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On Faith: An obligation to live and speak the truth

January 27, 2012|By Msgr. Wilbur Davis

Years ago, while I was visiting a South American city's cathedral at a time when the country was under a brutal military regime, I overheard a tour guide complaining to his tour group that there were members of the clergy preaching politics.

This was not the role of the church, he emphasized.

"People don't come to church to hear politics," was the view he expressed. "The church should stick to religious matters."

Would you want to belong to a church that was content to sing hymns while people nearby were being tortured? Could you believe in a God who does not want the churches to confront systems that denigrate human dignity?

There are those who want the churches to be mute, arguing that "the wall of separation between church and state" requires this, even adding their own codicil, "as is found in the Constitution."

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Of course, this is nowhere in the Constitution nor in law.

The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This Constitutional amendment protects the churches from government intrusion, but it does not place the same limitation on the churches. Clearly, there are zones into which the churches should not enter; and, it must be confessed, churches have violated this rubric.

Church communities are morally obliged to both live and speak the truth, welcomed or opposed, while taking care to speak to the larger diverse community as thoughtful teachers, not as attacking vehicles.

The "wall of separation" image given by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 address to the Danbury Baptist Assn. is a helpful tutor — but nothing more. It tells both government and churches to practice neither advocacy nor hostility toward the other.

For example, it is inappropriate for a church to advance or impede the candidacy of one seeking public office. When I was a pastor, there were members of my own communion seeking endorsement for office.

Whether I approved or disapproved of them and their platforms, promotion or opposition would have been a violation of the distinct role of church and clergy. Conversely, there are church people who unfairly seek to stigmatize a candidate because of a single policy they oppose.

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