierarchy of values". It is also beginning to form an emerging alliance that the political pundits simply do not understand.

It is in helping to identify these that I propose that we use what I have long called the "four pillars of participation"; life, family, authentic freedom and solidarity with the poor and needy. Reflecting on these and using them as a framework of evaluating our political participation, can help to lead us to the policy issues around which Catholics (and other Christians) can be organized politically. They will help us to discern a hierarchy of values in our political participation.

The inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, at every age and stage, must become the polestar of public policy because it is the first right and the first freedom of every single human being, the one upon which every other right is dependent. We must become what I call "whole life/ pro-life". Our position on the right to life is not "single issue" politics. Rather it forms a framework of freedom.

The indissolubility of marriage and the role of the family as the first vital cell of human society is similarly essential for any truly free society. The family is not an optional or changeable social structure. It is the first school, church, economy, hospital, and government--the first mediating institution of any just social order. It simply must not be redefined or held hostage to misguided notions of social engineering. Nor can faithful Catholics, indeed faithful Christians of any community, compromise on this building block of a truly free society.


The idea that there is any room for divergence among Christians on these first two positions is a modern aberration, when considered in the 2,000-year history of Christianity.

Understanding that freedom is both a freedom from unjust governmental intrusion as well as a freedom for responsible living and that we have an obligation to the poor are also beyond dispute. Working out the application of these in public policy initiatives, requires prudence and can lead to differences.

For example, how we understand the role of government (outside of self-government and the government in the home) should flow from our understanding and application of certain ordering principles found in classical Christian social teaching, such as the principle of subsidiarity (which holds that governing is best done at the smallest level, closest to the governed) and the obligation of human solidarity (which holds that we have an obligation to our neighbor, and owe a "preference" in love to the poor).


There is room for divergent understandings and applications in applying these principles to policy initiatives. However, we cannot follow the pied pipers of libertarianism or collectivism. In this sense, a Catholic (indeed any faithful Christian) could be called a "liberal" or a "conservative", as these terms have been applied to these areas of political and policy concern in our contemporary political climate.

I am often called a "conservative" because I am a proponent of smaller government, believing that the first government is the family and that all other government is best when it is closer to those being governed.

I am passionate about these convictions. However, I realize that there is a hierarchy of importance in our collective efforts to infuse the political process with the values informed by faith. I understand that good and faithful Catholics (and other Christians) can and do disagree on some of these issues.

For example, I have worked alongside of "liberals" (as the term is applied to the size of government and the right place of federal involvement in social programs) in the paramount task of defending of innocent human life. That is because the teaching of the Catholic Church on that issue is absolutely crystal clear. Any Catholic elected officials who say (or act) otherwise are simply being unfaithful. One simply cannot be a faithful Catholic (or for that matter a faithful Christian of any sort) and be anything but pro-life.

As Christians, we must avoid the equal dangers of an apolitical retreat from political participation or, at the other end, any new form of political zealotry on issues of prudential judgment. We must not equate political party or label with fidelity to our Baptism. However, even more importantly, we MUST remember what lies at the heart of our baptismal vocation, we are sent into "all the world" as missionaries. Our prayer and our faithful Christian witness is always our first priority in every nation, every culture and every age.

In the words of that great Christian hero, St. Augustine, "Caesar looks for his own likeness, give it to him. God looks for His own likeness: give it back to Him. Do not cause God to lose His coin among you."

Being good Christians does not conflict with and indeed should lead to being good citizens. We must participate in the political process for many reasons, but most importantly, because we are called to influence the temporal with the values of the eternal.

We must build a social environment that respects and gives freedom to the Church in her redemptive and humanizing mission. We must do all that we can to make every culture within which we live an environment worthy of the human person created in the Image of God. However, we are first the citizens of a kingdom that is to come and, in the words of the Sacred Scripture, "...we have here no lasting city."

Our prayer and our prophetic witness have a greater capacity to effect change, in human hearts and entire nations, than any political action. However, we are called into the world to carry forward in time the redemptive mission of the Lord.

Prayer proceeds to action.

We are first, through our Baptism, members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are, to use a phrase of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, to be in the world a "seed" of the Kingdom of God. We have been spread in the fields of this world in order to bear fruit for that Kingdom which is both in our midst and still to come.

One of those fields, one that is now so ripe for harvest, is the political arena. As Christians, let us walk forward, recognizing whose Image we bear, and not cause "God to lose His coin among us."

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Deacon Keith Fournier is a constitutional lawyer and a deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. Along with his law degree, he is a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and Franciscan University. He serves as the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online and the President of the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation."

Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org

Contact

Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580

Email

keithfournier@cox.net

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