Saturday, 9 June 2007

Church and State

The relationship between the Church and the state is one that must concern us greatly, as citizens and as Christians. Part of the reason we started Progression was the concern that despite what we may believe, we do not have the right to legislate what we consider "righteousness" on others who may not adhere to our own brand of morality.

This issue of the church's place in politics was front and centre last week after Cardinal George Pell's comments to Catholic MP's who voted in favour of stem cell research.

Here is an extract from the Catholic News:
"Catholic politicians in NSW, including Premier Morris Iemma, say they will vote for controversial stem cell legislation despite a warning by Cardinal George Pell that they risk being barred from communion. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Mr Iemma and his deputy, John Watkins, will defy the church's warnings that they face "consequences" in their religious lives to support a bill to expand stem cell research in NSW. Sydney Cardinal Pell said Catholic MPs would need to think seriously about taking Holy Communion, the sacrament central to Catholic life, if they voted for therapeutic cloning. Mr Iemma and Mr Watkins yesterday confirmed they would back the bill, while the Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli, another practising Catholic, said he would support the bill, adding "I would like to see them try and stop me [taking Holy Communion]." Mr Piccoli said: "The cardinal's comments are unacceptable. We don't accept that Muslims should influence politics, so I don't see why Catholics should." "I'm going to vote for it," Mr Piccoli told The Australian. "Muslims are berated for trying to bring religion into politics, so I'm not going to be accused of the same thing. "This is a decision for my conscience, and what is in the best interests of my electorate." A spokesman for Mr Iemma said the Premier would continue to take Holy Communion despite Cardinal Pell's warning."

Certainly, the church must speak out on ethical issues - I don't think any of us would doubt that. But the question of which issue and how this is achieved, is an interesting question. Apart from the obvious controversy about stem cell research, did Cardinal Pell have the right to make it personal for the MPs in question?

I'd be interested in your opinions.


2BarRiff said...

Some things kicking around in my head:

1. "Religion out of politics". I see the stem cell debate as a moral, rather than political or religious debate. You, me, the Catholics or whoever are quite rightly able to comment.

2. If someone is a member of a church, doesn't it follow that they would submit themselves to the church's teachings and authority? Therefore, it follows logically, that if a member does something against the church's teaching or authority then there will be 'consequences' (whatever they may be).

3. Separation of church and state. Ah yes. Just because church isn't saying what a politician wants, it's a 'church vs state' issue.

4. Would a politician ever complain about a 'church vs state' issue if the state was trying to gain too much influence in the church?

5. I agree wholeheartedly with the first paragraph. In my dusty recollection of church history, Christianity suffered it's falls when it became too closely involved in politics and the mainstream.

Emma said...

2 barriff a thought on what you said about submitting to the church's authority...I think we have greatly misunderstood the concept of "submission" and I include myself in this beacuse for years I submitted to a church's teachings even when I believed they were's fair enough that a church is upfront about a particular belief, but I don't think anyone has the right to deny someone communion based on a difference of opinion. I think if someone was a minister in that church then fair enough he might have to "toe the party line" but the church is kidding itself if it thinks it can control what people think to such an extreme extent.

rajane said...

I think that Cardinal Pell has gone out on a dangerous limb here. The Catholic Church (or any other) should definitely speak out and be heard on issues that effect society - I think that there are any number of difficult issues to be considered with stem cell research. I think it would be a problem if the church had nothing to say about the issue.

I also think it's a problem to deny communion to someone for his/her opinion. I think we know so little of God and His ... bigness; how can we assume to know His opinion on each of the issues that keep people in or out of heaven, in or out of His 'good books'?

The longer I've been a Christian the more I've grown to love Jesus. I've grown to know how faithful He is to us, and how He is grace and He is love. I have become more confused on these doctrinal/theological issues. I think the simple gospel message is about the only really thing we have the capacity to fully understand.

It's imperative that we discuss these questions of morality and ethics. But I think Christians, and most definitely, Cardinal Pell, need to realise that we don't stand in God's shoes (or in His head) and understand all of His views on these questions.

I think that most Christians want things to be black and white, and clear, and easy. But I just don't think that they were ever supposed to be.