Should Missouri lawmakers leave their faith at the doorstep?
Don HinklePathway Editor
January 20, 2004
State Rep. Tom Villa and other St. Louis area Democrats in the Missouri legislature find themselves in the midst of an intensifying church/state debate that could produce theological pyrotechnics and seismic repercussions as Missouri voters approach this year’s elections.
Villa and about 20 other St. Louis-area Democrats who are Roman Catholic may have to decide whether they will obey – with their votes — the pro-life decree of the incoming bishop for the St. Louis Archdiocese or face the Catholic Church’s ultimate disciplinary action – excommunication.
The matter came to the attention of Catholic lawmakers when it was learned Bishop Raymond Burke would become head of the St. Louis Archdiocese. Why all the fuss? Because Burke, now bishop of the Diocese in La Crosse , Wis. , has a policy that lawmakers in his diocese – both state and federal — cannot receive Holy Communion if they support abortion.
According to the decree, priests of parishes where such lawmakers attend Mass must withhold the sacrament from them until the lawmakers “publicly renounce” their support of abortion rights.
Burke told a reporter, according to a sweeping article on the subject published in the Jan. 17 issue of WORLD magazine, that if the politicians did not change their voting pattern, “I would simply have to ask them not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they would not be Catholics in good standing.” If they still refused to comply, the politicians could face excommunication, an action in which the offending persons are ritually thrown out of the church.
It is not known whether Burke intends to implement the policy in St. Louis , but it seems likely that he will since it was triggered by a Vatican edict issued last year titled “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” It states that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
Meanwhile, the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth has begun among some Catholic lawmakers in St. Louis – and it might spread to other lawmakers who have been “spared the rod” of church discipline for supporting immoral legislation. It is time for Christians – and particularly Southern Baptists in Missouri — to start holding their lawmakers, who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, accountable for their votes.
The reaction of some St. Louis Democrats, like Villa, to the possibility of Burke’s decree becoming policy in his diocese, was dispensed in typical secular fashion:
“I would have a problem with anybody telling me I can’t receive Communion,” Villa told the Associated Press. “Your faith is something that’s very personal.”
Missouri Southern Baptists, did you catch that?
If you are a public servant – and particularly one who professes Jesus as Lord — you are obligated to leave your faith out on the sidewalk before entering the “sacred” halls of government. Such a view is theological heresy, political hogwash and patriotic poppycock.
Theologically such action is in contrary to Scripture. As Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has pointed out, Christians are citizens of two realms – earthly and spiritual – and they have rights and responsibilities in both.
As citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), Christians are commanded to be obedient to the Lord Jesus (Ex. 20:1-5). Jesus’ order to “render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25) means giving ultimate allegiance ONLY to God.
Christians have the responsibility to be good citizens because government is ordained by God to punish and restrict evil-doers and to reward and protect moral behavior ( Rom. 13:1-7). Christians are to support government authorities unless they require a believer to support or do evil – like support abortion – in direct contradiction to their ultimate allegiance to their Holy God.
Christians are commanded by the Lord Jesus to be the “salt” of the earth and the “light” of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). This requires Christians to actively engage the culture. Christians are called to oppose unjust court systems (Isa. 11:4) and those who seek to terminate the lives of the helpless (Ps. 72:4). Perhaps more importantly, Christians are to warn government authorities that all social unrighteousness will end when the kingdoms of this world are smashed to smithereens by the kingdom of our blessed Christ (Dan. 2:44).
Politically, such a view as that held by the St. Louis Democrats like Villa (a fine representative who has, ironically, voted pro-life in the past) seems suicidal in a state that is generally conservative and where the legislative branch is controlled by conservatives. It is certainly bad politics before some 600,000 Southern Baptists in Missouri , the overwhelming majority of which oppose abortion with every bit of their fiber. Throw in several hundred thousand like-minded Assembly of God, Roman Catholics and many more non-religious pro-lifers around the state and anyone opposing them has set themselves up for a political train wreck.
From a patriotic perspective, Villa’s assertion is pure lunacy. The Founding Fathers never intended for faith not to enter into the halls of public service. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, in her acclaimed book, One Nation, Two Cultures, rightly notes how the Founders viewed such an issue:
“What the Founding Fathers also understood was that in a republic such virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order.”
Even Benjamin Franklin (himself a practicing pagan) said, “If men are so wicked as we now see them with religion, what would they be if without it?”
President John Adams put it more tactfully: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Let us pray that Villa and his fellow lawmakers will come to understand – and practice – the wisdom of Franklin and Adams on such an important matter.